Friday, June 14, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember Basil of Caesarea, a Greek Bishop and Monk, one of the few given the title “the Great.”

It is the 14th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


John Cleese in Fawlty Towers played the role of “BAHsel” Fawlty.

If you’re making a fresh cheese pizza, you may want to garnish it after it comes out of the oven with fresh… BAYsil.

Disney’s Great Mouse detective was “BAHsel of Baker street”. Likewise the Swiss Canton is also properly called “Basle”.

But what about one of the greatest theologians, bishops, and monks in the history of the church- given the rare title “the Great,” named one of the “three Holy Hierarchs” and one of the three “Cappadocian Fathers” and a member of one of the greatest families in the history of the church… well, he was BAY-sil? BAHsel? Of Caesarea. Fun fact: the Greek A, in this case, the alpha is neither designated short nor long and thus, we are free to follow custom or preference. He was Basil of Caesarea- no, not that Caesarea… there were many- it was like the “Springfield” of the ancient world. He was Basil of Caesarea, one of the true giants of the church and one we have mentioned, but never by his lonesome on this show.

Basil of Caesarea, later “the Great,” was the grandson of Macrina the Great- she was one of the great Christians of her age- there in Cappadocia, modern Turkey, where the family lived. Her son, St. Basil the Elder, was the father of both Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nysa, and St. Macrina the Younger.

Basil was born 5 years after the council of Nicea in Caesarea in 330. He would study across the Mediterranean with his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus before returning home around the age of 26. Disillusioned with secular life and inspired by his sister, Macrina who had taken monastic vows, he became a monk.

But he would become similarly disillusioned with the monastic life as it had followed the example of St. Antony and other ascetics and become a practice in solitude and self-deprivation. Basil argued that the heart of Christian service was to others and that a truly spiritual life needed to be lived in the community. If you think of the monasteries today and how we imagine them throughout the Middle Ages, they were the result of the reforms of Basil, even if St. Benedict gets credit for it in the West. Before Benedict’s rule, there were the “Greater" and “Lesser” Asketikon, books on monastic life that stressed community, prayer, and service.

He would leave the monastery and was called to the office of Deacon in 362. He would be reunited with his old friend Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nysa to help settle debates regarding the heresy of Arianism (the idea that Jesus was himself a created being), especially with regard to the deity of the Holy Spirit.


By 365, he was ordained as a presbyter, and in 370, the Bishop died, and Basil was elected as Bishop, but also as Eparch- a kind of civil position in the Greek world. It is from his role as an Eparch that he created some of the institutions for which he is best known- the Basileiad was a collection of homes that cared for the sick and the poor and for pilgrims. He was one of the earliest in the church to stress social welfare as a concrete way in which Christians can love their neighbor.

He is often thrown together, rightly, with his brother and friend- the two Gregorys as indefatigable defenders of the Trinity and, thus, the divinity of both Christ and the Holy Spirit. He is rightly remembered as one of the “Three Holy Hierarchs”- this time with Nazianzus and John Chrysostom as the greatest doctors of the Eastern church, but he is also recognized by the Western Church- there are few characters with as many and as broad a recognition as Basil of Caesarea and we do well to remember him not only as a theologian but for his significant impact on monasticism and social reform, and all of this in the tumultuous 4th century- the first century of a public and legal Christianity in the Roman Empire.  

You say “BAHsel,” I say “BAYsil,” but we all give it up for our man, the Bishop of Caesarea- who, fun fact, is honored in so many different churches on different days you can throw a dart at a calendar and find someone remembering him on that day- the 14th of June was the date of his commemoration for centuries in the Roman Catholic Church until the calendar reform on 1966- none the less it’s always a good day to hear the story of Basil of Caesarea, Basil the Hierarch and Cappadocian and ultimately “the Great” who died in 378, born in 330 he was 47 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from the book of Hebrews- the 11th chapter and a few “heroes” of the faith:

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Basil is Toni- the choreographer and singer of “Mikey”- he’s so fine- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite Basil is that from the famous Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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