Richard Travers Smith (1871-1905), St. Basil the Great. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1879. Hbk. pp.232.
St. Basil The Great
Early Life: Athens
St. Basil The Great was born about the year 329,of a Christian family, whose high religious character and sacrifices for the cause of truth had been for generations widely known in Asia Minor. It seems probable that the place of his birth was Caesarea, in Cappadocia, the town of which he afterwards became bishop; but his father’s connexions were more with Pontus than with Cappadocia, and some authorities place Basil’s birth in the former province. He himself calls each of these countries in turn his native land.
Basil the elder – for father and son were named alike – was a teacher of rhetoric, and an advocate in large practice. He was a Christian of the best and most earnest type, and when Gregory of Nazianzus addressed his panegyric of the younger Basil to a large audience he was able to assume that the reputation of the father would be known to them all. But the future saint owed his earliest religious education to his grandmother Macrina, who brought him up with his brothers, and formed them upon the doctrine of the great Origenist and saint of Pontus Gregory Thaumaturgus.
Macrina had not only been taught by the best Christian instructors, but had herself with her husband suffered for the faith. In the persecutions of Maximin she and her family were driven from their home and forced with a few companions to take refuge in a forest among the mountains of Pontus, where they spent nearly seven years, and were wont to attribute to the special interposition of God the supplies of food by which they were maintained at a distance from all civilization.
It must not be supposed that the charge of Basil’s childhood thus committed to his grandmother indicated any deficiency in love or piety on the part of his mother. Her name was Emmelia, and Gregory describes her as fitly matched with her husband. They had ten children. Of the five sons three became bishops-Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste. The four youngest daughters were happily married, but Macrina, the eldest, devoted herself to the religious life, and exercised over Basil himself a most salutary influence at a very critical period in his career. In how great love and honour she was held by the whole family we know from the eulogium pronounced upon her by her younger brother, Gregory Nyssen.
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