St. Basil the Great

Melissa Carmon Art St. Basil the Great.jpg


Saint Basil, 
learned and privileged 
born to the best teachers
the sea of books
those Latin luminaries
heroes of old surround you
if only in the tall, cool
quiet the shade of library walls
where great words and great heroes
find their rest
until a momentary sunbeam 
falls upon their legends
and heroes live again.

With equality 
you blessed their pages 
and sent out the faithful
to pan for gold
collect those shimmering bits among the dross
and let the dross flow away, stream bound

A city of mercy
because masters will have
a Master to whom
they will render
an account

The sick 
are as the well 
once were, and the 
grave privileges
no one. 

Even the rich
with their noble deaths
attended by relative
cleanliness and purple
cannot escape
that great leveler of men

Simon Peter
once said that the rich 
will fade like flower petals
And with his tree-trunk fisherman's hands 
he said with gentleness
weighted words, they
resounded round
and heavy in our
hearts: be humble

Saint Basil, the powerful 
held no sway, your open hands to the poor 
caused them to rise
and bless you


Historical Background: 

St. Basil the Great (330 CE - 379 CE) was a champion of learning.  His stance on the classic works of antiquity was notable, as he encouraged people to read them for what was good and inspiring in them, and to discard the parts that were not.  In works of art and iconography, he is often portrayed as a younger man (in contrast to other saints who are portrayed in older age) because he died at 49 years old.  He accomplished a staggering amount during his short life.  He was born into a wealthy family, and was well educated.  He became an advocate for the poor and underprivileged.   A capable administrator, he served as a bishop of Ceasarea.  He collaborated with Gregory of Nazianzus and also wrote works of theology that shaped the course of Christianity.  One of the three Cappadocian fathers, along with Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa, he is remembered for his writings on the Holy Spirit.  Basil  established "cities of mercy,” named Basiliade, where the sick, the poor, and the dying could receive medical help and assistance.  These forerunners to modern hospitals and hospice also served as places where people without training could learn skills to help them make a living.