Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops, and Doctors of the Church
Anyone who denies the Son does not have the Father,
but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. -1 John 2:23
Saints Basil and Gregory ministered in the early Church, in the fourth century, in what is modern-day Turkey. Their challenges were similar to those we face today—they lived in a time of great political and religious polarization. The Arian heresy divided Christians for decades, as followers of Arius promoted the idea that Jesus was not divine.
As bishops, Saints Basil and Gregory defended the Church from Arianism, one of the most damaging heresies in the history of the Church. In 325, the Council of Nicaea was convened to deal with the Arian crisis. The first version of the Nicene Creed was formulated. The creed states that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father,” also expressed as “consubstantial.” In today’s first reading, written some two hundred years earlier, the Apostle John could be speaking to the Arians when he said: “Anyone who denies the Son, does not have the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well.”
After the Council of Nicea, the Arians continued to gain power and political influence throughout the fourth century. Even so-called Christian emperors were Arian, which put Bishops Basil and Gregory in conflict with civil authorities. Sometimes there was an assault on their lives, as well as constant threats to their ministries. On the vigil of Easter in 379, an Arian mob burst into St. Gregory’s church during worship services, wounding Gregory and killing another bishop.
As bishops, St. Basil and St. Gregory never stopped ministering to their deeply divided flocks. Despite St. Gregory’s dislike of conflict, he continued to dialog with people who were contentious and confused by the heresy, and he is known for his sermons on the Trinity. St. Basil is also known for his preaching, as well as his pioneering work in establishing systemic responses to poverty: hospitals, soup kitchens, and guest houses. Both Basil and Gregory are remembered for their contributions to the Church’s theology of the Incarnation and Holy Trinity.
As 2023 begins, let us draw inspiration from Saints Basil and Gregory for the new year. We pray for their perseverance in contemplating sacred mysteries, so we may share the fruits of our contemplation in our teaching and preaching. We pray for their love of the Church, so we may provide leadership in times of disunity and confusion. And we pray for their courage and compassion when we are in difficult conversations. Amen.
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.