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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

We're suffering Persecution: St. Basil the Great

I stumbled across this letter this morning at 1:00 am in my reading of St. Basil the Great. These are words that I pray we never utter in the West. They are fearful words. Read them quietly and meditatively and let's pray that this not be our own words as a result of a casting off 'the faith once delivered to the Saints'. This is not intended for despair, of course. The orthodox triumphed in the midst of great persecutions. There is always hope. I have great esteem for what St. Basil was willing to endure to remain faithful to the truth.

Since Becca was looking for the reason behind Basil's writing the letter below, I thought I would add what a dear friend sent to me when she read it. I will not put her name to it as she has not given permission. I'll send what she said with a point of Basil's context.

Basil lived through a very difficult time. Basil was consecrated bishop of Caesarea in 370 whilst the Arian Valens was still emperor. When the emperor passed through Caesarea in 371, he demanded that Basil submit to Arianism, but of course Basil flatly refused. For his defiance, Valens divided the province of Cappadocia into two provinces and appointed an Arian as bishop of Tyana that became the metropolitan see. Basil responded to this by having his brother, Gregory and his friend, Gregory of Nanzianus, appointed to sees, positions that they never wanted, in order to outnumber the Arians. There was a time when the few orthodox bishops in Christendom (Hilary of Poitiers, Dionyius of Milan, Liberius of Rome, Eusebius of Vercellae, Lucifer of Sardinia as well as Athanasius) were exiled by the emperor at the Council of Milan in 355, and replaced by Arian bishops. It was a very hard time for orthodox Christians as Basil paints, but it survived and triumphed eventually.

2. Persecution has come upon us, right honourable brethren, and persecution in the severest form. Shepherds are persecuted that their flocks may be scattered. And the worst of all is that those who are being treated ill cannot accept their sufferings in proof of their testimony, nor can the people reverence the athletes as in the army of martyrs, because the name of Christians is applied to the persecutors. The one charge which is now sure to secure severe punishment is the careful keeping of the traditions of the Fathers. For this the pious are exiled from their homes, and are sent away to dwell in distant regions. No reverence is shown by the judges of iniquity to the hoary head, to practical piety, to the life lived from boyhood to old age according to the Gospel. No malefactor is doomed without proof, but bishops have been convicted on calumny alone, and are consigned to penalties on charges wholly unsupported by evidence. Some have not even known who has accused them, nor been brought before any tribunal, nor even been falsely accused at all. They have been apprehended with violence late at night, have been exiled to distant places, and, through the hardships of these remote wastes, have been given over to death.4 The rest is notorious, though I make no mention of it—the flight of priests; the flight of deacons the foraying of all the clergy. Either the image must be worshipped, or we are delivered to the wicked flame of whips.5 The laity groan; tears are filling without ceasing in public and in private; all are mutually lamenting their woes. No one’s heart is so hard as to lose a father, and bear the bereavement meekly. There is a sound of them that mourn in the city—a sound in the fields, in the roads, in the deserts. But one voice is heard from all that utter sad and piteous words. Joy and spiritual gladness are taken away. Our feasts are turned into mourning.6 Our houses of prayer are shut. The altars of the spiritual service are lying idle. Christians no longer assemble together; teachers no longer preside. The doctrines of salvation are no longer taught. We have no more solemn assemblies, no more evening hymns, no more of that blessed joy of souls which arises in the souls of all that believe in the Lord at communions, and the imparting of spiritual boons.7 We may well say, “Neither is there at this time prince, or prophet, or reader, or offering, or incense, or place to sacrifice before thee, and to find mercy.”8

Schaff, P. 1997. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VIII. Basil: Letters and Select Works.

2 Comments:

Blogger The Common Anglican said...

Jeff,
The sad thing is, I can totally see a tolerant "church" kicking out the Church of God and the Church being persecuted in once-Christian lands. This happens already in some degrees in some countries (Canada, or Denmark, for instance).

By the way, thank you for the warm welcome the other day!

Andy

6:47 am  
Anonymous Becca said...

a very sobering post ... i will have to find it and read it and discover to what specifically Basil is referring.

11:14 am  

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