Saint Vasile (Basil the Great)

st basilTomorrow, Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate New Year’s Day according to the Old Julian calendar. It is also the holiday to honor Saint Vasile of Caesarea. Unfortunately, many Orthodox Christians venerate Saint Vasile to the point that he is worshiped. God does not share His glory with anyone and it is unfortunate that people worship Saint Vasile. Instead of worshiping him, we should study his life and seek to live the way that he lived. Saint Vasile was a born again Christian. He shared of his conversion in a letter to a friend:

I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.

Again, it is unfortunate that most Orthodox Christians who venerate Saint Vasile are not born again and do not know what being born again actually means. Jesus explains the New Birth in a discussion with a man named Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, chapter 3. What about my Protestant friends, have you been born again? It is possible to grow up in a Protestant church and never be born again. That is not just something that happens with Orthodox and Catholic Christians.

Saint Vasile was born to Christian parents in 330 A. D. in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey). His parents were Basil the elder and Emmelia. His maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr who was put to death before Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Saint Vasile was a teacher who spent his time teaching law and rhetoric before being born again. He had always had a heart for serving others and that intensified after he was born again.

Another aspect of Saint Vasile that has not been explained to the modern Orthodox Christian is believer’s baptism. Today, and for many centuries, Orthodox Christians have practiced infant baptism as a sign of one day joining the community of faith. In the Bible, the only cases of baptism are believer’s baptism. Believer’s baptism is when a person is immersed in water as a testimony to the spiritual reality that has happened in his or her life. He or she has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and been born again. To manifest that, he or she dies to self by going down into the water and rises to a new way of life when coming out of the water. It is a physical manifestation of faith and being born again. Most Orthodox Christians today are taught that they are baptized as infants in order to have faith. The Bible teaches that we first have faith and then that faith is manifested in obedience to Christ’s first command; that is, to be baptized in water.

Saint Vasile also believed in two important aspects of the Gospel, one taught by Saint James and the other taught by Jesus Christ:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6)

Saint Vasile used his wealth to store up treasures in heaven. He could have used his material wealth to make more wealth, like many did then and still do now. Instead, he used his material wealth to invest the Word of God into the lives of the people around him, especially the vulnerable people in society. This is the same calling that we have today as followers of Jesus Christ. How many of us are actually doing this? Saint James says that our religion is defiled if it does not lead us to help/serve others.

Saint Vasile also took to heart the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. (II Timothy 1)

There is a standard of sound doctrine that must be held to and passed on from one generation to the next. Saint Vasile understood this and he fought hard against the heresies of his day. He fought to guard the treasure that is the Word of God and make sure that it was passed on to the next generations in its pure form. Saint Vasile was a student of the Word of God. Unfortunately, the large majority of Orthodox Christians today have never read the Bible. They depend upon the Orthodox priests to explain sacred things to them. The Orthodox priests are steeped in the “holy” traditions but do not really know the Bible at all. So, it is like the blind leading the blind. During my time as a missionary in an Orthodox country, I saw many eyes opened as Orthodox Christians began to read the Bible for the first time. I pray that all Orthodox Christians would become great students of the Bible they way that Saint Vasile was. Are you a student of the Bible? Or, do you just rely on what others tell you about the Bible?

The final thing that struck me about Saint Vasile is that he preached one sermon every morning and one sermon every evening to the people within his sphere of influence. Saint Vasile took to heart the words of the Apostle Paul:

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Timothy 2:2)

This echos the final command that Jesus gave to His disciples:

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always *, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28)

Saint Vasile was a disciple maker. Are you a disciple maker? May the Lord help us learn from Saint Vasile so that instead of worshiping him, we emulate him. This will help us live to store up treasures in heaven by making disciples of all the people within our spheres of influence. Could you imagine what would happen to our country if all of the Southern Baptist pastors preached two sermons a day for the rest of their lives? I believe it would bring about the revival that we all want so desperately.

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