From the Life of Saint Basil the Great

The Arian Madness and Seizure of the Cathedral

Saint Basil the Great

Saint Basil and monks under him were still harassed by the Arians. Archbishop Basil wrote to the monks: ‘In my judgment the war that is waged against us by our fellow countrymen is the hardest to bear, because against open and declared enemies it is easy to defend ourselves, while now we are necessarily at the mercy of those who are associated with us, and are thus exposed to continual danger. This has been your case. Our fathers were persecuted, but by idolaters....The persecutors, who have lately appeared, hate us no less than they, but, to the deceiving of many, they put forward the name of Christ, that the persecuted may be robbed of all comfort from its confession, because the majority of the simpler folk, while admitting that we are being wronged, are unwilling to reckon our death for the truth’s sake to be martyrdom. I am therefore persuaded that the reward in store for you from the righteous Judge is yet greater than that bestowed on those former martyrs. They indeed both had the public praise of men, and received the reward of God; to you, though your good deeds are not less, no honors are given by the people. It is only fair that the requital in store for you in the world to come should be far greater.....I exhort you, therefore, not to faint in your afflictions, but to be revived by God’s love, and to add daily to your zeal, knowing that in you ought to be preserved that remnant of true religion which the Lord will find when He cometh on the earth....If traitors have arisen from among the very clergy themselves, let not this undermine your confidence in God. We are saved not by names, but by mind and purpose, and genuine love toward our Creator....Remember that it is not the multitude who are being saved, but the elect of God....If but one be saved, like Lot at Sodom, he ought to abide in right judgment, keeping his hope in Christ unshaken, for the Lord will not forsake His holy ones. Salute all the brethren in Christ from me. Pray earnestly for my miserable soul.”

During the time the Emperor Valens reigned in Constantinople, Arian-minded bishops and priests of the Nicaean eparchy came to him, that he might vouchsafe to them the deliverance of the cathedral into their hands. They intended to conduct their services therein after chasing away the Orthodox hierarch. Valens was of one mind with them, and agreed to the take-over. Straightway, after he sent forth soldiers, he drove out the archbishop of the Christians, and determined that this holy temple should be occupied by Arians. The Orthodox Christians of Nicaea learned of this seizure, and took recourse in St. Basil. They besought him to mediate on their behalf before the emperor, and change his evil opinion.

To the holy bishops of the West he explains the anguishing state of affairs that he found himself in, especially because of the heresy of Arius: “Our distresses are notorious....The doctrines of the Fathers are despised; apostolic traditions are set at nought; the devices of innovators are in vogue in the Churches; now men are rather contrivers of cunning systems than theologians; the wisdom of this world wins the highest prizes and has rejected the glory of the Cross.Shepherds are banished, and in their places are introduced grievous wolves harrying the flock of Christ.....The elders lament when they compare the present with the past. The younger are yet more to be extended compassion, for they do not know of what they have been deprived.”

Therefore, the saint took up their cause and that of the Church, and repaired to the imperial city. When he visited with the emperor, he brought to his remembrance these words, “O emperor, the Prophet David saith, ‘The honor of the king loveth judgment.’ [Ps. 98:3]* Why hast thy monarchy set at variance righteous judgment, and cast out the Orthodox from the church given to them by their holy fathers, so as to deliver it up to the heretical Arians?”The emperor protested, “Again art thou turning out insults, Basil? It is not fitting for thee to utter such words.”But the saint maintained, “On account of righteousness, it is fitting to die, O emperor.”Then the emperor decided, “Go thyself alone to Nicaea, and judge with righteousness even the two factions. Behold, however, do not do whatever is the will of thy people.”The saint stated, “Give to me the authority to judge, O emperor, and whenever thou shouldest hear that I acted unfairly on behalf of the Christians, slay me.”

The saint, having received the authority from the emperor, went to Nicaea, where he called together all the Orthodox and the Arians. And he spoke to them these words, “Behold, I have come according to the command of the emperor. Well then this is what we shall do. Let us close the church, ye Orthodox and ye Arians. Afterwards, ye Arians shall offer up prayer first. And if the church should open, lay hold of it. But if it shall not open, then we shall offer prayer. And if through our own entreaty the church should open, then it remains to us. If on the other hand it should stay closed, it is yours.”This judgment pleased all as righteous and blessed. Whereupon, both parties went to the doors of the church and affixed their own seals. After the church was secured, the Arians assembled; and for three days they chanted entreaties and petitions that the church might open to them. However, Christ did not hearken to the supplications of those who insult Him. The saint then said to them, “And now let us offer up prayer.

The saint then called to himself the Orthodox Christians, and with them they proceeded to the Church of Saint Diomedes the Great-martyr which was nearby the cathedral. After he finished serving a vigil there, in the morning he went with the whole multitude to the doors of the cathedral, with the Arians following behind. Saint Basil made the sign of the Cross thrice with his hands over the doors, and exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of the Christians unto the ages of ages!”Straightway, O the wonder! The bars broke in pieces and the doors opened. The saint then entered the church with the whole multitude of Christians, and celebrated the divine Liturgy. Afterwards, when he blessed the people, he delivered the church into the hands of the Orthodox Christians. The date was the 19th of January. Yet not only were the Orthodox Christians gladdened during that day on account of gaining back their church, but many from among the Arians, after they beheld the miracle of the saint, returned to the Orthodox Faith, and anathematized their heresy.

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Taken from The Lives of the Three Great Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, published by Holy Apostles Convent, copyright 1998, all rights reserved.

* Ps. 98:3 - Orthodox Psalter, Copyright 2011, Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Colorado.


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