January 2nd is the feast of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, saints of the eastern church who lived in the 4th century during the Arian controversies. Was Jesus Christ fully human and divine?
Basil belonged to a well-to-do Christian family from Caesaria in Asian Minor, then a major Christian center. Other members of his family are also honored as saints: his mother Emily, his grandmother Macrina, his sister, also Macrina, and his brothers Gregory of Nyssa and Peter of Sebaste.
Gregory of Nazianzen, a school mate and friend of Basil, later became bishop of Constantinople and was also a staunch defender of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Family and friendship were always important to Basil and Gregory. They saw these values threatened by the fear and suspicion that afflicted the Christian community because of the Arian heresy.
Basil and Gregory are considered among the greatest of the early church’s teachers.
“God’s gifts can’t be numbered,” St. Basil writes, “The blessings of God can’t be named or understood, they’re more numerous than everything in this world of ours. Yet, one blessing stands out – God’s mercy. Keep it in mind. Mercy is God’s surprising gift, a gift that lifts us from failure.
“God never abandons us, even when we fail and persist in our failure. His mercy is beyond our expectations. The cross is mercy’s great sign, bringing us life. Nor was God content merely to bring us back from death to life;, God gives us also the dignity of his own divine nature and prepares a place of joy for us that surpasses anything we imagine.”
We forget mercy so easily, the saint says.
Here’s a prayer Gregory of Nazianzen offered on the occasion of his friend Basil’s death.
Good and kind God, in this life and the next, you ask so little and give so much. If only we could be what we should be.
Hoping in you and loving you, let us accept everything and give thanks for everything, since everything brings us to salvation through you. To you we commend ourselves and those who have reached the place of rest before us, walking the same road we do. Lord and Creator of all, our God and Father, Ruler of your children,
Lord of life and death, guide and friend of our souls. You fashion and transform all things in due time through your creative Word, In your deep wisdom and providence, receive those who have gone ahead in our journey from this life.
Receive us too when our time comes and guide us through the years, as long as they last. Receive us as we come humbly before you, not troubled, nor shrinking back before the day of death, like those who love this world too much. Instead, may we set out eagerly for that everlasting and blessed life which is in Christ Jesus.
To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen