Chnapter VIII (continued). Life of S Basil, Book 1a
"God have mercy on me, a sinner! " he cried. "What has got into my miserable wretch of a daughter! Who has stolen my treasure? Who has led my daughter astray? Who has extinguished the sweet light of my eyes? It has always been my intention to marry you to the heavenly bridegroom, to see you safely into the company of Angels, and I was ready to praise God in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. But you have lost your senses in some sort of insane frenzy. Let me betroth you to God, which is what I wish, or else you will bring down my grey hairs in misery to the grave, and bring disrepute on to the good reputation of your parents."
She reckoned nothing to all that her father had said to her.
"Father, if you don't give me what I want," she said, "it won't be long before you see me dead."
Her father's mind was in a whirl, not only because of the depth of his grief, but also because his friends advised that it were better that he should give way to his daughter rather than have her commit suicide. He agreed at last, and gave orders that her desires should be fulfilled, rather than hand her over to dreadful death. He gave her the husband she wanted, and handed over to him his own daughter and all his goods.
"Here you are, my ungrateful daughter," he said. "But you will greatly regret it, for it will not profit you in the day of judgement."
Sometime after this infamous marriage ceremony, when the work of the devil was complete, some people noticed that the husband was no longer going to church to receive the immortal and life-giving Sacrament and went to this pitiable newly-wed and said to her,
"You must have known that this husband you have chosen is not a Christian. He has left the faith, he is as good as cast into outer darkness."
She was at once plunged into deepest darkness and agony, threw herself on the floor, raked her face with her nails and beat her breast.
"No one can be saved who disobeys their parents," she cried. "Who will tell my father of my downfall? Alas, I am destroyed! I have gone down to the depths of hell. Why was I ever born? And since I was born, why was I so easily corrupted?"
The rejected husband heard her complaining, came in to her and protested that what she was complaining about was not true.
"That gives me some comfort," she said, "but to satisfy me completely, and make me sure in my own confused mind, let's you and I go together to the church tomorrow and let me see you receive the inviolate mysteries. That will really put my fears to rest. "
Thus cornered, he was compelled to admit the covenant he had signed. In revulsion against such ungodliness, she immediately cast off her feminine misgivings, came to a good decision, and ran to Basil, the pastor and disciple of Christ.
"O saint of God," she cried, "take pity on my misery. Have mercy on me, O disciple of Christ, for I have been party to an agreement with the devil. Have mercy on me for being disobedient to my father."
And she told him everything she knew about what had happened.
The saint of God asked the slave to come and see him and asked him if it really was as his wife had said.
"Yes," he said. "I cannot deny it, for what I have done has been shouted to the skies."
He told Basil the evil work the devil had done and all the details of it from start to finish.
"Do you wish to turn back to the Lord?" Basil asked
"I do, but I can't."
"Because I renounced Christ in writing and made a treacherous pact with the devil."
"Don't worry too much about that. Our God is kind and will accept you if you repent. He is kind even when we have done evil things."
The girl threw herself at his feet.
"O disciple of Christ our God," she said, "help us if you can."
The saint turned to the slave.
"Do you believe you can be saved?" he asked.
"Lord, I believe," he said. "help my unbelief" (Mark 9.24).
Basil prayed and made the sign of the cross over him, took him by the hand and hid him away in the place where the sacred vestments were kept, where he left him with a rule to follow. For three days he prayed for him before visiting him again.
"How are things going, my son?"
"In very great weariness, sir. O saint of God, I am suffering from their shouts and alarms and their darts and their stonings. And they keep holding up in front of me that contract that I wrote out with my own hands, cursing me and saying, 'It was you who gave yourself to us, not the other way round'".
"Fear not, my son. Only believe."
He gave him something to eat, prayed again and signed him with the cross. He shut him up again, and visited him after another few days.
"How are things going, my son?"
"Holy father, I don't see them any more, but I still hear them shouting and threatening in the distance."
Again he gave him some food and poured out prayer for him, then shut the door and went away. It was the fortieth day before he visited him again.
"How are things going, my son?"
"O saint of God, very well. For in a dream today I saw you fighting for me and overcoming the devil."
He prayed as usual, then led him out and took him to his own room. In the morning he called a meeting consisting not only of the reverend clergy, but people from the monasteries and all the people who were friends of Christ.
"Beloved children," he said, "Let us give thanks to the God of all. Look how the good shepherd is about to lift the lost sheep on to his shoulders and bring him back into the Church. Now what we must do is spend the night in vigil, praying that the corruptor of souls does not prevail against his good intentions"
The gathered people immediately acted on his words, and spent the night praying in tears to God with their good pastor, and crying Kyrie Eleison. At daybreak the saint took the slave by the hand and along with the whole crowd of people led him into the holy church of God with psalms and hymns. Who should appear but the devil, that perpetual bane of our lives. In a last ditch effort to stave off defeat, he arrived with all his pernicious power and without being seen seized hold of the boy, trying to snatch him from the saint's hand, making the boy cry out loud.
"Saint of God, help me!"
The devil renewed his grip on the boy, trying to overcome and subvert even the noble Basil as well.
"Shameless violator of souls!" cried the saint, turning on the devil, "father of darkness and perdition, isn't your own damnation and the damnation of those you have already won over to yourself enough for you? Will you never cease from attempting to deface the image of God?"
"You have condemned me unheard, Basil!" the devil said, and many of us could hear what he was saying.
"May the Lord curse you," replied Basil
"But you are prejudging me, Basil. It was not I who approached him, but he who came to me, renouncing Christ, and making a solemn pact with me, and here is the document itself, which in the day of judgment I shall lay before the Judge."
"Blessed be the Lord our God! The people here will not cease from lifting up their hands to heaven until you have given up that document," and turning to the people he went on, "Lift up your hands to heaven, mingling the cry of Kyrie Eleison with your tears."
The people stood for a long hour lifting up their hands to heaven, until at last they all saw the slave's document whisked up in the air and come to rest in the hands of our noble pastor and father Basil. He held it up, and gave thanks to God with a great shout of joy, along with all the people
"Do you recognise this little bit of writing?" he asked the boy.
""I do, O saint of God," he said. "It is my own handwriting."
Basil tore it in two, and led the slave into the church, where he was held worthy to be present at the sacred offering of the Mass, and to participate in the holy mysteries and gifts of Christ. By this great undertaking of his, Basil gave fresh life to all the people. He took the slave and gave him instruction, and restored him to his wife, glorifying and praising God without end. Amen.
That noble man, Helladius, whom we have already mentioned [see Chapter VIII.] also tells the story of how our great holy father Basil went out of the city one fine day without telling anyone where he was going. Helladius arrived at our house and said to us:
"Follow me, my sons, and witness along with me the glory of God, and give praise to the master of one of his disciples."
Now soon after our father had left the city, a certain holy presbyter called Anastasius became aware of it by the power of the Spirit, and mentioned him by name to his wife (who was living with him as a sister).
"I am going out to work in the fields, my lady sister," he said to her, "but you get busy and tidy the house, and around about the ninth hour take the thurible and a wax taper and go out to meet the holy Archbishop Basil for he is coming to visit our house."
With some trepidation at such a glorious piece of news she did as she was asked. She was a virgin, who by saying that she was sterile had kept it secret that she had been living chastely with her husband for forty years. She met us with all due modesty and exchanged greetings with us, first of all asking a blessing from our holy father.
"And how are you keeping, mistress Theognia?" asked Basil.
She was thunderstruck at being addressed by her proper name, but managed to reply that she was well.
"And where is master Anastasius, the presbyter, your brother?"
"He is my husband, sir, and has gone out to work in the fields."
"No, he is in the house. Don't jest with me."
She was thrown into confusion not only by this last remark and by the fact that he had addressed her by name, but also that this godbearing father of ours had taken her to be Anastasius' sister, whereas she was known everywhere as his wife. Thunderstruck, overcome by fear, she fell at his feet.
"O saint of God," she cried, "pray for me a sinner, for I am witnessing great and wonderful deeds."
Basil made the sign of the cross over her.
"Hold out your apron in your two hands," he then said, "and pour the coals from the thurible into it and put on incense."
Then, with him leading the way, we all went to the house of the presbyter, who came out to meet us, kissed Basil's feet, and greeted him in the name of the Lord.
"How is it that the saint of God comes to visit me?" he asked.
"I am glad to have found you, O disciple of Christ, " said our father. Come, let us go and celebrate the Mass of God."
The presbyter of God was fasting every day except Saturday and Sunday, taking nothing except bread and water. When they got to the church, Basil asked the presbyter to sing the Mass.
"O saint of God," replied the presbyter, "being asked to do that is a case of a bad person being given a blessing by someone far better!"
"Nevertheless, be obedient with all your heart," replied our father.
The presbyter agreed, and stood at the altar for the holy Mass. When it came to the time of the elevation of the life-giving body of our Lord Jesus Christ, the saint of God and some of the worthy men with him saw the holy Spirit coming down in the shape of fire, surrounding the presbyter and the holy altar. We all communicated and gave thanks to God, after which we went back to the presbyter's house and took food.
"Tell me where your treasure is, "said the saint of God, "and what your life is like."
"O saint of God." said the presbyter. I am just a poor sinner relying on payments from the public (subiacens publicis tributis). I have four oxen, one of which I use in my fields, one I hire out, one is for the use of pilgrims, and the fourth I use to pay my taxes. That is my retinue of servants, ministering to the needs of my guests and myself."
"Call your sister, for that is what she is, and tell me about the things you do."
"I don't do anything good on this earth, I can't lay claim to any virtue."
The father of us all then got up, asked the presbyter to follow him and went to the door of a very small room in the house.
"Open the door of this room," he said.
"O saint of God, don't ask to go in there. It is only a necessary store room."
"But this is the reason I have come here."
The presbyter still would not unlock the door, but our wonderful father opened it by simply speaking a word of command. When he went in he found inside a man covered all over with ulcerous sores, and nobody had known he was there except the presbyter and his sister.
"Why have you been hiding away your treasure like this?" asked the holy father.
"He is mentally deranged, sir, and liable to cause injury to others and, in a word, I was frightened he might get killed."
"You have described him very well. But give me a night to minister to him, and let's see if I can bring about a reward for what you have done."
We were rendered speechless by what seemed to be an unreasonable obsession, but we left the holy man in the little room with that ulcerous man, shut the door and departed. This healer of wounds then spent all night with the man, praying to God the healer of all ills and infirmities, and the man was cured.
"Glory to you. O God!" cried the presbyter. "For you perform miracles and hear the prayers of those who fear you. Look, the doctor has made the sick man whole!"
And at this very moment the saint of God called out to us to open the door. He led forth the ulcerous man totally cured, without a mark on his body, speaking plainly and glorifying God. This great miracle having been brought to a conclusion, we returned to our own city, joyfully praising and blessing the Lord, to whom be honour and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
There was a woman of noble family, well endowed with worldly goods, totally immersed in the vanities of this world, occupying the highest rank in society, who, even when she was widowed, continued to spend money with great abandon, lived luxuriously, gave herself up to every kind of vice, never did anything pleasing to God, but was like a pig rolling about in her own excrement. But God gave her a nudge and she came to herself. Her mind was suddenly illuminated with knowledge of the enormity of her sins. She went through them all in her mind and wept in great grief.
"Woe is me, a sinner!" she cried. "How can I make up for all the sins I have done? I have corrupted the temple of the spirit. I have a soul in this body of mine and I have befouled them both. Woe is me! Woe is me! What shall I do? What's got into me? Can I say that I have sinned like the harlot of that publican?"
But God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, and he wills no one to perish. And as she turned all these things over in her mind, God gave her the grace to remember all the sins she had done from her youth up. She sat down and wrote out a list of all her offences from her youth up to her present age. She headed the list with the worst great sin she had ever done, and signed her name to it all.
Choosing a suitable time when she knew that the holy Basil was accustomed to go to the church to pray, she ran out in front of him, prostrated herself at his feet and threw the list down in front of him.
"O saint of God," she cried, "have mercy on me, have mercy on all my sins."
"Why all this weeping and lamenting?" that most blessed man asked in a most caring tone of voice.
"Look, O saint of God, I have written out all my sins and offences in this list, and signed it. I beg you, O saint of God, do not ignore this list, but by your holy prayers wipe out everything in it."
The great and holy Basil picked it up and lifted up his eyes to heaven.
"To you alone, O Lord, the deeds of this woman lie open, but you have taken away the sins of the world, and are easily able to wipe out the sins of this one single soul. Indeed, all our offences are numbered in your sight, but your mercy is boundless and beyond compare."
Saying this, he went into the church holding the list in his hand, prostrated himself before the altar and prayed the whole night through, until the end of the solemnity of the Mass next day. He then went to the woman and handed her back the list.
"Have you heard that no one can forgive sins but God alone?"
"I have, father, but that is why I begged you to intercede to the mercy of God for me."
She then unfolded the paper, and found that all the sins had been blotted out except for that one great sin at the beginning. Seeing this sin still there, not wiped out at all, she beat her breast in anguish, and fell at his feet in tears.
"Have mercy on me, O servant of God most high, and since you have struggled with all my other sins and been heard, surely you must be able to intercede for this single one that is left for it be wiped out also?"
The holy Basil wept for sheer pity.
"Rise, poor woman," he said. "I am only a human being in need of forgiveness. He who forgives has wiped out your sins as you wished, and he who has taken away the sins of the world is able to take away this sin also. If you are faithful from now on, and walk in the law of the Lord, you will not only find forgiveness of your sins but you will be found worthy of glory. Now go out to the desert, and from among all the holy fathers seek out a holy man called Ephraem. Give him the paper, and he will intercede to God for you and obtain from the Lord what you want."
She took this holy bishop of God at his word and made a rather long journey into the desert till she found this great and marvellous hermit called Ephraem. She knocked on his door and cried out.
"Have mercy on me, have mercy O Saint of God!"
He discerned in the spirit the reason for her coming and replied:
"Go away, woman, for I am only a sinful human being, in need of forgiveness also."
"But holy Basil the Archbishop sent me to you," she said, as she threw the paper at his feet, "so that you can pray to God for this last sin in the list to be wiped out. Holy Basil by his prayers has had all the other sins wiped out, so, O saint of God, don't be so reluctant to pray for this one sin. It is for this very reason that I have been sent to you."
"No, my daughter. If Basil was able to obtain pardon for all those other sins, surely he can do the same for this one? Go, don't delay, go and see him again, before his soul departs from his body."
She took this holy confessor at his word and returned to Caesarea. When she got into the city she was met by a funeral procession carrying holy Basil's body. She fell to the ground and cried out against the saint of God.
"Woe is me a sinner. Woe! I am undone! Woe is me, O saint of God, for you directed me into the desert so that you could depart this life without being bothered by me any more. And look, I have come back without getting any results after taking such a long journey through miles of sand in vain. Let the Lord God look down and judge between me and you, for you could have interceded to God and been answered without having to send me to someone else."
And she threw the paper on to the street in front of the people carrying Basil's body, and gave them a detailed account of what she had gone through. One of the clergy, desperate to know what the one great sin was, picked up the paper, unfolded it, and found it totally wiped clean,
"Woman," he shouted, "There is nothing written on this paper at all. What a great labour and anguish you have imposed upon yourself, unaware of the great things God in his unsearchable mercy has done for you."
When the people realised the great glory of this miracle they glorified God who had such power as to be able to put away all the sins in the world, and gave such grace to his servants as to heal all ills and infirmities, and to give the power of forgiveness of sins to those who maintained true faith in God, strove to do good works and glorified God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brothers, I want to tell you also a story about the illustrious Basil and Ephraem the Syrian. I heard some of this from the mouth of our father himself, and some of it from the reliable mouth of the holy and wonderful Ephraem. So it is true.
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