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FEAST of Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great - Orthodox Christian.

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1st January

Saint Basil the Great

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basil_of_Caesarea 

Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great ...  229 or 330 – January 1 or 2, 379), was the Greek bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).  He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea.  His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position. 

In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged.  Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labour.  Together with Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity.  He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity. 

Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers.  The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches have given him, together with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, the title of Great Hierarch.  He is recognised as a Doctor of the Church in both Eastern Orthodoxy and in the Roman Catholic Church.  He is sometimes referred to by the epithet "Ουρανοφαντωρ" (Ouranofantor), "revealer of heavenly mysteries". 

Early life and education 

Basil was born into the wealthy family of Basil the Elder, a famous rhetor, and Emmelia of Caesarea, in Pontus, around 330.  His parents were renowned for their piety.  His maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine I's conversion.  His pious widow, Macrina, herself a follower of Gregory Thaumaturgus (who had founded the nearby church of Neocaesarea), raised Basil and his four siblings (who also can be venerated as saints): Macrina the Younger, Naucratius, Peter of Sebaste and Gregory of Nyssa. 

Basil received more formal education in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (modern-day Kayseri, Turkey) around 350-51.  There he met Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend.  Together, Basil and Gregory went to Constantinople for further studies, including the lectures of Libanius.  The two also spent almost six years in Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become the emperor Julian the Apostate.  Basil left Athens in 356, and after travels in Egypt and Syria, he returned to Caesarea, where for around a year he practiced law and taught rhetoric. 

Basil's life changed radically after he encountered Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic.  Abandoning his legal and teaching career, Basil devoted his life to God.  A letter described his spiritual awakening: 

“ 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. 

After his baptism, Basil traveled in 357 to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism.  He distributed his fortunes among the poor, then went briefly into solitude near Neocaesarea of Pontus (mod.  day Niksar, Turkey) on the Iris.  Basil eventually realized that while he respected the ascetics' piety and prayerfulness, the solitary life did not call him.  Eustathius of Sebaste, a prominent anchorite near Pontus, had mentored Basil.  However, they also eventually differed over dogma. 

Basil instead felt drawn toward communal religious life, and by 358 he was gathering around him a group of like-minded disciples, including his brother Peter.  Together they founded a monastic settlement on his family's estate near Annesi  (modern Sonusa or Uluköy, near the confluence of the Iris and Lycos Rivers).  His widowed mother Emmelia, sister Macrina and several other women, joined Basil and devoted themselves to pious lives of prayer and charitable works (some claim Macrina founded this community). 

Here Basil wrote about monastic communal life.  His writings became pivotal in developing monastic traditions of the Eastern Church.  In 358, Basil invited his friend Gregory of Nazianzus to join him in Annesi.  When Gregory eventually arrived, they collaborated on Origen's Philocalia, a collection of Origen's works .  Gregory then decided to return to his family in Nazianzus. 

Basil attended the Council of Constantinople in 360.  He at first sided with Eustathius and the Homoiousians, a semi-Arian faction who taught that the Son was of like substance with the Father, neither the same (one substance) nor different from him.  The Homoiousians opposed the Arianism of Eunomius but refused to join with the supporters of the Nicene Creed, who professed that the members of the Trinity were of one substance ("homoousios").  However, Basil's bishop, Dianius of Caesarea, had subscribed only to the earlier Nicene form of agreement.  Basil eventually abandoned the Homoiousians, and emerged instead as a strong supporter of the Nicene Creed. 

Caesarea 

In 362, Bishop Meletius of Antioch ordained Basil as a deacon.  Eusebius then summoned Basil to Caesarea and ordained him as presbyter of the Church there in 365.  Ecclesiastical entreaties rather than Basil's desires thus altered his career path. 

Basil and Gregory Nazianzus spent the next few years combating the Arian heresy, which threatened to divide Cappadocia's Christians.  In close fraternal cooperation, they agreed to a great rhetorical contest with accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors.  In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant.  This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the Church.  Basil next took on functional administration of the city of Caesarea.  Eusebius is reported as becoming jealous of the reputation and influence which Basil quickly developed, and allowed Basil to return to his earlier solitude.  Later, however, Gregory persuaded Basil to return.  Basil did so, and became the effective manager of the city for several years, while giving all the credit to Eusebius. 

In 370, Eusebius died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him, and was consecrated bishop on June 14, 370.  His new post as bishop of Caesarea also gave him the powers of exarch of Pontus and metropolitan of five suffragan bishops, many of whom had opposed him in the election for Eusebius's successor.  It was then that his great powers were called into action.  Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic.  He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought.  He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese. 

His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes.  They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for holy orders.  He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice.  At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations.  In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad, which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was described by Gregory of Nazianzus as one of the wonders of the world. 

His zeal for orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent; and for the sake of peace and charity he was content to waive the use of orthodox terminology when it could be surrendered without a sacrifice of truth.  The Emperor Valens, who was an adherent of the Arian philosophy, sent his prefect Modestus to at least agree to a compromise with the Arian faction.  Basil's adamant negative response prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in that way before.  Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop." Modestus reported back to Valens that he believed nothing short of violence would avail against Basil.  Valens was apparently unwilling to engage in violence.  He did however issue orders banishing Basil repeatedly, none of which succeeded.  Valens came himself to attend when Basil celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), and at that time was so impressed by Basil that he donated to him some land for the building of the Basiliad.  This interaction helped to define the limits of governmental power over the church. 

Basil then had to face the growing spread of Arianism.  This belief system, which denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father, was quickly gaining adherents and was seen by many, particularly those in Alexandria most familiar with it, as posing a threat to the unity of the church.  Basil entered into connections with the West, and with the help of Athanasius, he tried to overcome its distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians.  The difficulties had been enhanced by bringing in the question as to the essence of the Holy Spirit.  Although Basil advocated objectively the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, he belonged to those, who, faithful to Eastern tradition, would not allow the predicate homoousios to the former; for this he was reproached as early as 371 by the Orthodox zealots among the monks, and Athanasius defended him.  He maintained a relationship with Eustathius despite dogmatic differences. 

Basil corresponded with Pope Damasus in the hope of having the Roman bishop condemn heresy wherever found, both East and West.  The pope's apparent indifference upset Basil's zeal and he turned around in distress and sadness.  It is still a point of controversy over how much he believed the Roman See could do for the Churches in the East, as many Roman Catholic theologians claim the primacy of the Roman bishopric over the rest of the Churches, both in doctrine and in authoritative strength. 

Death and legacy 

Basil died before the factional disturbances ended.  He suffered from liver disease; excessive ascetic practices also contributed to his early demise.  Historians disagree about the exact date Basil died.  The great institute before the gates of Caesarea, which was used as poorhouse, hospital, and hospice became a lasting monument of Basil's episcopal care for the poor. 

Writings 

The principal theological writings of Basil are his On the Holy Spirit, a lucid and edifying appeal to Scripture and early Christian tradition (to prove the divinity of the Holy Spirit), and his Refutation of the Apology of the Impious Eunomius, written in 363 or 364, three books against Eunomius of Cyzicus, the chief exponent of Anomoian Arianism.  The first three books of the Refutation are his work; the fourth and fifth books that are usually included do not belong to Basil, or to Apollinaris of Laodicea. 

He was a famous preacher, and many of his homilies, including a series of Lenten lectures on the Hexaëmeron (also Hexaëmeros, "Six Days of Creation"; Latin: Hexameron), and an exposition of the psalter, have been preserved.  Some, like that against usury and that on the famine in 368, are valuable for the history of morals; others illustrate the honor paid to martyrs and relics; the address to young men on the study of classical literature shows that Basil was lastingly influenced by his own education, which taught him to appreciate the propaedeutic importance of the classics. 

In his exegesis Basil was a great admirer of Origen and the need for the spiritual interpretation of Scripture.  In his work on the Holy Spirit, he asserts that "to take the literal sense and stop there, is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.  Lamps are useless when the sun is shining." He frequently stresses the need for Reserve in doctrinal and sacramental matters.  At the same time he was against the wild allegories of some contemporaries.  Concerning this, he wrote: 

"I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others.  There are those, truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end." 

His ascetic tendencies are exhibited in the Moralia and Asketika (sometimes mistranslated as Rules of St.  Basil), ethical manuals for use in the world and the cloister, respectively.  There has been a good deal of discussion concerning the authenticity of the two works known as the Greater Asketikon and the Lesser Asketikon. 

It is in the ethical manuals and moral sermons that the practical aspects of his theoretical theology are illustrated.  So, for example, it is in his Sermon to the Lazicans that we find St.  Basil explaining how it is our common nature that obliges us to treat our neighbor's natural needs (e.g., hunger, thirst) as our own, even though he is a separate individual.  Later theologians explicitly explain this as an example of how the saints become an image of the one common nature of the persons of the Trinity. 

His three hundred letters reveal a rich and observant nature, which, despite the troubles of ill-health and ecclesiastical unrest, remained optimistic, tender and even playful.  His principal efforts as a reformer were directed towards the improvement of the liturgy, and the reformation of the monastic institutions of the East. 

Most of his extant works, and a few spuriously attributed to him, are available in the Patrologia Graeca, which includes Latin translations of varying quality.  Several of St.  Basil's works have appeared in the late twentieth century in the Sources Chrétiennes collection. 

Liturgical contributions 

Saint Basil of Caesarea holds a very important place in the history of Christian liturgy, coming as he did at the end of the age of persecution.  Basil's liturgical influence is well attested in early sources.  Though it is difficult at this time to know exactly which parts of the Divine Liturgies which bear his name are actually his work, a vast corpus of prayers attributed to him has survived in the various Eastern Christian churches.  Tradition also credits Basil with the elevation of the iconostasis to its present height. 

Most of the liturgies bearing the name of Basil are not entirely his work in their present form, but they nevertheless preserve a recollection of Basil's activity in this field in formularizing liturgical prayers and promoting church-song.  Patristics scholars conclude that the Liturgy of Saint Basil "bears, unmistakably, the personal hand, pen, mind and heart of St.  Basil the Great." 

One liturgy that can be attributed to him is The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, a liturgy that is somewhat longer than the more commonly used Divine Liturgy of St.  John Chrysostom.  The difference between the two is primarily in the silent prayers said by the priest, and in the use of the hymn to the Theotokos, All of Creation, instead of the Axion Estin of Saint John Chrysostom's Liturgy.  Chrysostom's Liturgy has come to replace Saint Basil's on most days in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic liturgical traditions.  However, they still use Saint Basil's Liturgy on certain feast days: the first five Sundays of Great Lent, the Eves of Nativity and Theophany, on Great and Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday and on the Feast of Saint Basil, January 1 (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar, their January 1 falls on January 14 of the Gregorian Calendar). 

The Eastern Churches preserve numerous other prayers attributed to Saint Basil, including three Prayers of Exorcism, several Morning and Evening Prayers, the "Prayer of the Hours" which is read at each service of the Daily Office, and the "Kneeling Prayers" which are recited by the priest at Vespers on Pentecost in the Byzantine Rite. 

Influence on monasticism 

Through his examples and teachings Basil effected a noteworthy moderation in the austere practices which were previously characteristic of monastic life.  He is also credited with coordinating the duties of work and prayer to ensure a proper balance between the two. 

Basil is remembered as one of the most influential figures in the development of Christian monasticism.  Not only is Basil recognised as the father of Eastern monasticism; historians recognize that his legacy extends also to the Western church, largely due to his influence on Saint Benedict.  Patristic scholars such as Meredith assert that Benedict himself recognized this when he wrote in the epilogue to his Rule that his monks, in addition to the Bible, should read "the confessions of the Fathers and their institutes and their lives and the Rule of our Holy Father, Basil.  Basil's teachings on monasticism, as encoded in works such as his Small Asketikon, was transmitted to the west via Rufinus during the last 4th century. 

As a result of his influence, numerous religious orders in Eastern Christianity bear his name.  In the Roman Catholic Church, the Basilian Fathers, also known as The Congregation of St.  Basil, an international order of priests and students studying for the priesthood, is named after him. 

Commemorations of Basil 

St Basil was given the title Doctor of the Church for his contributions to the debate initiated by the Arian controversy regarding the nature of the Trinity, and especially the question of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  Basil was responsible for defining the terms "ousia" (essence/substance) and "hypostasis" (person/reality), and for defining the classic formulation of three Persons in one Nature.  His single greatest contribution was his insistence on the divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son. 

In Greek tradition, he brings gifts to children every January 1 (St Basil's Day) — unlike other traditions where Father Christmas arrives either on December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day) or on Christmas Eve (December 24).  It is traditional on St Basil's Day to serve vasilopita, a rich bread baked with a coin inside.  It is customary on his feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing New Year's carols, and to set an extra place at the table for Saint Basil.  Basil, being born into a wealthy family, gave away all his possessions to the poor, the underprivileged, those in need, and children.  A similar story exists for another Greek bishop, Saint Nicholas of Myra.  Over the centuries the two legends have blended together, though the Western Santa Claus remains associated with Nicholas, while the Eastern "Santa" is identified with Basil. 

According to some sources, Saint Basil died on January 1, and the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day together with that of the Feast of the Circumcision on that day.  This was also the day on which the General Roman Calendar celebrated it at first; but in the 13th century it was moved to June 14, a date believed to be that of his ordination as bishop, and it remained on that date until the 1969 revision of the calendar, which moved it to January 2, rather than January 1, because the latter date is occupied by the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  On January 2 Saint Basil is celebrated together with Saint Gregory Nazianzen.  Some traditionalist Catholics continue to observe pre-1970 calendars. 

The Church of England celebrates Saint Basil's feast on January 2, but the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada celebrate it on June 14. 

In the Byzantine Rite, January 30 is the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs, in honor of Saint Basil, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom. 

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria celebrates the feast day of Saint Basil on the 6th of Tobi (6th of Terr on the Ethiopian calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church).  At present, this corresponds to January 14, January 15 during leap year. 

The Macedonian Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Basil's feast on January 14.  He is considered as one of the greatest saints in the Christianity and is called St.  Basil the Great.   

There are numerous relics of Saint Basil throughout the world.  One of the most important is his head, which is preserved to this day at the monastery of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos in Greece.  The mythical sword Durandal is said to contain some of Basil's blood. 

1st January 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision_of_Jesus 

The circumcision of Jesus is an event from the life of Jesus according to the Gospel of Luke, which states in verse 2:21 that Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth (traditionally January 1).  This is in keeping with the Jewish law which holds that males should be circumcised eight days after birth during a Brit milah ceremony, at which they are also given their name.  The circumcision of Christ became a very common subject in Christian art from the 10th century onwards, one of numerous events in the Life of Christ to be frequently depicted by artists.  It was initially seen only as a scene in larger cycles, but by the Renaissance might be treated as an individual subject for a painting, or form the main subject in an altarpiece. 

The event is celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision in the Eastern Orthodox Church on January 1 in whichever calendar is used, and is also celebrated on the same day by many Anglicans.  It is celebrated by Roman Catholics as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, in recent years on January 3 as an Optional Memorial, though it was for long celebrated on January 1, as some other churches still do.  A number of relics claiming to be the Holy Prepuce, the foreskin of Jesus, have surfaced. 

The second chapter of the Gospel of Luke records the circumcision of Jesus: 

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 

However, this account is extremely short, particularly compared to Paul the Apostle's much fuller description of his own circumcision in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians.  This led theologians Friedrich Schleiermacher and David Strauss to speculate that the author of the Gospel of Luke might have assumed the circumcision to be historical fact, or might have been relating it as recalled by someone else. 

In addition to the canonical account in the Gospel of Luke, the apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel contains the first reference to the survival of Christ's severed foreskin.  The second chapter has the following story: "And when the time of his circumcision was come, namely, the eighth day, on which the law commanded the child to be circumcised, they circumcised him in a cave.  And the old Hebrew woman took the foreskin (others say she took the navel-string), and preserved it in an alabaster-box of old oil of spikenard.  And she had a son who was a druggist, to whom she said, "Take heed thou sell not this alabaster box of spikenard-ointment, although thou shouldst be offered three hundred pence for it.  Now this is that alabaster-box which Mary the sinner procured, and poured forth the ointment out of it upon the head and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, and wiped it off with the hairs of her head". 

Depictions in art 

The circumcision controversy in early Christianity was resolved in the 1st century, so that non-Jewish Christians were not obliged to be circumcised.  Saint Paul, the leading proponent of this position, discouraged circumcision as a qualification for conversion to Christianity.  Circumcision soon became rare in most of the Christian world, except the Coptic Church of Egypt (where circumcision was a tradition dating to pre-Christian times) and for Judeo-Christians.  Perhaps for this reason, the subject of the circumcision of Christ was extremely rare in Christian art of the 1st millennium, and there appear to be no surviving examples until the very end of the period, although literary references suggest it was sometimes depicted. 

One of the earliest depictions to survive is a miniature in an important Byzantine illuminated manuscript of 979-984, the Menologion of Basil II in the Vatican Library.  This has a scene which shows Mary and Joseph holding the baby Jesus outside a building, probably the Temple of Jerusalem, as a priest comes towards them with a small knife.  This is typical of the early depictions, which avoid showing the operation itself.  At the period of Jesus's birth, the actual Jewish practice was for the operation to be performed at home, usually by the father, and Joseph is shown using the knife in an enamelled plaque from the Klosterneuburg Altar (1181) by Nicolas of Verdun, where it is next to plaques showing the very rare scenes (in Christian art) of the circumcisions of Isaac and Samson.  Like most later depictions these are shown taking place in a large building, probably representing the Temple, though in fact the ceremony was never performed there.  Medieval pilgrims to the Holy Land were told Jesus had been circumcised in the church at Bethlehem. 

The scene gradually became increasingly common in the art of the Western church, and increasingly rare in Orthodox art.  Various themes in theological exegesis of the event influenced the treatment in art.  As the first drawing of Christ's blood, it was also seen as a forerunner of, or even the first scene of, the Passion of Christ, and was one of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.  Other interpretations developed based on it as the naming ceremony equivalent to Christian baptism, the aspect which was eventually to become most prominent in Catholic thinking.  Both in this respect and in terms of finding a place in a pictorial cycle, consideration of the circumcision put it in a kind of competition with the much better established Presentation of Jesus; eventually the two scenes were to be conflated in some paintings. 

An influential book by Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1983, 2nd edition 1996), explores the explicit depiction of Christ's penis in art, which he argues became a new focus of attention in late medieval art, initially covered only by a transparent veil in the early 14th century, and by the second half of the century completely uncovered, and often being the subject of the gaze or gestures of other figures in the scene.  This emphasis is, among other things, a demonstration of Christ's humanity when it appears in depictions of the Madonna and Child and other scenes of Christ's childhood, and also a foreshadowing of Christ's Passion to come in the context of the Circumcision. 

Having borrowed the large architectural setting in the Temple of the Presentation, later scenes may show the high priest alone holding the baby, as he or a mohel performs the operation, as in the St Wolfgang altarpiece by Michael Pacher (1481), or Dürer's painting (right) and his influential woodcut from his series on the Life of the Virgin.  This reflected what had by then become, and remains, standard Jewish practice, where the ceremony is performed in the synagogue and the baby is held by the seated rabbi as the mohel performs the operation.  Such an arrangement is seen in a miniature from a German Pentateuch in Hebrew from about 1300, showing the Circumcision of Isaac.  Other depictions show the baby held by Mary or Joseph, or both.  Many show another baby in the background, presumably the next in the queue. 

Other late medieval and Renaissance depictions of circumcision in general show antipathy towards Judaism; caricatures show the procedure as being grotesquely cruel and the mohel as a threatening figure; Martin Luther's anti-Judaic treatise of 1543, On the Jews and Their Lies, devotes many pages to circumcision.  Some late-medieval German depictions depict the Circumcision of Christ in a similar vein, with the baby not held by his parents and the officiating Jewish officials given stereotypic features.  In at least one manuscript miniature women are shown performing the rite, which has been interpreted as a misogynistic trope, with circumcision represented as a form of emasculation. 

By the 15th century the scene was often prominent in large polyptych altarpieces with many scenes in Northern Europe, and began to be the main scene on the central panel in some cases, usually when commissioned by lay confraternities dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, which were found in many cities.  These often included donor portraits of members, though none are obvious in Luca Signorelli's Circumcision of Christ commissioned by the confraternity at Volterra.  The devotion to the Holy Name was a strong feature of the theatrical and extremely popular preaching of Saint Bernardino of Siena, who adopted Christ's IHS monogram as his personal emblem, which was also used by the Jesuits; this often appears in paintings, as may a scroll held by an angel reading Vocatum est nomen eius Jesum. 

A smaller composition in a horizontal format originated with the Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini in about 1500 and was extremely popular, with at least 34 copies or versions being produced over the following decades; the nearest to a prime version is in the National Gallery, London, though attributed to his workshop.  These appear to have been commissioned for homes, possibly as votive offerings for the safe birth of an eldest son, although the reason for their popularity remains unclear.  They followed some other depictions in showing Simeon, the prophet of the Presentation, regarded by then as a High Priest of the Temple, performing the operation on Jesus held by Mary.  In other depictions he is a figure in the background, sometimes holding up his hands and looking to heaven, as in the Signorelli.  An altarpiece of 1500 by another Venetian painter, Marco Marziale (National Gallery, London), is a thoroughgoing conflation of the Circumcision and Presentation, with the text of Simeon's prophecy, the Nunc dimittis, shown as if in mosaic on the vaults of the temple setting.  There were a number of comparable works, some commissioned in circumstances where it is clear that the iconography would have had to pass learned scrutiny, so the conflation was evidently capable of theological approval, although some complaints are also recorded. 

The scene was often included in Protestant art, where this included narrative scenes.  It appears on baptismal fonts because of the connection made by theologians with baptism.  A painting (1661, National Gallery of Art, Washington and an etching (1654) by Rembrandt are both unusual in showing the ceremony taking place in a stable.  By this period large depictions were rarer in Catholic art, not least because the interpretation of the decrees of the final session of the Council of Trent in 1563 discouraged nudity in religious art, even that of the infant Jesus, which made depicting the scene difficult.  Even before this, 16th century depictions like those of Bellini, Dürer and Signorelli tended to discreetly hide Jesus's penis from view, in contrast to earlier compositions, where this evidence of his humanity is clearly displayed. 

Poems on the subject included John Milton's Upon the Circumcision and his contemporary Richard Crashaw's Our Lord in His Circumcision to His Father, which both expounded the traditional symbolism. 

Theological beliefs and celebrations 

The circumcision of Jesus has traditionally been seen, as explained in the popular 14th century work the Golden Legend, as the first time the blood of Christ was shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption of man, and a demonstration that Christ was fully human, and of his obedience to Biblical law.  Medieval and Renaissance theologians repeatedly stressed this, also drawing attention to the suffering of Jesus as a demonstration of his humanity and a foreshadowing of his Passion.  These themes were continued by Protestant theologians like Jeremy Taylor, who in a treatise of 1657 argued that Jesus's circumcision proved his human nature while fulfilling the law of Moses.  Taylor also notes that had Jesus been uncircumcised, it would have made Jews substantially less receptive to his Evangelism. 

The "Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord" is a Christian celebration of the circumcision, eight days (according to the Semitic and southern European calculation of intervals of days) after his birth, the occasion on which the child was formally given his name, Jesus, a name derived from Hebrew meaning "salvation" or "saviour".  It is first recorded from a church council held at Tours in 567, although it was clearly already long-established. 

The feast day appears on 1 January in the liturgical calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  It also appears in the pre-1960 General Roman Calendar, and is celebrated by churches of the Anglican Communion (though in many revised Anglican calendars, such as the 1979 calendar of the Episcopal Church, there is a tendency toward associating the day more with the Holy Name of Jesus) and virtually all Lutheran churches.  Johann Sebastian Bach wrote several cantatas for this Feast, "Beschneidung des Herrn" ("Circumcision of the Lord"), including Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 190, for 1 January 1724 in Leipzig. 

It has now disappeared from the Roman calendar, replaced on January 1 by the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, but is still celebrated by Old Catholics and some traditionalist Catholics.  It was for many centuries combined on January 1 with the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, before the two were separated, and now that the Feast of the Circumcision has disappeared as such from the official Catholic calendar, the other feast may be regarded as celebrating this too. 

Relics 

Main article: Holy prepuce 

At various points in history, relics purporting to be the holy prepuce, the foreskin of Christ, have surfaced and various miraculous powers have been ascribed to it.  A number of churches in Europe have claimed to possess Jesus' foreskin, sometimes at the same time.  The best known was in the Lateran Basilica in Rome, whose authenticity was confirmed by a vision of Saint Bridget of Sweden.  In its gold reliquary, it was looted in the Sack of Rome in 1527, but eventually recovered. 

Most of the Holy Prepuces were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution.  The Prepuce of Calcata is noteworthy, as the reliquary containing the Holy Foreskin was paraded through the streets of this Italian village as recently as 1983 on the Feast of the Circumcision, which was formerly marked by the Roman Catholic Church around the world on January 1 each year, and is now renamed as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  The practice ended, however, when thieves stole the jewel-encrusted case, contents and all.  Following this theft, it is unclear whether any purported Holy Prepuces still exist. 

Other philosophers contended that with the Ascension of Jesus, all of his body parts – even those no longer attached – ascended as well.  One, Leo Allatius, reportedly went so far as to contend that the foreskin became the rings of Saturn.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basil_of_Caesarea¬†

Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great ...  229 or 330 – January 1 or 2, 379), was the Greek bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).  He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea.  His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position. 

In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged.  Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labour.  Together with Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity.  He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity. 

Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers.  The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches have given him, together with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, the title of Great Hierarch.  He is recognised as a Doctor of the Church in both Eastern Orthodoxy and in the Roman Catholic Church.  He is sometimes referred to by the epithet "Ουρανοφαντωρ" (Ouranofantor), "revealer of heavenly mysteries". 

Early life and education 

Basil was born into the wealthy family of Basil the Elder, a famous rhetor, and Emmelia of Caesarea, in Pontus, around 330.  His parents were renowned for their piety.  His maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine I's conversion.  His pious widow, Macrina, herself a follower of Gregory Thaumaturgus (who had founded the nearby church of Neocaesarea), raised Basil and his four siblings (who also can be venerated as saints): Macrina the Younger, Naucratius, Peter of Sebaste and Gregory of Nyssa. 

Basil received more formal education in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (modern-day Kayseri, Turkey) around 350-51.  There he met Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend.  Together, Basil and Gregory went to Constantinople for further studies, including the lectures of Libanius.  The two also spent almost six years in Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become the emperor Julian the Apostate.  Basil left Athens in 356, and after travels in Egypt and Syria, he returned to Caesarea, where for around a year he practiced law and taught rhetoric. 

Basil's life changed radically after he encountered Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic.  Abandoning his legal and teaching career, Basil devoted his life to God.  A letter described his spiritual awakening: 

“ 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. 

After his baptism, Basil traveled in 357 to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism.  He distributed his fortunes among the poor, then went briefly into solitude near Neocaesarea of Pontus (mod.  day Niksar, Turkey) on the Iris.  Basil eventually realized that while he respected the ascetics' piety and prayerfulness, the solitary life did not call him.  Eustathius of Sebaste, a prominent anchorite near Pontus, had mentored Basil.  However, they also eventually differed over dogma. 

Basil instead felt drawn toward communal religious life, and by 358 he was gathering around him a group of like-minded disciples, including his brother Peter.  Together they founded a monastic settlement on his family's estate near Annesi  (modern Sonusa or Uluköy, near the confluence of the Iris and Lycos Rivers).  His widowed mother Emmelia, sister Macrina and several other women, joined Basil and devoted themselves to pious lives of prayer and charitable works (some claim Macrina founded this community). 

Here Basil wrote about monastic communal life.  His writings became pivotal in developing monastic traditions of the Eastern Church.  In 358, Basil invited his friend Gregory of Nazianzus to join him in Annesi.  When Gregory eventually arrived, they collaborated on Origen's Philocalia, a collection of Origen's works .  Gregory then decided to return to his family in Nazianzus. 

Basil attended the Council of Constantinople in 360.  He at first sided with Eustathius and the Homoiousians, a semi-Arian faction who taught that the Son was of like substance with the Father, neither the same (one substance) nor different from him.  The Homoiousians opposed the Arianism of Eunomius but refused to join with the supporters of the Nicene Creed, who professed that the members of the Trinity were of one substance ("homoousios").  However, Basil's bishop, Dianius of Caesarea, had subscribed only to the earlier Nicene form of agreement.  Basil eventually abandoned the Homoiousians, and emerged instead as a strong supporter of the Nicene Creed. 

Caesarea 

In 362, Bishop Meletius of Antioch ordained Basil as a deacon.  Eusebius then summoned Basil to Caesarea and ordained him as presbyter of the Church there in 365.  Ecclesiastical entreaties rather than Basil's desires thus altered his career path. 

Basil and Gregory Nazianzus spent the next few years combating the Arian heresy, which threatened to divide Cappadocia's Christians.  In close fraternal cooperation, they agreed to a great rhetorical contest with accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors.  In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant.  This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the Church.  Basil next took on functional administration of the city of Caesarea.  Eusebius is reported as becoming jealous of the reputation and influence which Basil quickly developed, and allowed Basil to return to his earlier solitude.  Later, however, Gregory persuaded Basil to return.  Basil did so, and became the effective manager of the city for several years, while giving all the credit to Eusebius. 

In 370, Eusebius died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him, and was consecrated bishop on June 14, 370.  His new post as bishop of Caesarea also gave him the powers of exarch of Pontus and metropolitan of five suffragan bishops, many of whom had opposed him in the election for Eusebius's successor.  It was then that his great powers were called into action.  Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic.  He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought.  He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese. 

His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes.  They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for holy orders.  He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice.  At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations.  In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad, which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was described by Gregory of Nazianzus as one of the wonders of the world. 

His zeal for orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent; and for the sake of peace and charity he was content to waive the use of orthodox terminology when it could be surrendered without a sacrifice of truth.  The Emperor Valens, who was an adherent of the Arian philosophy, sent his prefect Modestus to at least agree to a compromise with the Arian faction.  Basil's adamant negative response prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in that way before.  Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop." Modestus reported back to Valens that he believed nothing short of violence would avail against Basil.  Valens was apparently unwilling to engage in violence.  He did however issue orders banishing Basil repeatedly, none of which succeeded.  Valens came himself to attend when Basil celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), and at that time was so impressed by Basil that he donated to him some land for the building of the Basiliad.  This interaction helped to define the limits of governmental power over the church. 

Basil then had to face the growing spread of Arianism.  This belief system, which denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father, was quickly gaining adherents and was seen by many, particularly those in Alexandria most familiar with it, as posing a threat to the unity of the church.  Basil entered into connections with the West, and with the help of Athanasius, he tried to overcome its distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians.  The difficulties had been enhanced by bringing in the question as to the essence of the Holy Spirit.  Although Basil advocated objectively the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, he belonged to those, who, faithful to Eastern tradition, would not allow the predicate homoousios to the former; for this he was reproached as early as 371 by the Orthodox zealots among the monks, and Athanasius defended him.  He maintained a relationship with Eustathius despite dogmatic differences. 

Basil corresponded with Pope Damasus in the hope of having the Roman bishop condemn heresy wherever found, both East and West.  The pope's apparent indifference upset Basil's zeal and he turned around in distress and sadness.  It is still a point of controversy over how much he believed the Roman See could do for the Churches in the East, as many Roman Catholic theologians claim the primacy of the Roman bishopric over the rest of the Churches, both in doctrine and in authoritative strength. 

Death and legacy 

Basil died before the factional disturbances ended.  He suffered from liver disease; excessive ascetic practices also contributed to his early demise.  Historians disagree about the exact date Basil died.  The great institute before the gates of Caesarea, which was used as poorhouse, hospital, and hospice became a lasting monument of Basil's episcopal care for the poor. 

Writings 

The principal theological writings of Basil are his On the Holy Spirit, a lucid and edifying appeal to Scripture and early Christian tradition (to prove the divinity of the Holy Spirit), and his Refutation of the Apology of the Impious Eunomius, written in 363 or 364, three books against Eunomius of Cyzicus, the chief exponent of Anomoian Arianism.  The first three books of the Refutation are his work; the fourth and fifth books that are usually included do not belong to Basil, or to Apollinaris of Laodicea. 

He was a famous preacher, and many of his homilies, including a series of Lenten lectures on the Hexaëmeron (also Hexaëmeros, "Six Days of Creation"; Latin: Hexameron), and an exposition of the psalter, have been preserved.  Some, like that against usury and that on the famine in 368, are valuable for the history of morals; others illustrate the honor paid to martyrs and relics; the address to young men on the study of classical literature shows that Basil was lastingly influenced by his own education, which taught him to appreciate the propaedeutic importance of the classics. 

In his exegesis Basil was a great admirer of Origen and the need for the spiritual interpretation of Scripture.  In his work on the Holy Spirit, he asserts that "to take the literal sense and stop there, is to have the heart covered by the veil of Jewish literalism.  Lamps are useless when the sun is shining." He frequently stresses the need for Reserve in doctrinal and sacramental matters.  At the same time he was against the wild allegories of some contemporaries.  Concerning this, he wrote: 

"I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others.  There are those, truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end." 

His ascetic tendencies are exhibited in the Moralia and Asketika (sometimes mistranslated as Rules of St.  Basil), ethical manuals for use in the world and the cloister, respectively.  There has been a good deal of discussion concerning the authenticity of the two works known as the Greater Asketikon and the Lesser Asketikon. 

It is in the ethical manuals and moral sermons that the practical aspects of his theoretical theology are illustrated.  So, for example, it is in his Sermon to the Lazicans that we find St.  Basil explaining how it is our common nature that obliges us to treat our neighbor's natural needs (e.g., hunger, thirst) as our own, even though he is a separate individual.  Later theologians explicitly explain this as an example of how the saints become an image of the one common nature of the persons of the Trinity. 

His three hundred letters reveal a rich and observant nature, which, despite the troubles of ill-health and ecclesiastical unrest, remained optimistic, tender and even playful.  His principal efforts as a reformer were directed towards the improvement of the liturgy, and the reformation of the monastic institutions of the East. 

Most of his extant works, and a few spuriously attributed to him, are available in the Patrologia Graeca, which includes Latin translations of varying quality.  Several of St.  Basil's works have appeared in the late twentieth century in the Sources Chrétiennes collection. 

Liturgical contributions 

Saint Basil of Caesarea holds a very important place in the history of Christian liturgy, coming as he did at the end of the age of persecution.  Basil's liturgical influence is well attested in early sources.  Though it is difficult at this time to know exactly which parts of the Divine Liturgies which bear his name are actually his work, a vast corpus of prayers attributed to him has survived in the various Eastern Christian churches.  Tradition also credits Basil with the elevation of the iconostasis to its present height. 

Most of the liturgies bearing the name of Basil are not entirely his work in their present form, but they nevertheless preserve a recollection of Basil's activity in this field in formularizing liturgical prayers and promoting church-song.  Patristics scholars conclude that the Liturgy of Saint Basil "bears, unmistakably, the personal hand, pen, mind and heart of St.  Basil the Great." 

One liturgy that can be attributed to him is The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, a liturgy that is somewhat longer than the more commonly used Divine Liturgy of St.  John Chrysostom.  The difference between the two is primarily in the silent prayers said by the priest, and in the use of the hymn to the Theotokos, All of Creation, instead of the Axion Estin of Saint John Chrysostom's Liturgy.  Chrysostom's Liturgy has come to replace Saint Basil's on most days in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic liturgical traditions.  However, they still use Saint Basil's Liturgy on certain feast days: the first five Sundays of Great Lent, the Eves of Nativity and Theophany, on Great and Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday and on the Feast of Saint Basil, January 1 (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar, their January 1 falls on January 14 of the Gregorian Calendar). 

The Eastern Churches preserve numerous other prayers attributed to Saint Basil, including three Prayers of Exorcism, several Morning and Evening Prayers, the "Prayer of the Hours" which is read at each service of the Daily Office, and the "Kneeling Prayers" which are recited by the priest at Vespers on Pentecost in the Byzantine Rite. 

Influence on monasticism 

Through his examples and teachings Basil effected a noteworthy moderation in the austere practices which were previously characteristic of monastic life.  He is also credited with coordinating the duties of work and prayer to ensure a proper balance between the two. 

Basil is remembered as one of the most influential figures in the development of Christian monasticism.  Not only is Basil recognised as the father of Eastern monasticism; historians recognize that his legacy extends also to the Western church, largely due to his influence on Saint Benedict.  Patristic scholars such as Meredith assert that Benedict himself recognized this when he wrote in the epilogue to his Rule that his monks, in addition to the Bible, should read "the confessions of the Fathers and their institutes and their lives and the Rule of our Holy Father, Basil.  Basil's teachings on monasticism, as encoded in works such as his Small Asketikon, was transmitted to the west via Rufinus during the last 4th century. 

As a result of his influence, numerous religious orders in Eastern Christianity bear his name.  In the Roman Catholic Church, the Basilian Fathers, also known as The Congregation of St.  Basil, an international order of priests and students studying for the priesthood, is named after him. 

Commemorations of Basil 

St Basil was given the title Doctor of the Church for his contributions to the debate initiated by the Arian controversy regarding the nature of the Trinity, and especially the question of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  Basil was responsible for defining the terms "ousia" (essence/substance) and "hypostasis" (person/reality), and for defining the classic formulation of three Persons in one Nature.  His single greatest contribution was his insistence on the divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son. 

In Greek tradition, he brings gifts to children every January 1 (St Basil's Day) — unlike other traditions where Father Christmas arrives either on December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day) or on Christmas Eve (December 24).  It is traditional on St Basil's Day to serve vasilopita, a rich bread baked with a coin inside.  It is customary on his feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing New Year's carols, and to set an extra place at the table for Saint Basil.  Basil, being born into a wealthy family, gave away all his possessions to the poor, the underprivileged, those in need, and children.  A similar story exists for another Greek bishop, Saint Nicholas of Myra.  Over the centuries the two legends have blended together, though the Western Santa Claus remains associated with Nicholas, while the Eastern "Santa" is identified with Basil. 

According to some sources, Saint Basil died on January 1, and the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day together with that of the Feast of the Circumcision on that day.  This was also the day on which the General Roman Calendar celebrated it at first; but in the 13th century it was moved to June 14, a date believed to be that of his ordination as bishop, and it remained on that date until the 1969 revision of the calendar, which moved it to January 2, rather than January 1, because the latter date is occupied by the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  On January 2 Saint Basil is celebrated together with Saint Gregory Nazianzen.  Some traditionalist Catholics continue to observe pre-1970 calendars. 

THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND CELEBRATES SAINT BASIL'S FEAST ON JANUARY 2, and THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH AND THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF CANADA CELEBRATE IT ON JUNE 14. 

In the Byzantine Rite, January 30 is the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs, in honor of Saint Basil, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom. 

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria celebrates the feast day of Saint Basil on the 6th of Tobi (6th of Terr on the Ethiopian calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church).  At present, this corresponds to January 14, January 15 during leap year. 

The Macedonian Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Basil's feast on January 14.  He is considered as one of the greatest saints in the Christianity and is called St.  Basil the Great.   

 

There are numerous relics of Saint Basil throughout the world.  One of the most important is his head, which is preserved to this day at the monastery of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos in Greece.  The mythical sword Durandal is said to contain some of Basil's blood.