Monday, January 2, 2012

Feast Of Friends

The feast of St Basil the Great and St Gregory Nazianzen, the great bishops of Cappadocia and Doctors of the Church.    There is so much to honour and praise in these two holy men: their personal virtues, their humility sitting comfortably with great learning, their heroic defence of the teaching of orthodox Christianity, their profound works of theology and spirituality - I could go on.  But, to be honest, there is one thing, after their deep love of God, which I think we can praise above all of these: their holy friendship. 

Basil and Gregory were very close friends - best friends.  They spent their lives in each other's company, supporting each other and encouraging a life of heroic virtue in the other.   They had their rows, but these fade when we look to the union of fraternal love which existed between them.

Here's what St Gregory says of their friendship in an oration delivered following Basil's death in 379:
We were contained by Athens, like two branches of some river-stream, for after leaving the common fountain of our fatherland, we had been separated in our varying pursuit of culture, and were now again united by the impulsion of God no less than by our own agreement. I preceded him by a little, but he soon followed me, to be welcomed with great and brilliant hope.

Whenever any newcomer arrives, and falls into the hands of those who seize upon him, either by force or willingly, they observe this Attic law, of combined jest and earnest. On this occasion I not only refused to put to shame my friend the great Basil, out of respect for the gravity of his character, and the ripeness of his reasoning powers, but also persuaded all the rest of the students to treat him likewise, who happened not to know him. For he was from the first respected by most of them, his reputation having preceded him. The result was that he was the only one to escape the general rule, and be accorded a greater honour than belongs to a freshman's position.

This was the prelude of our friendship. This was the kindling spark of our union: thus we felt the wound of mutual love.

And when, as time went on, we acknowledged our mutual affection, and that philosophy was our aim, we were all in all to one another, housemates, messmates, intimates, with one object in life, or an affection for each other ever growing warmer and stronger. Love which is godly and under restraint, since its object is stable, not only is more lasting, but, the fuller its vision of beauty grows, the more closely does it bind to itself and to one another the hearts of those whose love has one and the same object. This is the law of our superhuman love. Such were our feelings for each other, when we had thus supported, as Pindar has it, our “well-built chamber with pillars of gold,” as we advanced under the united influences of God's grace and our own affection. Oh! How can I mention these things without tears.

We were impelled by equal hopes, in a pursuit especially obnoxious to envy, that of letters. Yet envy we knew not, and emulation was of service to us. We struggled, not each to gain the first place for himself, but to yield it to the other; for we made each other's reputation to be our own. We seemed to have one soul, inhabiting two bodies. And if we must not believe those whose doctrine is “All things are in all;” yet in our case it was worthy of belief, so did we live in and with each other. The sole business of both of us was virtue, and living for the hopes to come, having retired from this world, before our actual departure hence. With a view to this, were directed all our life and actions, under the guidance of the commandment, as we sharpened upon each other our weapons of virtue; and if this is not a great thing for me to say, being a rule and standard to each other, for the distinction between what was right and what was not.
So today, let us commend to the holy friends, Basil and Gregory, our own dear friends, as we give thanks for friendship.  Spiritual exercise for today: contact your friends, wish them a happy feast day, tell them you love them and thank them for their friendship.  Friendship can sanctify, that is one of the lessons God teaches us today in life and example of these two holy men.   May all of us, friends, spur each other on to holiness.

Happy feast day, my dear friends!

RELATED:  Fr Dwight Longenecker has an excellent article on modern Arianism on his blog - well worth reading.  It reminds us of course that the Church is still struggling with the same issues that SS Basil and Gregory had to deal with in their own, plus ça change....!

1 comment:

  1. Friendships are made in Heaven, where words are not necessary but happy friendship day anyway.

    God bless from a friend.