Basil had an interesting career path you don’t see often these days: lawyer, then monk, then bishop (of a single diocese). Basil is to eastern monasticism as Benedict is to the West. I remember he and his festal companion Gregory were among the eight doctors we studied in sixth grade of Catholic school.
This good prayer of Basil shows him a man well attuned to a certain modern sensibility:
O God, grant us a deeper sense of fellowship with all living things, our little brothers and sisters to whom in common with us you have given this earth as home. We recall with regret that in the past we have acted high-handedly and cruelly in exercising our domain over them. Thus, the voice of the earth which should have risen to you in song has turned into a groan of travail. May we realize that all these creatures also live for themselves and for you – not for us alone. They too love the goodness of life, as we do, and serve you better in their way than we do in ours. Amen.
As for Gregory, I like this guy. He was always struggling with life choices: orator or philosopher, priest or monk, this diocese or that. And when he returned to his ailing father, the Bishop of Nazianzus, he did so torn for the see for which he was bishop, Sasima. His friend Basil thought he should stay in Sasima. Gregory honestly struggled with episcopal careerism, resigning a later appointment in Constantinople. He struggled with councils also:
To tell you plainly, I am determined to fly every convention of bishops; for I never yet saw a council that ended happily. Instead of lessening, they invaribly augment the mischief. The passion for victory and the lust of power (you will perhaps think my freedom intolerable) are not to be described in words. One present as judge will much more readily catch the infection from others than be able to restrain it in them. For this reason, I must conclude that the only security of one’s peace and virtue is in retirement.
Eastern men, yes, but worthy of their veneration in the West.