Although the Orthodox Church marks the beginning of the Church year on Sept. 1 (called The Indiction marking the beginning of the new regnal year of the Byzantine emperor), the beginning of our new calendar year gives us the opportunity to reflect on some ways we can help to improve our own lives and the life of our community.
On Jan. 1 the Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of a great saint, Basil the Great, the archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Although the mention of these ancient places (which are now in modern-day Turkey) evoke images of the misty past, Basil (who lived from 329/330 to 379 AD) could be called a saint for our own day. He is best known both for his defense of the faith proclaimed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 against the Emperor Valens and for his establishment of monastic life based on a communal experience. What most people do not know about Basil is that, as bishop of Caesarea, he established an entire city outside of Caesarea called Basileia, which consisted of hospitals, homes for single mothers, poor houses and other institutions for the care of the poor and the sick. Basil even employed women doctors to take care of women patients.
Basil also never ceased exhorting his wealthy congregation to use their wealth to help the poor. He saw rich and poor existing in a symbiotic relationship, since the poor offered the rich the perfect opportunity to fulfill the command of Christ to sell one’s possessions and give them to the poor. Those who have the goods of this world, he constantly reminded his people, did not possess what they had, but held these things as stewards of God, and were responsible to distribute them to those in need. As he says in one of his sermons: