Fathers of the Church
Letter XXVIII: to the Church of Neocoesarea
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. What has befallen you strongly moved me to visit you, with the double object of joining with you, who are near and dear to me, in paying all respect to the blessed dead, and of being more closely associated with you in your trouble by seeing your sorrow with my own eyes, and so being able to take counsel with you as to what is to be done. But many causes hinder my being able to approach you in person, and it remains for me to communicate with you in writing. The admirable qualities of the departed, on account of which we chiefly estimate the greatness of our loss, are indeed too many to be enumerated in a letter; and it is, besides, no time to be discussing the multitude of his good deeds, when our spirits are thus prostrated with grief. For of all that he did, what can we ever forget? What could we deem deserving of silence? To tell all at once were impossible; to tell a part would, I fear, involve disloyalty to the truth. A man has passed away who surpassed all his contemporaries in all the good things that are within man's reach; a prop of his country; an ornament of the churches; a pillar and support of the truth; a stay of the faith of Christ; a protector of his friends; a stout foe of his opponents; a guardian of the principles of his fathers; an enemy of innovation; exhibiting in himself the ancient, fashion of the Church, and making the state of the Church put under him conform to the ancient constitution, as to a sacred model, so that all who lived with him seemed to live in the society of them that used to shine like lights in the world two hundred years ago and more. So your bishop put forth nothing of his own, no novel invention; but, as the blessing of Moses has it, he knew how to bring out of the secret and good stores of his heart, "old store, and the old because of the new." Thus it came about that in meetings of his fellow bishops he was not ranked according to his age, but, by reason of the old age of his wisdom, he was unanimously conceded precedence over all the rest. And no one who looks at your condition need go far to seek the advantages of such a course of training. For, so far as I know, you alone, or, at all events, you and but very few others, in the midst of such a storm and whirlwind of affairs, were able under his good guidance to live your lives unshaken by the waves. You were never reached by heretics' buffering blasts, which bring shipwreck and drowning on unstable souls; and that you may for ever live beyond their reach I pray the Lord who ruleth over all, and who granted long tranquillity to Gregory His servant, the first founder of your church.
Do not lose that tranquillity now; do not, by extravagant lamentation, and by entirely giving yourself up to grief, put the opportunity for action into the hands of those who are plotting your bane. If lament you must, (which I do not allow, lest you be in this respect like "them which have no hope,") do you, if so it seem good to you, like some wading chorus, choose your leader, and raise with him a chant of tears.
2. And yet, if he whom you mourn had not reached extreme old age, certainly, as regards his government of your church, he was allowed no narrow limit of life. He had as much strength of body as enabled him to show strength of mind in his distresses. Perhaps some of you may suppose that time increases sympathy and adds affection, and is no cause of satiety, so that, the longer you have experienced kind treatment, the more sensible you are of its loss. You may think that of a righteous person the good hold even the shadow in honour. Would that many of yon did feel so! Far be it from me to suggest anything like disregard of our friend! But I do counsel you to bear your pain with manly endurance. I myself am by no means insensible of all that may be said by those who are weeping for their loss. Hushed is a tongue whose words flooded our ears like a mighty stream: a depth of heath never fathomed before, has fled, humanly speaking, like an unsubstantial dream. Whose glance so keen as his to look into the future? Who with like fixity and strength of mind able to dart like lightning into the midst of action? O Neocaearea, already a prey to many troubles, never before smitten with so deadly a loss! Now withered is the bloom of you, beauty; your church is dumb; your assemblies are full of mournful faces; your sacred synod craves for its leader; your holy utterances wait for an expounder; your boys have lost a father, your elders a brother, your nobles one first among them, your people a champion, your poor a supporter. All, calling him by the name that comes most nearly home to each, lift up the wailing cry which to each man's own sorrow seems most appropriate and fit. But whither are my words carried away by my tearful joy? Shall we not watch? Shall we not meet together? Shall we riot look to our common Lord, Who suffers each of his saints to serve his own generation, and summons him back to Himself at His own appointed that? Now in season remember the voice of him who when preaching to you used always to say "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers." The dogs are many. Why do I say dogs? Rather grievous wolves, hiding their grille under the guise of sheep, are, all over the world, tearing Christ's flock. Of these you must beware, trader the protection of some wakeful bishop. Such an one it is yours to ask, purging your souls of all rivalry and ambition: such an one it is the Lord's to show you. That Lord, from the time of Gregory the great champion of your church down to that of the blessed departed, setting over you one after another, and from time to time fitting one to another like gem set close to gem, has bestowed on you glorious ornaments for your church. You have, then, no need to despair of them that are to come. The Lord knoweth who are His. He may bring into our midst those for whom peradventure we are not looking.
3. I meant to have come to an end long before this, but the pain at my heart does not allow me. Now I charge you by the Fathers, by the true faith, by our blessed friend, lift up your souls, each man making what is being done his own immediate business, each reckoning that be will be the first to reap the consequences of the issue, whichever way it turn out, lest your fate be that which so very frequently befalls, every one leaving to his neighbour the common interests of all; and then, while each one makes little in his own mind of what is going on, all of you unwittingly draw your own proper misfortunes on yourselves by your neglect. Take, I beg you, what I say with all kindliness, whether it be regarded as an expression of the sympathy of a neighbour, or as fellowship between fellow believers, or, which is really nearer the truth, of one who obeys the law of love, and shrinks from the risk of silence. I am persuaded that you are my boasting, as I am yours, till the day of the Lord, and that it depends upon the pastor who will be granted you whether I shall be more closely united to you by the bond of love, or wholly severed from you. This latter God forbid. By God's grace it will not so be; and I should be sorry now to say one ungracious word. But this I do wish you to know, that though I had not that blessed man always at my side, in my efforts for the peace of the churches, because, as he himself affirmed, of certain prejudices, yet, nevertheless, at no time did I fail in unity of opinion with him, and I have always invoked Iris aid in my struggles against the heretics. Of this I call to witness God and all who know me best.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (PNPF II/VIII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.