Fathers of the Church
Letter V: to Nectarius
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. I HEARD of your unendurable loss, and was much distressed. Three or four days went by, and I was still in some doubt because my informant was not able to give me any clear details of the melancholy event. While I was incredulous about what was noised abroad, because I prayed that it might not be true, I received a letter from the Bishop fully confirming the unhappy tidings. I need not tell you how I sighed and wept. Who could be so stonyhearted, so truly inhuman, as to be insensible to what has occurred, or be affected by merely moderate grief? He is gone; heir of a noble house, prop of a family, a father's hope, offspring of pious parents, nursed with innumerable prayers, in the very bloom of manhood, torn from his father's hands. These things are enough to break a heart of adamant and make it feel. It is only natural then that I am deeply touched at this trouble; I who have been intimately connected with you from the beginning and have made your joys and sorrows mine. But yesterday it seemed that you had only little to trouble you, and that your life's stream was flowing prosperously on. In a moment, by a demon's malice, all the happiness of the house, all the brightness of life, is destroyed, and our lives are made a doleful story. If we wish to lament and weep over what has happened, a life time will not be enough and if all mankind mourns with us they will be powerless to make their lamentation match our loss. Yes, if all the streams run tears they will not adequately weep our woe.
2. But we mean,—do we not?—to bring out the gift which God has stored in our hearts; I mean that sober reason which in our happy days is wont to draw lines of limitation round our souls, and when troubles come about us to recall to our minds that we are but men, and to suggest to us, what indeed we have seen and heard, that life is full of similar misfortunes, and that the examples of human sufferings are not a few. Above all, this will tell us that it is God's command that we who trust in Christ should not grieve over them who are fallen asleep, because we hope in the resurrection; and that in reward for great patience great crowns of glory are kept in store by the Master of life's course. Only let us allow our wiser thoughts to speak to us in this strain of music, and we may peradventure discover some slight alleviation of our trouble. Play the man, then, I implore you; the blow is a heavy one, but stand firm; do not fall under the weight of your grief; do not lose heart. Be perfectly assured of this, that though the reasons for what is ordained by God are beyond us, vet always what is arranged for us by Him Who is wise and Who loves us is to be accepted, be it ever so grievous to endure. He Himself knows how He is appointing what is best for each and why the terms of life that He fixes for us are unequal. There exists some reason incomprehensible to man why some are sooner carried far away from us, and some are left a longer while behind to bear the burdens of this painful life. So we ought always to adore His loving kindness, and not to repine, remembering those great and famous words of the great athlete Job, when he bad seen ten children at one table, in one short moment, crushed to death, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away." As the Lord thought good so it came to pass. Let us adopt those marvellous words. At the hands of the righteous Judge, they who show like good deeds shall receive a like reward. We have not lost the lad; we have restored him to the Lender. His life is not destroyed; it is changed for the better. He whom we love is not hidden in the ground; he is received into heaven. Let us wait a little while, and we shall be once more with him. The time of our separation is not long, for in this life we are all like travellers on a journey, hastening on to the same shelter. While one has reached his rest another arrives, another hurries on, but one and the same end awaits them all. He has outstripped us on the way. but we shall all travel the same road, and the same hostelry awaits us all. God only grant that we through goodness may be likened to his purity, to the end that for the sake of our guilelessness of life we may attain the rest which is granted to them that are children in Christ.
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.