One thousand six hundred and thirty-four years ago, Basil of Caesarea died in Cappadocia. He was one of the men who shaped Christianity the way it is today; establishing the Trinity and the Nicene Creed; being an example of a strong bishop, theologically and politically; setting up the monastic tradition; being an example of charity and kindness and non-materialism; and having a huge influence on the future of Western civilization.
It may seem odd for a humanist like me to be interested in Christian saints, but they were fascinating people - some weird, some wonderful - and they did a lot to make the world we live in. I hope we are evolving beyond their world view, intellectually speaking. But (to borrow a metaphor), they are the giants on whose shoulders we build. They are our past.
I have another reason to like St. Basil. In September, I went to the Göreme Open-air museum, Nevşehir Province in Turkey. An amazing place: a land of "fairy chimneys" - which Canadians in Alberta call "hoodoos" . The French call them demoiselles coiffées. Unusual, beautiful, otherworldly. And in the many caves of these fairy chimneys and hills of soft stone the early Christians carved beautiful churches with narrative paintings on the walls, with columns and vaults and chambers. Walking into one of these churches now is like stepping into the world of 1500 years ago.
This morning one of my friends who was with me in Turkey, Tasia, sent me a link to the lovely Greek Hymn to St. Basil.
It was St. Basil who encouraged anchorites to live in these caves, establishing a Christian community. As so often in history, the influence of one man in the right time and place creates a trend and shapes the future.