Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church
Today is the feast day for two theologians, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus. The two were friends, along with Basil’s brother Gregory of Nyssa (whose feast day we observe on March 9th). These are saints that are more familiar to our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, but they are very important for both Eastern and Western Christianity. Saints Basil and Gregory are particularly remembered for the ways they helped develop Trinitarian doctrine so that we could understand it better.
Saint Basil suggested that we can see that the Holy Spirit and Son and the Father are somehow both distinct from each other (the Father is not the same as the Son) and yet they are unifed together. Basil described the unity between the three persons of the Trinity like a little community of three – they are unified because they are related.
Saint Gregory wrote particularly about the person of the Holy Spirit. He suggested that God must be Trinity because the Holy Spirit is always present in God’s actions. He wrote, “Christ works miracles, the Spirit accompanies them. Christ ascends, the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power?”
A key point for both of them is the fact that God exists, somehow, in communion and relationship – and that there is no where we can go, where God is not, including in our relationships. God is the source of all our lives, every last bit.
What do these things about God’s nature mean for us? Trinitarian thought can be abstract, but today’s scriptures can help us think more deeply about how we disciples of Jesus might live, given St. Basil’s and St. Gregory’s witness.
Today’s first reading (1 John 2:22-28) highlights the emphasis Saint Basil has on God’s relationality as well as St. Gregory’s emphasis that God is in all. In the first reading, John writes that the person who “remains in” the Son remains in the Father as well, evidence that there is some sort of connection between Father and Son. We who believe in the Trinity and believe that there is no where God is not, must live that out – which means that we seek “to remain in him”.
So, what does that mean? Perhaps today’s gospel (John 1:19-28) gives some clues. John is insistent on maintaining that he is not the Christ – but that he nonetheless has important work to do in service of Christ, like being the voice crying out in the desert, and baptizing people who want to repent. John knows that because he is not the light, he cannot hope to be the kind of all-encompassing savior that Jesus is (and that St. Gregory extols), and he shouldn’t try. To remain in Jesus means to recognize all the ways in which we are not Jesus – and yet to seek to be witnesses to Jesus with our lives in the particular ways God calls us.
Today, this second day of the new year, let us reflect on ways we can witness to Jesus with our lives, and thereby live what it means to say that we believe in the Triune God who encompasses all of our lives.
- Jana Bennett