Basil the Great, Bishop of Caeserea, Saint Vasileios, Agios Vasilis, the Greek Father Christmas

Basil the Great Bishop of Caesarea Saint Vasileios
Basil the Great
Bishop of Caesarea
Saint Vasileios

Traditionally, Greek children don’t receive presents from Santa Claus, SAINT NICHOLAS, at Christmas (which is celebrated) on December 25, but are visited by Agios Vasileios (Saint Vasileios, Saint Basil the Great, or, Basil of Caesarea), the Greek Father Christmas, on January 1.

Saint Vasileios, became the Greek Father Christmas, as a result of his kind and humble character, and his generosity towards the poor, to whom he distributed all his worldly goods.

The tradition is basically the same; 'Agios Vasilis' arrives with his bulging sack of toys and gifts, children are told, in the run up to New Year “If you don’t behave, 'Agios Vasilis' won’t visit you”, letters are sent to him, but rather than rounding up the reindeer and hopping on his sleigh in Lapland, Agios Vasilis sets off from Caesarea (Kayseri, modern day Turkey), for his busy New Year’s Eve in Greece.


Saint Basil & Saint Nicholas
Saint Basil (Vasileios) & Saint Nicholas


Vasileios, 330-379, a much-loved Saint of the Greek Orthodox Church, Patron Saint of Russia, Cappadocia, monks, education, hospital administrators, exorcism and liturgists, was born into a wealthy, religious, Greek family, in Caesarea, Cappadocia, Asia Minor (Modern day Turkey), one of ten children (some sources state six), five of whom became Saints.

 
Kayseri, modern day Turkey (Caesarea)
Kayseri, modern day Turkey
(Caesarea)

Vasileios’ mother, Emilia, the daughter of a martyr, his grandmother, Saint Macrina  the Elder, was a saint,  his sister was Macrina the Younger, his brother Saint Peter of Sebaste, another brother was Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and his youngest sister, is said to be Saint Theosebia, so, it was in the blood, no surprise that Vasileios himself became a saint!


The Holy Family of St. Basil
The Holy Family of St. Basil: (left to right, first row) St. Peter of Sebaste, St. Basil the Great, St. Basil, St. Gregory, (second row) St. Theosevia, St. Naukratios, St. Emmelia, (top) St. Macrina
 Vasileios studied in Mazaca, Cappadocia, where he met, and went on to be life-long friends with Gregory of Nazianus, Archbishop of Constantinople, later, he continued his studies in Constantinople, spent six years in Athens, where he met Julian the Apostate, (Roman Emperor 361-363), travelled around Egypt and Syria before returning to Caesarea where he practiced law and taught rhetoric.


St. Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus
St. Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus


Vasileios’ life changed the day he met Eustathius of Sebaste, an alluring, charismatic monk; he closed his law books, gave up teaching, travelled through Palestine, Egypt and Syria, where he studied ascetics and monasticism, gave all his inheritance to the poor and became a monk, saying:

“I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labours, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.

It didn’t take long for Vasileios to discover that a life of solitude was not for him, and by 358, with a group of followers, including his mother, Emilia, brother, Peter, and sister Macrina, Vasileios, on the family estate at Annesi, established a monastic commune, where life was devoted to prayer and charitable works.

Macrini the Elder Grandmother to Vasileios
Macrina the Elder
Grandmother to Vasileios


Saint Emilia Mother to Vasileios
Saint Emilia
Mother to Vasileios

Macrini the Younger Sister to Vasileios
Macrina the Younger
Sister to Vasileios


In 362, Vasileios was made a deacon by Bishop Meletius of Antioch, and in 365 he was called to Caesarea as presbyter of the church there, and, in 370, after the death of Eusebius, became Bishop of Caesarea.  


Fresco of Basil the Great (Vasileios) in the cathedral of Ohrid.
Fresco of Basil the Great (Vasileios) in the cathedral of Ohrid.
The saint is shown consecrating the Gifts during the Divine Liturgy which bears his name.


 During his time in Caesarea, Vasileios defended the orthodox faith against the heresy of the Arians, wrote many works on theology and canon law, (his writings about monasticism have influenced many religious orders in Eastern Christianity, some of which bear his name; the Basilian Fathers, also known as The Congregation of St. Basil, an international order of priests and students studying for the priesthood, is named after him.) and carried on with his good deeds.


Basil the Great Bishop of Caesarea Saint Vasileios
Basil the Great
Bishop of Caesarea
Saint Vasileios

Vasileios created the “Basiliad”, a philanthropic foundation, a large complex, outside Caeserea, consisting of hospitals, an orphanage, and a poor house, where, free of charge, the sick, poor and aged could receive food, shelter, and medical care, he organized soup kitchens, distributed food, and tried to reform thieves and prostitutes.


Basiliad Image thegreathospital.co.uk
Basiliad
 Image thegreathospital.co.uk


Agios Vasileios, or, Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, Feast Day January 1, is one of the Three Holy Hierarchs (influential bishops of the early church), along with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrystom, and so is also celebrated on January 30, Feast of The Three Holy Hierarchs.


Three Holy Hierarchs
Three Holy Hierarchs
Basil the Great (left), John Chrysostom (center) and Gregory the Theologian (right)


Saint Vasileios is also known as one of the Three Cappadocians, or The Cappadocian Fathers, which include his younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa and his close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus.


 The holy skull of Saint Vasileios (Saint Basil) is kept at the Great Lavra Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.


The Holy Skull of Saint Basil (Vasileios) Great Lavra Monastery Mount Athos Greece
The Holy Skull of Saint Basil (Vasileios)
Great Lavra Monastery
Mount Athos Greece

 One of the Greek New Year Traditions is that  families will set an extra place at the table for Saint Vasileios, when celebrating on New Year’s Eve, there will be the special New Year’s cake, the vasilopita, waiting to be cut, and children will eagerly be awaiting the Greek Father Christmas, or should that be Father New Year?

My Amazon pick for you:


Icons & Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church By Alfredo Tradigo
Icons & Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church
By Alfredo Tradigo
Icons & Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church

More Saints of the Greek Orthodox Church:




Saint Spyridon of Corfu Greece, His Miracles and Relics. Saint of the Greek Orthodox Church

Saint Spyridon of Corfu
Saint Spyridon of Corfu

Saint Spyridon, Bishop of Trimythous, Patron Saint of the Greek, Ionian Island of Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek) 270 – 348 A.D, Feast day 12 December, was born in the small village of Assia, Northern Cyprus.

The life of Saint Spyridon

Spyridon (Spyros), a humble shepherd, was a simple, private, man, and, being devoted to God from a young age, he became the village priest, whose parishioners he constantly put before himself, using all his worldly goods for their needs, for this, it’s said, God rewarded him with the powers of healing and the ability to cast out demons.

Spyridon married and had a daughter, and after the early death of his wife, he entered a monastery, and his daughter, Irene, entered a convent.

Saint Spyridon Assia Northern Cyprus
Saint Spyridon
Assia Northern Cyprus

 Spyridon was eventually ordained as Bishop of Trimythous (Today Tremetousia, Cyprus), and was present at the first Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D, where he is said to have converted a disbeliever, by proving to him, how one single body could contain three separate bodies, thus explaining, the existence of The Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

To prove the concept of The Holy Trinity, Spyridon took a potshard; some say a brick, in his hand, and said to the pagan, “This one potshard, contains three separate bodies, fire, water and earth” and, Miraculously, as Spyridon was speaking, the potshard burst into flames in his hand, water dripped to the ground and he was left holding only clay.

This is why icons of Spyridon show him holding a flaming potshard, or brick, and is why he is also the Patron Saint of potters, other symbols are his right hand raised in blessing, or holding a gospel, a sprig of basil and always, his woven straw shepherd’s hat, showing that he never forgot his humble beginnings.


Saint Spyridon of Corfu
Saint Spyridon of Corfu

 Miracles of Saint Spyridon the Wonder-worker

Owing to various miracles worked by Saint Spyridon, he was granted the title Wonderworker by the Orthodox Church; in Corfu he is also called “The Keeper of the City”, as he saved the island more than once!

Below are a few examples of the many miracles performed by Saint Spyridon:

It’s believed that when the dreaded plague hit Corfu in 1629, starting in the villages, and quickly spreading to the town, the corfiots gathered together at the church of Saint Spyridon and prayed to him for salvation, some days before Easter many of the sick had visions of Saint Spyridon healing them, and for 3 nights strange lights were seen in the bell tower of Saint Spyridon Church, by Palm Sunday the plague had vanished.

In 1553 Corfu suffered a terrible famine, and just as everyone thought this was the end, and that they would all die of starvation, out of nowhere, a ship, filled to the gunnels with wheat dropped anchor at the island.

The captain of the ship reported he had seen Saint Spyridon calling to him in a dream, begging him to stop at Corfu as they were in fear of dying of starvation.

Another version of this miracle has Saint Spyridon whipping up a storm at sea, which forces a passing ship, with a cargo of wheat, on route to somewhere else, to find safety at the port of Corfu.

St Spyridon's miracle. St Spyridon is the patron saint of Corfu, Greece, which is depicted in the lower panel of the icon.  Late 17th - early 18th c. G. Aspiotes. Byzantine museum, Athens.
St Spyridon's miracle. St Spyridon is the patron saint of Corfu, Greece, which is depicted in the lower panel of the icon.
 Late 17th - early 18th c. G. Aspiotes. Byzantine museum, Athens.

 When the Turks invaded the island in 1716, at the second great siege of Corfu, Turkish soldiers were said to have been so terrified by the sight of Saint Spyridon, again, dressed as a monk, flying at them, threatening them with a flaming sword, that they fled in a panic, and the siege, which had lasted for twenty two days was over, Corfu was saved.

In 1673 the plague hit Corfu for the second time, again the inhabitants of the island, congregated at the church, praying for help from Saint Spyridon.

 Again mysterious lights were seen in the bell tower, and the image of Saint Spyridon was spotted chasing after the plague (which some say looked like a black ghost, others a winged creature, half lion, half monkey), and beating it with a cross, when it reached the fortress of Corfu, he had the plague creature scratch a cross into the stone wall, and vow never to return, abruptly, the plague was no more.

  Today, tourists are still shown the mark at the fortress, said to be left by the plague.

The Fortress of Corfu
The Fortress of Corfu

 Whilst Saint Spyridon was away at The Council of Nicaea, his daughter, Irene, died, on his return to Trymithous, Spyridon was accosted by a women, declaring she had entrusted some valuables to his daughter's care, and now, with Irene dead, how was she to find out where her valuables were.

Saint Spyridon took the woman to Irene’s grave, and, talking to her as if she were still alive, asked his daughter where she had put the woman’s valuables, Irene rose up from her grave, informed the woman of where the valuables were, and promptly returned to her grave and resumed her “sleep”.

Irene is recognized as a Saint, only in Cypress, a fresco of her was painted in the Church of Panagia Assinou, Cyprus in around 1332.


Irene, daughter of Saint Spyridon of Corfu Fresco in the Church of Panagia Assinou, Cyprus
Irene, daughter of Saint Spyridon of Corfu
Fresco in the Church of Panagia Assinou, Cyprus
Relics of Saint Spyridon

Saint Spyridon died in Trymithous, where he was buried, in 348 A.D, but when the Saracens invaded Cyprus in 648 A.D, his body was exhumed and taken to Constantinople, Byzantium for burial.

On exhumation, the body, although having been buried for three hundred years, was well preserved, and gave out a distinct aroma of basil, the king of herbs, both considered signs of Saints or “Incorruptibles” (Saints and holy men and women whose bodies have not decomposed).


Tomb of Saint Spyridon Cypress
Tomb of Saint Spyridon
Tremetousia Cypress

 In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, and again, Saint Spyridon’s body was exhumed and taken first to Serbia, and then to Corfu, where the relics have remained and can still be seen today.

The relics of Saint Spyridon were brought to Corfu under the authority of George Kalohairetis, who passed them down to his son, Luke, who then passed them on to his niece, Asemine, as part of her dowry when she married Stamatios Voulgaris.

Relics of Saint Spyridon Church of Saint Spyridon, Corfu.
Relics of Saint Spyridon
Church of Saint Spyridon, Corfu.

 Voulgaris was granted permission to build a private church, where the relics were housed, until the construction of a new church, built in the old town of Corfu in the 1580s, the Saint Spyridon Church, the most famous church of Corfu which has the highest bell tower in the Ionian Islands.


The Church of Saint Spyridon Corfu Highest bell tower in the Ionian Islands Photo by Brian Jannsen Photography
The Church of Saint Spyridon Corfu
Highest bell tower in the Ionian Islands
Photo by Brian Jannsen Photography
 Inside the Church of Saint Spyridon is a crypt, where his relics are kept in a double sarcophagus, and are on view to the public twice a day, on his Feast Day, 12 December in the Eastern Orthodox Church, 14 December in the West, the relics are carried through the town.

The famous ceiling of St. Spyridon Church, Corfu, divided into panels, dipicting his life & miracles.   Originally painted by Corfu artist Panagiotis Doxara in 1727.
The famous ceiling of St. Spyridon Church, Corfu, divided into panels, dipicting his life & miracles.
  Originally painted by Corfu artist Panagiotis Doxara in 1727.

 The relics, which are said to have the temperature of a living body, and flesh which has remained supple, have been studied and examined by many scientists from around the world, none of them have an explanation for this phenomenon.


Relics of Saint Spyridon of Corfu
Relics of Saint Spyridon of Corfu

Relics of Saint Spyridon  Saint Spyridon Church Corfu
Relics of Saint Spyridon
Saint Spyridon Church Corfu

 Saint Spyridon is known as “The walking Saint”, his silk slippers need to be replaced frequently as it’s said they wear out as he walks the world performing miracles, his coffin has a removable bottom, to make things easier when replacing his shoes, which is done on his feast Day, when thousands of pilgrims visit and kiss his feet
.

The silk slippers of Saint Spyridon, Corfu
The silk slippers of Saint Spyridon, Corfu

 For reasons unknown, the right hand of Saint Spyridon is separate from the body, it’s thought it was taken to Rome ( where it was kept in the Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella), from Constantinople, between 1592 and 1605, more than a hundred years after his body was brought to Corfu.


Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella Rome Italy
Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella
Rome Italy

In 1984 the hand was flown to Corfu from Rome, and in great pomp and glory, returned to its owner!

The Right hand of Saint Spyridon, Corfu
The Right hand of Saint Spyridon, Corfu

 The hand of Saint Spyridon has done quite a bit of travelling, among other places, it has visited Russia, and in October 2017, America.


The right hand of Saint Spyridon in Russia
The right hand of Saint Spyridon in Russia

 Apart from the celebration of his Feast Day, there are four other yearly occasions when the relics of Saint Spyridon are taken around the town, these processions are to celebrate some of the miracles he has performed:

1. Palm Sunday, in celebration of saving Corfu from the plague.

2. Holy Saturday, in honour of Corfu escaping the famine.

3. 11 August, in commemoration of the defeat of the Turks.

4. First Sunday in November, in celebration of the end of the second plague.


  Procession carrying the relics of Saint Spyridon around Corfu Town
Procession carrying the relics of Saint Spyridon around Corfu Town

 Along with being Patron Saint of Corfu and Potters, oh, and Piraeus, Saint Spyridon is the Patron Saint of the Tolstoy family, chosen by Andrei Tolstoy after the Grand Prince of Muscovy, Basil II, gave him a gold cross containing relics of Saint Spyridon in around 1430, this still exists and is now the property of Nikolai Tolstoy, the family’s most senior member.

Statue of Saint Spyridon, South Collonade, St. Peters Rome. Sculptor - Lazzaro Morelli Statue created - c. 1668-1670
Statue of Saint Spyridon, South Collonade, St. Peters Rome.
Sculptor - Lazzaro Morelli
Statue created - c. 1668-1670
As happens a lot in Greece, the name of a Patron Saint of an area, is given to children born there, e.g. Patras has many Andreas, Kefalonia, lots of people named Gerasimos, and so Spyros, and Spiridoula for girls, are very popular names in Corfu, Happy Name Day Corfu and to all you Spyros and Spiridoullas!

More posts about Saints of The Greek Orthodox Church




What is Philhellenism and Are You a Philhellene? Plus 12 Quotes From Famous People Who love to Love Greece

We love Greece
We love Greece
Philhellenism comes from  from the Greek word  philos, meaning friend, and Hellenism. meaning Greekness (for want of a better word), it is  to have a love, a passion, an enthusiasm, an obsession even, for Greece, Greeks and all things Greek.

Philhellenism came onto the European scene during the 18th century.

 “The Grand Tour”, a tradition started in around 1660, which came to a head at the turn of the 19th century, saw young aristocrats touring Europe; France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, for months, sometimes years at a time (depending on how their bank balance was holding up), rather like a modern gap-year, firmly put Greece on the map.


The Grand Tour Carl Spitzweg, . 1845
The Grand Tour
Carl Spitzweg, . 1845

The Grand Tour was a chance, to see, and get to know, first-hand, the wonders of Greece, and the roots of Western civilization, previously only read about in books and seen in great paintings.

On returning home after “The Grand tour”, the travelers, who were now totally hooked on Greece, wanted to tell the whole world what they had seen and experienced.

They wrote books, they drew pictures; they painted masterpieces of the mysterious temples, amazing Greek sculpture, and the delightful little Greek islands which seemed to float atop the deep blue Aegean Sea.

View of Athens when the Parthenon was still used as a mosque
View of Athens when the Parthenon was still used as a mosque

These new ‘philhellenes’ threw quotes from great Greek philosophers into their conversation, they told of the now famous Greek hospitality, the strange exotic dishes, the free and easy lifestyle and academics introduced classical studies into the educational system.

The result was, everyone wanted to visit Greece, and, if that wasn’t possible, then they learned all they could through reading about it, the next best thing!

Ladies of the Grand Tour
Ladies of the Grand Tour
Ladies of the Grand Tour

The European “Greek frenzy” gained more momentum during the French revolution, and the European Enlightenment, Western-educated Greeks were heartened by the enthusiasm for The French Revolution, and hoped for support from Napoleon in their quest for independence from The Ottoman Empire, which had ruled Greece for the last four hundred years.

After the fall of Napoleon, the “society of the friends of the muses” (Filomousos Eteria, Greek: Φιλόμουσος Εταιρεία), was formed;

The Filomousos Eteria of Athens, founded by Athenians in1813 with the help of the English, and The Filomousos Eteria of Vienna founded by Ioannis Kapodistrias in 1814, under the direction of Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

Greek Muses In ancient Greece.
Greek Muses In ancient Greece. The 9 Muses were considered sources of knowledge and providers of inspiration to creators of literature and art. Almost everyone should still have a shrine to honor them. Calliope (Epic Poetry) Clio (History) Erato (Love Poetry) Euterpe (Music) Melpomene (Tragedy) Polyhymnia (Hymns and sacred poetry) Terpsichore (Dance) Thalia (Comedy) Urania (Astronomy)

The purpose of the "Friends of the muses society" was to educate Greeks, to make them aware of their heritage, to improve the school system, to protect Greek art treasures from being filched by so-called lovers of Greece and to build up Philhellenism.

A year after the formation of the “society of the friends of the muses”, in 1814, a secret organization was founded in Odessa; the Filiki Eteria or Society of Friends, whose members were mainly young Phanariotes, from Phanari (modern Fener), the Greek quarter of Constantinople, the aim of this secret society was to overthrow Ottoman rule and establish an independent Greek state.


House of Filiki Eteria on Greek Square in Odessa Photo Yuriy Kvach
House of Filiki Eteria on Greek Square in Odessa Photo Yuriy Kvach

On the sixth of March 1821, Alexander Ypsilantes, one of the leaders of the Filki Eteria, announced the Greek revolt against the Turks.

 By now, thanks to The Grand Tours, Greek literature, and knowledge of Greece in general, thousands, all over Europe were in love with Greece and rushed to her aid against the Turks, Philhellenic societies sprung up like wildfire, the first in Stuttgart, Germany, followed by Greek societies around the country, the French and Swiss rallied, The London Philhellenic Committee was born in 1823, European support for Greece was massive.

Hundreds left their homes to fight alongside the Greek palikaria, Lord Byron, English Poet, reached Missolonghi, Greece in 1884 after paying four thousand pounds of his own money to spruce up the Greek fleet, but died of a fever before he had the chance to fight beside the Greeks.

Byron wrote his poem “The Isles of Greece” in support of the Greek War of Independence.

The reception of Lord Byron at Missolonghi Teodoros Vryzakis
The reception of Lord Byron at Missolonghi
 Teodoros Vryzakis

Video clip on Philhellenism



With their sheer courage and determination, and much welcome help from European Philhellenes, Greece won independence from the Turks, after more than ten years of fighting, in July 1832, the Turkish sultan recognized Greek independence (Treaty of Constantinople; July 1832).


Grateful Hellas by Theodoros Vryzakis
Grateful Hellas
 by Theodoros Vryzakis

 Since becoming an independent state, Greece has been through thick and thin; two world wars, German occupation, a civil war and a dictatorship, and has come out the other side.

Greece is being tested again, this time with a financial crisis, hold your head up Greece, push on, you can do it, we’re all on your side, like true philhellenes, read these twelve  quotes from famous people about their love and respect for Greece, and take courage!

1. "Without Greek studies there is no education"

 Tolstoy

2. "I have never come across someone who could inspire more respect than the Greek philosophers"

Nietzshe

3. "If in the library of your house you do not have the works of the ancient Greek writers then you have a house with no light"

Bernard Shaw

4. "Among all the enemies who stand against us, the Greek soldier fought with the most courage"

 Hitler

5. "How can any educated person stay away from the Greeks? I have always been far more interested in them than in science"

Albert Einstein

6. "I would prefer to be Greek rather than a heir apparent of a throne"

 Ludwig I King of Bavaria

7. "I am sorry because I am getting old and I shall not live long to thank the Greek People, whose resistance decided WW II."

Joseph Stalin

8.  “Global civilization owes a lot to Greece and we must never forget that”

Stephen Fry

9. Whatever, in fact, is modern in our life we owe to the Greeks. Whatever is an anachronism is due to medievalism.

Oscar Wilde

10. “We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece”

 Percy Bysshe Shelley

11.  “If the violin is the most perfect musical instrument, the Greek language is the violin of the human thought.”

 Helen Keller

12.  “If the Gods speak, they will surely use the language of the Greeks.”

  Cicero

See more More Glorious Greek Words



40 Facts I learned about the Greeks : Celebrating 40 Years of Living in Greece

The Greek  stereotype Forty years ago today, on Saturday the fifth of February 1977, I left England for a new life in Greece. ...

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