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

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

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?

More Saints of the Greek Orthodox Church:

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