Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On the Ninth Day of Christmas My True Love Said to Me....

"The bread which you use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit."
~ Saint Basil the Great

"God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness."
~ Saint Gregory Nazianzen

On this ninth day of the Christmas season, the Church calls attention to two fourth-century Greeks it has declared to be Saints: Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen. It honors these men "on the same day," writes blogger Jean Heimann, in order to applaud "a virtue which has always been held in high esteem: friendship." The two men studied together in Athens, after which they both lived for some time as hermits. Basil eventually became Bishop of Caesarea and Gregory became Bishop of Constantinople.

Gregory wrote beautifully of their friendship:
"We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.... When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other....

"The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other's success as his own....

"Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.... our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians."
Jesus called us His friends (John 15:15), and I have been told by many a well-meaning Christian that He is the only friend I really need. St. Gregory's testimony reassures me, however, that sometimes He expresses His friendship by giving two people to each other, so they might inspire each other, learn to yield, spur each other on to virtue, practice love—and thus share the "great pursuit."


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