On the Essence of Philosophy

From our father among the Saints, Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappodocia (Jan. 1)

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints

Desiring out of gratitude to convert his former teacher Ebbulus, Basil searched for him in the schools and finally found him outside the city, conversing with other philosophers (for all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing). After listening to the disputation briefly, Basil resolved the issue, but without revealing his identity. “Who is this unknown philosopher?” the sophists asked one another.

“He is either some god, or Basil!” replied Ebbulus. Recognizing Basil, the teacher dismissed his friends and disciples. For three days the two learned men, occupied with philosophical discussions, ate nothing. Among other things, Ebbulus asked Basil, “What is the essence of philosophy?”

“The essence of philosophy,” Basil answered, “is the remembrance of death.” He pointed out the insubstantiality of the world and its pleasures, which at first seem sweet, but afterwards become extremely bitter to the man enslaved to them. “But besides these consolations,” explained Basil, “there are others, of a heavenly origin. It is impossible to enjoy both, since no man can serve two masters. Our duty is to break the bread of understanding with those whose discernment is faulty and to lead to the shelter of good works those unprotected by the roof of moral excellence, taking pity on their nakedness, for they share the same nature with us.” Basil then related an allegory intended to convey to Ebbulus a sense of the Saviour’s mercy and love for mankind. “Imagine three plaques hung near the door of the mind,” he said. “One is fastened over the doorway and depicts personifications of bravery, wisdom, righteousness, and continence. To the left of the door is a second panel with spiritual deception in the middle, surrounded by gluttony, fornication, drunkenness, immodesty, sloth, contentiousness, garrulousness, obsequiousness, and many other vices.

To the right repentance is portrayed, dignified and smiling benignly, putting to flight her adversaries and consoling her friends.
Near her are abstinence, chastity, propriety, compassion, and the whole assembly of virtues. These guide us to salvation in very truth, O Ebbulus. We shall all rise from the dead and appear before Christ’s judgment seat, some to inherit life everlasting, others to be condemned to eternal torment and shame. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and David assure us of this, as do the Apostle Paul and the Lord Himself, Who draws us to repentance and rewards us for our deeds. He searches out the lost sheep, and accepts the prodigal son, embracing and kissing him lovingly, arraying him in splendid apparel, putting a ring on his finger, and holding a banquet for him. He gives equal recompense to those who come at the eleventh hour and those who endure the burden and heat of the day. Upon penitents born of water and the Spirit, He bestows things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, which God hath prepared for them that love Him.

At this Ebbulus exclaimed, “O Basil, revealed by heaven! Through you I have come to believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of all things. I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen! As proof of my faith, I surrender myself to your guidance. I wish to remain with you all the rest of my life, after being born of water and the Spirit.”

Basil replied, 'Blessed is God henceforth and forever! He has illumined your mind with the light of truth, O Ebbulus, and brought you out of error to a knowledge of His love.'

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints

This offering of the famous Russian collection of Lives of the Saints by Saint Demetrius of Rostov (1651-1709) marks the first time any of these national collections have been published in their entirety in the English language.

Orthodox Life