8th Sunday after Pentecost
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ, glory forever. Saint Basil’s Cathedral which sits on the southern edge of Moscow’s Red Square has stood for almost five centuries as the symbol of all of Russia. With its 11 smaller chapels all united under a network of colorful iconic domes, it is a testimony to the protection of God over this ancient land and victory over the enemies of his peaceful Kingdom. The natural question asked by most visitors to this grand temple has a surprising answer. Who was St. Basil? After which great saintly monarch, patriarch, or general is this grand symbol of Russia named?
In today’s epistle reading, St. Paul addresses the church in Corinth with a solution to their problem of division as they puzzle over a similar dilemma of who to name as their patron. Each group had picked their favorite great leader to prefer. In this worldly system of ordering preferences, they even made the Lord himself as one of the options or factions among many: “Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”
Hollywood celebrity atmosphere plagues us to this day only with different stars. If only I could be as strong as Dwayne the rock, as pretty as Angelina Jolie, as successful as Jeff Bezos. But all these worldly stars pale in comparison to the saint we celebrate today. He was not a monarch, hierarch or a military figure and he did not possess any of the qualities to win him an Oscar award or a Nobel Peace Prize. Saint Basil of the iconic cathedral in Moscow was a fool in the eyes of the world, but he nevertheless possessed the wisdom of God.
We need this kind of saint, a fool for Christ, because he best demonstrates the message of the cross which the apostle says is, “foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18) Though he was a simple tradesman his closeness to Christ made him see into the future, perform miracles, and even advised that tsar. When Tsar Ivan the Terrible constructed the Church of the Holy Trinity and later one to the Protection of the Mother of God to remember a victory, he buried St basil there. Over time, the people’s devotion to him and his prayers led to the cathedral being called St Basil’s and not after the Protection. It is amazing that this church survived several attempts to destroy it, first by Napoleon and later by Stalin. Here is just an excerpt from his life to demonstrate what foolishness for Christ really looks like:
In Moscow, he walked barefoot and virtually naked even in the most bitter of frosts. Preaching mercy, the blessed one helped those who were ashamed to ask for alms, but who were more in need of help than others. There was an instance where he gave away a rich imperial present to a foreign merchant who was left without anything at all. Although the man had eaten nothing for three days, he was not able to beg for food, since he wore fine clothing.
Harshly did the saint condemn those who gave alms for selfish reasons, not from compassion for the poor and destitute, but hoping for an easy way to attract the blessings of God upon their affairs. Once, the saint saw a devil in the guise of a beggar. He sat at the gates of the All-Pure Virgin’s church, and to everyone who gave alms, he rendered speedy help in their affairs. The blessed saint exposed the wicked trick and drove away the devil.From the Life of St. Basil
So what do you desire this morning from the world? What kind of approval from others do you need to perform great things? Holy fools for Christ like St Basil teach us not to look to this world for its permission or approval. For the work of God to preach the good news already carries with it God’s blessing and authorization. May we learn by the prayers of Saint basil to answer God’s call and ignore the need for the approval of men. Amen.