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The Life of Blessed Basil of Moscow, the Fool-for-Christ

Saint Basil the Blessed, a miracle worker and a fool-for-Christ

Blessed Basil of Moscow

Saint Basil the Blessed is one of Moscow's most renowned fools-for-Christ. Ascetics who performed the feat of a fool for Christ have always been respected in Russia for having the bravery to disregard outward decencies by pretending to be insane and for concealing their gifts and virtues and exposing the vices of the world. They held the indisputable moral high ground because they were free from passions and pure of heart.

Saint Basil the Blessed is remembered as a Moscow miracle worker. He even threw rocks at miracle-working icons and was daring enough to denounce the terrifying Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible for shedding innocent blood. The Tsar accepted his criticism with humility and did not allow anybody to lay a finger on him.

The Tsar summoned the Blessed One to his chambers for a meeting one day. He offered him wine thrice throughout the encounter, but each time Saint Basil emptied the wine cup on the floor. The Tsar was enraged, but Basil claimed that he was in Novgorod putting out a fire. Tsar Ivan's messengers soon confirmed: a fire was raging in Novgorod, and citizens were reporting seeing a nude man with buckets pouring water over the blazing flames until the fire was extinguished. Saint Basil halted another horrific city fire in Moscow in 1547, in another recorded miracle.

Saint Basil the Blessed (The Prayer) by Sergei Kirillov

Saint Basil the Blessed (The Prayer) by Sergei Kirillov, 1994

He was born in Elokhovo, then a hamlet outside of Moscow, in the latter half of the 15th century. Its church, which has survived to this day, was dedicated to the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God and is now the Church of the Great Martyr Niketos in Old Basmannaya Street. As a young man, he worked as a cobbler. Sometime later, he emerged in Moscow and began his difficult exploit.

His actions were strange: in the burning summer heat and in the winter’s harsh frost, he walked about half-naked. Here he would upset a stand with Kalachi, and there he would spill a jug with kvas. Angry merchants throttled the blessed one, but he endured the beatings with joy and he thanked God for them. Then it was discovered that the kalachi were poorly cooked, and the kvas was badly prepared. The reputation of Saint Basil quickly grew, and people saw him as a holy fool, a man of God, and a denouncer of wrong.

Saint Basil died on August 2 (August 15 N. S.) 1552. Saint Macarius, the Metropolitan of Moscow, served the saint's funeral. Initially, his relics were laid in the Church of the Holy Trinity on the Moat. Many miracles were attributed to Saint Basil's relics during the reign of Fyodor Ioannovich, son of Ivan the Terrible.

In the 1560s, the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God on the Moat replaced the Holy Trinity Church. Saint Basil's name was given to a wing erected over the saint's grave, and it has since been used for the entire cathedral.

Saint Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, Russia

Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat (Saint Basil's Cathedral), Red Square, Moscow, Russia

Shrine with the relics of Saint Basil the Blessed

Shrine with the relics of Saint Basil the Blessed

Despite its monumental look, the interior was small, and was not entirely fit for worship. Worship services, according to the chronicles, were rare. However, when Archpriest John (Vostorgov), a new martyr and confessor, became its rector in 1913, "His service and tireless preaching drew a large number of followers." Attendance increased dramatically, people prayed fervently, and the church swiftly went to the top of the diocese by the number of candles sold."

In 1918, the revolutionary authorities executed Archpriest John. The church was given over to the Renewalists in the early 1920s and was eventually closed and transformed into a museum in 1929. It was threatened with demolition on multiple occasions but was saved thanks to the work of renowned restorer Peter Baranovsky. However, his efforts cost him several years in the camps.

icon of St Basil the Blessed

Order this icon of St Basil the Blessed from St Elisabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus

The restorers made an unexpected discovery while working on the cathedral in the 1940s and 1950s. They found that Russian medieval architects used an innovative design process that allowed them to create complicated structures without sketching them on paper. Inside the chapel walls were thin wooden boards that served as a 3-D drawing. The planks defined the shapes, sizes, and positions of the essential features of the interior and exterior. Before beginning to lay the bricks, they were joined vertically and horizontally.

The first liturgy in many years was served on Easter in 1992. Since then, it has been held every Sunday in the wing of Saint Basil the Blessed, followed by the reading of an Akathist over the Saint's relics.

Sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus also pray to Saint Basil the Blessed and would be happy to include you and your loved ones into their prayers. You can submit your prayer requests by clicking the banner below.

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Troparion to Saint Basil, the fool-for-Christ-sake of Moscow, Tone 4

Thou didst live a righteous and chaste life, O Basil. For Christ's sake didst thou vanquish thy flesh by fasting, vigil and darkness and sun heat and slush and rainy clouds, and thy countenance has become as bright as the Sun; and now peoples of Russia approach thee, tsars and princes and soldiers among them, and we sing thy repose in Christ. Pray Christ our God for us to be saved from enslavement by the enemy and from all civil strife. Pray God to grant us peace and His great mercy to our souls.

Kontakion to Saint Basil, the fool-for-Christ-sake of Moscow, Tone 2

Thou didst receive revelation from heaven/ and go forth from the world's turmoil./ Thou didst live a righteous life as a monk,/ and wast given grace to work miracles/ and to heal diseases,/ O wise, blessed and holy Basil.

Magnification of Saint Basil, the fool-for-Christ-sake of Moscow:

We bless thee, o blessed and holy Basil, and we honor thy holy memory, for thou dost pray for us to Christ our God.

Prayer to Saint Basil, the fool-for-Christ-sake of Moscow:

O mighty saint of Christ, faithful companion and devoted servant of the All-Creator, Lord God, blessed Basil! Hearken to us, a throng of sinners, beseeching thee now and invoking thy holy name, bestow upon us thy mercy, as we prostrate ourselves today before thy most untainted countenance. Receive our humble and unworthy petition, extend thy mercy upon our wretchedness, and through thy supplications heal every affliction and disease of the soul and flesh of our sinful being. Grant us the dignity of passing through this existence unscathed by adversaries seen and unseen, and of departing without transgression; may our Christian passing be blameless, tranquil, and serene, as we inherit the kingdom of heaven with all the saints for all eternity. Amen.

If you want to learn more about Saint Basil's life, here is a delightful cartoon you may watch. The Russian cartoon company "Pilot" has done an outstanding job of explaining why Russians admire this saint so much. So, visit the link below and enjoy!

Production: Russian animated studio “Pilot”, founded in 1988 by Alexander Tatarsky, Igor Kovalyov and Anatoly Prokhorov.

August 14, 2023
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