Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saint Basil and the young man
who renounced Christ.

   Helladius, a virtuous and holy man who served first as the great Basil's assistant, then as his successor, and who witnessed his miracles, related the following. An Orthodox senator named Proterius, visiting the Holy Places, conceived the notion of dedicating his daughter to God as a nun. At the same time the devil, the primordial hater of everything good, stirred up lust for the girl in the heart of one of the senator's slaves. The servant knew that the maiden was far above his reach, so he confessed his secret to a sorcerer, promising much gold in exchange for help winning the girl's hand. At first the sorcerer refused to become entangled in the matter, but was finally persuaded and said, "If you wish, I will send you to my master, the devil. He will help you, if you agree to carry out his instructions."
   The wretched servant promised, "I will do whatever he commands."
   "Are you ready to sign a document attesting that you renounce Christ?," asked the wizard.
   "I am, if you give me what I want," the slave replied.
   "In that case, I shall aid you," said the sorcerer, who wrote to the devil: "Since, O master, it is my duty to persuade men to abandon the Christian faith and bring them under your authority, thereby increasing the number of your subjects, I am sending you this youth. He is burning with lust for a maiden, and I beg you to make it possible for him to have her. If you do this, my fame will spread, and I will attract more worshippers to you." The magician gave the letter to the young man and told him, "After dark, go to the pagan cemetery and hold this letter in the air. The devil's underlings will take you to their lord."
   The pathetic slave hurried to the cemetery to summon the demons. They quickly appeared and led the deluded man to their prince. Beholding Satan on a lofty throne surrounded by myriads of dark, villainous fiends, he presented the letter. The devil asked, "Do you believe in me?".
   "I do," declared the young man.
   "Do you renounce Christ?," asked the devil. "I do," avowed the servant.
   "You Christians frequently come to me when you want help, complained Satan, "but when you have what you desire, you betray me and return to Christ, Who, being kind and loving, accepts you. I want you to write with your own hand a declaration testifying that you disavow Christ and your Baptism willingly, that you are mine forever, and that you will endure everlasting torment with me. If you do this, I will grant your wish."
   The young man complied. The soul-destroying serpent at once dispatched demons of fornication which aroused in the maiden a longing for the youth so powerful that she collapsed, and convulsing with spasms of lust, cried to her father, "Have pity on me! Have pity on your only daughter!. Let me marry our servant, with whom I have fallen hopelessly in love. If you refuse me, you will be the cause of my death and have to answer for me on the Day of Judgment."
   The father was horrified and lamented, "Woe is me, a sinner!. What has befallen you, daughter?. Who has bewitched you, light of my eyes? I had hoped to betroth you to the heavenly Bridegroom and see you join the company of angels, glorifying God in psalms and hymns. I looked to you to be the guarantor of my salvation, but you shamelessly demand that I marry you to a slave. Do not demean yourself and send me down to Hades in grief, O child!".
   The maiden paid no heed to her father, but insisted, "If you reject my plea, I will kill myself!".
   The father yielded to her entreaty and the advice of kindred and friends, rather than see her end as a suicide. Calling for the servant, he gave his consent to the unequal union and bestowed on him great wealth. Then he summoned his daughter, saying, "Come shameless hussy, and make ready to take your place in the bed of this churl. But I think you will repent bitterly of your conduct".
   The diabolical wedding was performed, and shortly it was noticed by servants that the groom was not attending church or receiving the Holy Mysteries. "Surely you are aware," they told the bride, "that your husband is no Christian, but an apostate?". Hearing this, she was overcome by grief, fell to the ground, ripped her face with her nails, and beat her breast unceasingly, crying: "No one who disobeys his parents can be saved! How will I tell my father of this new disgrace?. Woe is me, fallen into perdition!. Why was I ever born?".
   Her husband attempted to comfort her, saying that the accusations were slanderous. She took some consolation in his words and told him, "If you wish to prove your innocence and dispel grief from my miserable soul, come with me to church tomorrow and receive the all-pure Mysteries in my presence. Then I will believe you."
   No longer able to conceal the truth, her husband explained to her that he had sold his salvation to the devil. At this she set aside feminine reticence and wisely hurried to the holy Basil. "Take pity on me, disciple of Christ!", she cried. "Take pity on one who disobeyed her father and surrendered herself to diabolical delusion". 
   After she had related everything, Basil summoned her husband. He asked whether the story was true, and the young man, weeping, answered, "Yes, hierarch of God, it surely is. Even if I remained silent, circumstances would proclaim the truth."
   The saint asked, "Do you wish to return to our Lord Jesus Christ?".
   "More than anything else," the man admitted. "But I cannot."
   "Why is that?," wondered Basil.
   "Because I wrote a document in which I denied Christ and submitted to the devil," explained the man.
   "Do not be troubled. God is the Friend of man and accepts the repentant sinner," Basil assured him.
   The man's wife threw herself at the saint's feet and cried, "Help if you can, disciple of Christ!".
   "Do you believe that you can be saved?", the saint asked the man.
   He exclaimed, "I believe, Master; help thou mine unbelief!".
   The saint took him by the hand, made the sign of the Cross over him, instructed him to pray unceasingly, and locked him in a room within the church compound. Meanwhile, Basil offered up entreaty on his behalf for three days, after which he visited the penitent and asked, "How are you, child?".
   "I am in a most unfortunate state, Master," the young man replied. "I am terrified of the demons. They shoot arrows at me, throw rocks, and scream. They hold up my declaration and shout, "You came to us, not we to you!".
   Giving him a little food, the saint traced the sign of the Cross over the wretched man, then shut him in again. A few days later, he returned and inquired, "How goes it, child?".
   "I hear threats and cries, but no longer see the fiends," answered the man.
   Basil gave him a little more food, and after praying for him, locked the door and departed. On the fortieth day he came back and asked, "Child, how are things with you?".
   "They go well, holy Father," the man said. "I saw you in a dream doing battle for me and conquering the devil."
   Saint Basil said a prayer, released him from confinement and took him to his cell. The next morning, he summoned the clergy, the monks, and the Christ-loving people and announced, "Brethren, let us glorify God, the Friend of man! Lo, the Good Shepherd wishes to take this lost sheep upon His shoulder and bear it into the church. Tonight we must entreat Him to vanquish and put to shame the enemy of our souls."
   The faithful gathered in church and prayed all night for the penitent, crying, "Lord have mercy!". At dawn Basil, escorted by the congregation chanting psalms and hymns, fetched the young man and led him to the church. Suddenly, the devil began trying to pull the sufferer away from the saint. "Saint of God, help me!", the man exclaimed. So violently did the evil one pull his victim that Basil was afraid he might lose him. "O shameless destroyer of souls, prince of darkness and perdition," thundered the Bishop, "is it not enough for you to have brought about your own destruction and that of your minions? When will you stop persecuting this poor creation of my God?".
   "You disgust me, Basil," slavered Satan.
   "The Lord banish you, devil!," shouted the hierarch.
   The infernal spirit answered, "You overstep your bounds, Basil. I did not approach this cur; he came to me. He eagerly renounced Christ, giving me this document, which I will present to the great Judge on the Last Day."
   "Blessed be the Lord my God!" exclaimed Basil. "Know, devil, that these people will not desist from prayer until you relinquish that paper." Then, turning to the faithful, the saint commanded, "Raise your hands to heaven and cry, Lord have mercy!". The believers lifted their hands and repeated 'Lord have mercy' many times, weeping; and behold, the document written by the young man escaped Satan's grasp and flew through the air into the hand of the blessed one. Basil rejoiced greatly and thanked God, then asked the young man loudly so that all could hear: "Do you recognize this, brother?".
   The man replied, "Yes, Bishop of God, I wrote it myself." At this the great Basil ripped it to pieces in the sight of all, led the devil's victim into the church, and imparted to him the Divine Mysteries. Afterwards, he ordered that a fine banquet be provided for the worshippers, then instructed the young man how to live piously and returned him to his wife, glorifying the Lord and thanking Him for His mercy.

Father Thomas Marretta (2002), The Great Collection of the Lives of Saints, Volume V: January, by Saint Dimitrius Rostov, Chrysostom Press, House Springs, Missouri, U.S.A.