The humor of Saint Basil the Great

Those who have certain knowledge about St. Basil the Great keep in their minds a special image of this great Father of our Church, which presents him as a person with a profound Christian life, a refined education, profound theological judgment, high-quality writings, administrative qualities, and great influence and admiration within his environment.

This image is absolutely correct. However, these great gifts of his, which fill us with feelings of deep respect for this ecclesiastical personality, also contribute to making him seem more untouchable and distant to us.

However, we believe that St. Basil the Great had, to a great extent, the gift of communicating with his environment, to which he belonged, and an unparalleled sense of humor that adorned his words, as evidenced in his personal correspondence. The human aspect of his character, to use this contrasting expression, makes him more approachable and easier to follow.

Proof of his humor can be found in two short letters. The first was sent to a renowned calligrapher. Here it is in simpler language: “Write correctly to use the lines correctly. Let your hand not go upwards, nor fall off a cliff. Do not rush the pen to walk crookedly like the crab in Aesop’s fable. Move forward straight, as if walking on a tightrope. Always maintain a straight line, which keeps you away from any irregularity. Writing one line downwards and the next one upwards is not correct at all, while writing straight is pleasing to all who see your text. You don’t force them, while reading, to look up and down like dizzy people. That’s exactly what happened to me when I read what you wrote. Normally, when lines are stacked one below the other, and someone wants to move to the next line, they look back at its beginning. But with you, no line can be discerned. So, in order to reach the beginning of the next line, I had to read the line I just finished in reverse, like Theseus in the myth of Ariadne. Therefore, write correctly and don’t make a mockery of your own mind!”

The second letter, which is shorter, is addressed to a person to thank them for sending him a fish as a gift: “With great pleasure, I enjoyed the river fish you sent me, and at the same time, I felt sorry for those that slipped out of your net. However, more important to me than the fish are your letters. So, please write to me from time to time. And if it is more pleasing for you to remain silent, do not cease to pray for us.”

Source: Ilias A. Voulgarakis, Moments from the Time of the Fathers, Egumenitsa Publishing, pp. 51-52


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