Basil the Great

St Basil, whose feast is on 1st January, is important because of his principle of tolerance, often called “economy”. It should be taken to heart today- we are much in need of it. The continued squabble over the Council of Crete could do with some “economy” as indeed could the gathering Brexit debate.

Basil was fairly aggressive with a group of Asian Bishops in his disapproval of schismatics and heretics, insisting that they should be rebaptised. He was simply following St Cyprian of Carthage who said much the same a century earlier and this was a precise interpretation of the law (akrebeia). The text is to be found in the 1st Canon. However, he says that for the sake of “economia”(οικονόμια), he will accept the decision of the Asian Bishops. Economy is the discretionary power given to the apostles and specifically to Peter to “bind and loose”(Mtt 16:19, 18:18) and is echoed in the Acts with the line: Acts 15:28, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us”. Laws need to be adjusted and updated. That is why we have parliament and frankly why the Churches have councils.

Economy is about maintaining concord while we build the house of God, or simply accepting that God’s mercy goes beyond the written law. The principle, I think, is a good one- that, no matter how severe or restrictive the rules, when faced with real people and real situations, we should be prepared to bend the rules, adapt them or sweep them aside in the interest of kindness. Kindness may well be abused, but that should not stop us trying.

In Russia, I saw a sign condemning the Ecumenical movement. How absurd is that! Mindless, insular, and out of step with the way things work.


St metropolitan Philaret of New York echoes St Basil: “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Luke, 3:8), would He not show economia and accept into His Kingdom (His Church) those on whose behalf we beseech His mercy? To say that this is not possible is to deny God’s boundless mercy, to attempt to bind God by the Laws given to us to observe. “( I ) will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19)

With the principle of “economy” we have an excuse to hold two completely conflicting views at the same time. That is the only way forward. It is neither irrational nor irresponsible. It is simply practical.

Here is a picture of the Icon of St Basil the Great according to the Greek tradition. I am following the descriptions of Photios Kontoglou.