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St. Basil the Great (330-379), bishop of Caesarea in modern-day Turkey, was a great defender of our Trinitarian faith but also a renowned benefactor to the poor. In response to a local famine, Basil founded a center (called the Basiliad), funded largely from his own family estate, to provide food, shelter and free medical treatment for the poor and needy. Over time, this center grew in size and provided spiritual teaching and instruction on how to live simply and share goods with the poor.

 The selections that follow come from a homily that St. Basil delivered on the parable of the rich man who decided to tear down his old barns and build new ones to store away all his wealth. (Lk 12:16-21) But the Lord visited him that very evening, told him that his life was over and called him a “fool” for storing up his wealth in vain. The parable provides a warning for those who lay up treasure for themselves and are not rich toward God. 

In the homily, Basil speaks about this rich man, but also addresses him directly, instructing us as he teaches this foolish rich man. The core of Basil’s message is that there is great gain in every way when we generously share what we have been given with the poor and needy. This is what God intended: that those who have more should share with those who have less, and so provide a blessing for those in need. But giving away possessions is also a great good for those who give: by giving it away in this life they gain it for eternal life. 

Homily from St. Basil the Great:
“I Will Tear Down My Barns” [1]

Basil reminds us that the rich man “did not remember that he shared with others a common nature, nor did he think it necessary to distribute from his abundance to those in need. 

“O mortal, recognize your Benefactor! Consider yourself,
who you are, what resources have been entrusted to you, from whom you received them, and why you received more than others. You have been made a minister of God’s goodness,
a steward of your fellow servants. … Resolve to treat the
things in your possession as belonging to others.

“Imitate the earth, O mortal. Bear fruit as it does; do not show yourself inferior to inanimate soil. After all, the earth
does not nurture fruit for its own enjoyment, but for your benefit. But whatever fruit of good works you bring forth,
you produce for yourself, since the grace of good works redounds to those who perform them. You gave to the poor,
and in so doing not only did you make what you gave truly
your own, but you received back even more. For just as grain, when it falls upon the ground, brings forth an increase for the one who scatters it, thus also bread cast to the hungry yields considerable profit at a later time.

“Like a mighty river that is divided into many streams in order to irrigate the fertile soil, so also are those who give their wealth to be divided up and distributed in the houses of the poverty-stricken. Wells become more productive if they are drained completely, while they silt up if they are left standing. Thus wealth left idle is of no use to anyone, but put to use and exchanged it becomes fruitful and beneficial for the public.

“What could be more ridiculous than this incessant toil, laboring to build and then laboring to tear down again? If you want storehouses, you have them in the stomachs of the poor. Lay up for yourself treasure in heaven. The things deposited there are not devoured by moths, nor are they spoiled by corruption, nor do thieves break in and steal them. 

“Make your brothers and sisters sharers of your grain;
give to the needy today what rots away tomorrow.” 

[1] St. Basil the Great, On Social Justice, trans. and intro.
C. Paul Schroeder (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 60-69.