Early life and education
Basil was born into the wealthy family of
Basil the Elder,
Emmelia of Caesarea, in
Cappadocia, around 330.
 His parents were known for their piety.
 His maternal grandfather was a Christian
martyr, executed in the years prior to
Constantine I's conversion.
 His pious widow,
Macrina, herself a follower of
Gregory Thaumaturgus (who had founded the nearby church of
 raised Basil and his four siblings (who also can be venerated as saints):
Macrina the Younger,
Peter of Sebaste and
Gregory of Nyssa.
Basil received more formal education in Caesarea Mazaca in
Turkey) around 350-51.
 There he met
Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend.
 Together, Basil and Gregory went to
Constantinople for further studies, including the lectures of
Libanius. The two also spent almost six years in
Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become the emperor
Julian the Apostate.
 Basil left Athens in 356, and after travels in
Syria, he returned to Caesarea, where for around a year he practiced law and taught rhetoric.
Basil's life changed radically after he encountered
Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic.
 Abandoning his legal and teaching career, Basil devoted his life to God. A letter described his spiritual awakening:
||I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.
Russian icon of Basil of Caesarea
After his baptism, Basil traveled in 357 to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism.
 He distributed his fortunes among the poor, then went briefly into solitude near Neocaesarea of Pontus (mod. day
Niksar, Turkey) on the Iris.
 Basil eventually realized that while he respected the ascetics' piety and prayerfulness, the solitary life did not call him.
Eustathius of Sebaste, a prominent
anchorite near Pontus, had mentored Basil. However, they also eventually differed over
Basil instead felt drawn toward communal religious life, and by 358 he was gathering around him a group of like-minded
disciples, including his brother Peter. Together they founded a monastic settlement on his family's estate near Annesi
 (modern Sonusa or Uluköy, near the confluence of the
). His widowed mother Emmelia, sister Macrina and several other women, joined Basil and devoted themselves to pious lives of prayer and charitable works (some claim Macrina founded this community).
Here Basil wrote about monastic communal life. His writings became pivotal in developing monastic traditions of the
 In 358, Basil invited his friend Gregory of Nazianzus to join him in Annesi.
 When Gregory eventually arrived, they collaborated on
Origen's Philocalia, a collection of
Origen's works .
 Gregory then decided to return to his family in Nazianzus.
Basil attended the
Council of Constantinople (360). He at first sided with Eustathius and the
Homoiousians, a semi-Arian faction who taught that the Son was of like substance with the Father, neither the same (one substance) nor different from him.
 The Homoiousians opposed the Arianism of Eunomius but refused to join with the supporters of the
Nicene Creed, who professed that the members of the Trinity were of one substance ("
homoousios"). However, Basil's bishop,
Dianius of Caesarea, had subscribed only to the earlier
Nicene form of agreement. Basil eventually abandoned the Homoiousians, and emerged instead as a strong supporter of the
In 362, Bishop
Meletius of Antioch
ordained Basil as a
deacon. Eusebius then summoned Basil to Caesarea and ordained him as
presbyter of the Church there in 365. Ecclesiastical entreaties rather than Basil's desires thus altered his career path.
Basil and Gregory Nazianzus spent the next few years combating the
Arian heresy, which threatened to divide Cappadocia's Christians. In close fraternal cooperation, they agreed to a great rhetorical contest with accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors.
 In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of
Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant. This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the Church.
 Basil next took on functional administration of the city of Caesarea.
 Eusebius is reported as becoming jealous of the reputation and influence which Basil quickly developed, and allowed Basil to return to his earlier solitude. Later, however, Gregory persuaded Basil to return. Basil did so, and became the effective manager of the city for several years, while giving all the credit to Eusebius.
In 370, Eusebius died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him, and was consecrated bishop on June 14, 370.
 His new post as bishop of Caesarea also gave him the powers of
exarch of Pontus and
metropolitan of five
suffragan bishops, many of whom had opposed him in the election for Eusebius's successor. It was then that his great powers were called into action. Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. He personally organized a
soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese.
His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes. They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for
holy orders. He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice. At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations. In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad,
 which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was compared by Gregory of Nazianzus to the
wonders of the world.
His zeal for
orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent; and for the sake of peace and charity he was content to waive the use of orthodox terminology when it could be surrendered without a sacrifice of truth. The Emperor
Valens, who was an adherent of the Arian philosophy, sent his
prefect Modestus to at least agree to a compromise with the Arian faction. Basil's adamant negative response prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in that way before. Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop." Modestus reported back to Valens that he believed nothing short of violence would avail against Basil. Valens was apparently unwilling to engage in violence. He did however issue orders banishing Basil repeatedly, none of which succeeded. Valens came himself to attend when Basil celebrated the
Divine Liturgy on the
Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), and at that time was so impressed by Basil that he donated to him some land for the building of the Basiliad. This interaction helped to define the limits of governmental power over the church.
Basil then had to face the growing spread of
Arianism. This belief system, which denied that Christ was
consubstantial with the Father, was quickly gaining adherents and was seen by many, particularly those in Alexandria most familiar with it, as posing a threat to the unity of the church.
 Basil entered into connections with the West, and with the help of
Athanasius, he tried to overcome its distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians. The difficulties had been enhanced by bringing in the question as to the essence of the
Holy Spirit. Although Basil advocated objectively the
consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the
Father and the
Son, he belonged to those, who, faithful to Eastern tradition, would not allow the predicate homoousios to the former; for this he was reproached as early as 371 by the Orthodox zealots among the monks, and
Athanasius defended him. He maintained a relationship with
Eustathius despite dogmatic differences.
Basil corresponded with
Pope Damasus in the hope of having the Roman bishop condemn
heresy wherever found, both
pope's apparent indifference upset Basil's zeal and he turned around in distress and sadness.