Saint Studies: St. Basil the Great Lessons and Activities

Here’s a saint study about St. Basil the Great, complete with lesson ideas and activities.

By Kate Daneluk

To live a life where those you leave behind choose to add “the Great” to your name is quite an accomplishment. A look at the life of St. Basil reveals the type of life that defines greatness. Basil was an amazing example of a person gifted with tremendous talents who chose to use these talents in the service of the Church and the Kingdom of God.

About St. Basil the Great

Basil was one of ten children of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia. He was born in Cappadocia in 330. Basil was a gifted scholar and lawyer. He was a gifted orator and opened a school of oratory. Despite his success in these endeavors, Basil felt a pull to the monastic life fueled by his studies of varied religious lives. He founded a monastery in Pontus and wrote a monastic rule. His rule and the Basilian Order is still active within the Eastern Church. He is referred to by some as the eastern counterpart of St. Benedict as they are both the key figures in the founding of monasticism. Basil directed the monastery until he was appointed bishop of Caesarea in 370 shortly after his ordination. Basil was ultimately responsible for the establishment of several monastic communities and the building of monasteries.

Basil was an advocate for social justice. Even in his youth, he volunteered in the ancient equivalent of a soup kitchen and organized relief distribution in times of famine. In later years, he built a nursing home and hospital which are considered to be the first of their kind. He worked especially to fight the prevalent human trafficking and organized prostitution of Cappadocia.

Basil is most well-known for his amazing orations and would preach twice a day to large crowds. He also was a tireless defender of the faith against the heresies of the time. He defended the faith against Arianism, a powerful heresy of the time. Arianism denied the divinity of Christ. With his close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus, he worked to combat its spread and educate the people. Basil spread the truths combating the heresy from the Council of Nicaea throughout the East and is responsible for the denunciation of Arianism at the Council of Constantinople. He even stood up successfully to Emperor Valens, who was a supporter of heretic leaders.

Basil died on January 1, 379. He is both a saint and Doctor of the Church. His writings, particularly those with Gregory, continue to be important works on understanding Church doctrine, particularly in Christology.

Fun facts about St. Basil the Great

St. Basil is the patron saint of:

  • Russia
  • Cappadocia
  • Hospital administrators
  • Reformers
  • Monks
  • Education
  • Exorcism
  • Liturgists

Titles for St. Basil:

  • Basil of Caesarea
  • Basil the Great
  • Great Hierarch
  • Doctor of the Church
  • The Father of Monastic Communities
  • Basil the Confessor

St. Basil the Great in your classroom:

The life of St. Basil can be utilized to help provide a Catholic perspective with several topics across the curriculum:

  • History/Social Studies – human rights, human trafficking, Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, famine, history of medicine
  • Geography – Greece, Cappadocia, Caesarea, Rome, Byzantium
  • Literature and Language Arts – topics of social justice, famine, welfare, education, public speaking and debate, persuasive essay
  • Religion – Christology, Heresy (Arianism, in particular), stewardship, fortitude

Classroom Activities:

  1. Reading and discussion (grades 3 and up): Either read aloud or have the class read an age-appropriate biography of St. Basil. Follow up with discussion questions (Adapt as needed for comprehension and vocabulary. These questions are designed for older students.):
    1. Basil’s parents and some of his siblings were canonized as well. Why do you think so many saints came from one family?
    2. Basil was very intelligent and had skills in leadership and oration and persuasion. How did he use these gifts throughout his life?
    3. Until his appointment as bishop, Basil chose the monastic life. What can we learn by his submission to the orders from the Church to reenter a more public and political office?
    4. Basil had much opposition to his work from the clergy, government, and the people. He was accused of corruption and heresy. How important do you think his friendship with Gregory was in his ability to cope with so much criticism and conflict?
  2. Greatness – (grades 1 and up) Reflect with your class on what makes St. Basil great and have students design posters or write essays that define “greatness”. Obviously, the sophistication of the project will vary by age level.
  3. Research Project (grades 7 and up) – Students can research and write a summary on prostitution and human trafficking in our world today, including what action we can take to help in the problem. Emphasize that prayer is a true way to help the victims and have each student compose a prayer to St. Basil for the victims of prostitution and human trafficking.
  4. Research Project (grades 5 and up) St. Basil is one of the Three Great Hierarchs of the Byzantine Rite within the Catholic Church. Students can write a paper on these important differences in organization for the Eastern Church and the various rites within the Catholic Church.
  5. Talent vs Charism (grades 4 and up) Basil is an excellent example of someone using his talents to the fullest. Read the biography of St. Basil and discuss the differences between talents and charisms. What talents did Basil possess and what charisms were gifted to him? St. Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, CO has good material on discerning charisms if you wish to progress this lesson further.

Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.