Saint Basil read Homer and the Greek philosophers, but he was captivated by Jesus. If you grew up a fundamentalist, then the fact that fiercely learned Basil encouraged reading Greek literature is a great relief. Nobody made Basil a saint, because he was a first-rate scholar, though he was, but because he was transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.
Saint Basil did not need Homer or Plato, he valued the virtue that could be found in them. His motivation for saving the best of Greek and Roman culture was Christian. He was taught that all people were created in the image of God. We are imperfect. The way we are does not match the way we should be. We long for eternity and Jesus shows us, is, the Way back to God.
Saint Basil was not stingy in his loves so he helped create classical Christian education. His Christianity was the heart of the education or the classical bits would have vanished. We copied the books of the people who persecuted us as well as our own, losing as many of our Christian books with time as we lost those of pagans. That is the work of a Christian. That is good, but better is to have a soul shaped for eternity with God. The prayers, the careful theological writings, all contribute to this task.
The Christian does not merely think about theology, he acts on his theology in the life of the Church. Saint Basil wrote carefully about the Trinity, particularly the Holy Spirit. If you love God, then you will study him. Saint Basil used some tools from his own classical education to aid the greater work of theology.
This is a man whose main gift to mankind is not Homer, though he is a big reason we still have Homer, but the numerous prayers he wrote and his profound influence on the liturgy. Every day members of my family and millions of other people around the globe pray:
We entreat thine infinite goodness, enlighten the eyes of our understanding and raise up our minds from the heavy sleep of indolence; open our mouths and fill them with they praise, that we may unceasingly sing and confess thee, who art God glorified in all and by all, the eternal Father, the Only-Begotten Son, and the all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Your desire for information, my right well-beloved and most deeply respected brother Amphilochius, I highly commend, and not less your industrious energy. I have been exceedingly delighted at the care and watchfulness shewn in the expression of your opinion that of all the terms concerning God in every mode of speech, not one ought to be left without exact investigation.
You might easily see the practical benefits in the work of Saint Basil, yet fail to appreciate the sublime prayers and theology in this life. What good are they now? Failing to prepare for eternity in this present life is a catastrophic error. Still in this life, the life of prayer, if sincere, and the life of an awakening Christian mind are good in many ways now.
As we have seen, the mind that is awake will value anything where virtue can be seen: even the work of enemies. The prayers shape a loving soul, one called to love creation because of the Creator. Such a soul will make a better neighbor and citizen! Naturally, all of us fall short of the aspiration, but our goals make a difference! If our goal is to love everyone with justice and mercy, then we will be different people than if our deepest truth is “money is the root of all good!” or “help your friends and harm your enemies.”
The culture that steeps every member in the beauty of a church like Hagia Sophia, the literary brilliance of the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, or the splendor of the icons will be culturally rich. In almost every nation of the world, Christians have created religious and “secular” art that dwarfs the accomplishments of ancient Athens or ancient Rome. The Romans built the Pantheon and the Colosseum, Christians built Saint Peter’s and filled it with a staggering array of art.
Jesus, the divine Word, motivates these gifts to humanity. My own failings are not His fault, I should know better. Thankfully, the good God is merciful and today is a new day to have a waking mind, look to beauty, and love my neighbor.