January 2, 2006: Happy Saints Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus Day
To the left stands St. Basil the Great, and to the right sits St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Saints are usually pictured in conventional poses in paintings, sometimes standing with a codex of the gospels, as St. Basil, sometimes seated at a writing desk, as St. Gregory.
Basil's icon shows up well here, but it's a reproduction, whereas Gregory's image, whose colors are faded, is from an original painting in an illuminated manuscript.
Apparently, these two saints were friends who wrote each other a lot of letters, not all of these epistles being friendly ones. Here's Gregory replying to an angry missive from Basil:
How hotly and like a colt you skip in your letters. Nor do I wonder that when you have just become the property of glory you should wish to shew me what you find glory to be, so that you may make yourself more majestic, like those painters who picture the seasons. (Gregory of Nazianzus, "Epistle 50," Correspondence with Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea)The passage uses two similes -- like a colt and like a painter. I understand the former one well. A colt, skipping about in the heat of its young blood, as a simile for a hotheaded, unpredictable fellow, and Wikipedia does describe Basil as "[h]ot-blooded and somewhat imperious." But what does the painter simile mean? An artist who paints the seasons to make himself appear more glorious? All such painters of the seasons? The latter seems implied.
I pity the poor artist whose works are subjected to Gregory's critical eye and pen!
It's an interesting simile, nonetheless, about borrowed glory and perhaps marks part of my motivation for blogging on the twelve days of Christmas. From the treasury of the saints, I borrow a bit of glory. Alone, I am just a voice crying in the wilderness.
According to Wikipedia's entry on St. Basil (ca. 330 - January 1, 379), in the "Greek tradition, ... [Basil's] name was given to Father Christmas and is supposed to visit children and give presents every January 1," which I take to be the Greek Orthodox feast day for Basil and ought to look up but don't have time. Anyway, as Father Christmas, Basil certainly fits this ninth day of Christmas.
As for Wikipedia's entry on St. Gregory (329 - January 25, 389), there's the interesting fact that he "made the acquaintance of Julian, the future Emperor who would become known as Julian the Apostate," which suggests that Gregory's influence of Julian was rather meagre since the latter attempted as emperor to revive paganism as the official Roman religion. Julian didn't succeed in that, as we all know, but if he had, we wouldn't be celebrating these twelve days of Christmas.
Therefore . . . well, why not? Let's raise a glass -- no, two glasses to these two saints.