The Story of St. Ephrem the Syrian and Basil the Great

Our Misconceptions about High-Ranking People

We often have completely false ideas about people of high rank who are crowned with glory and honor. We say, “How can they inherit the Kingdom of Heaven when they live in privilege and luxury, and have rich meals, and their clothes are almost like those of royalty, and they have many servants, etc.”? This opinion of the people of high rank is often really erroneous, and it can be proved by actual facts.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian, who lived in the desert, asked God one day to disclose to him how advanced Saint Basil the Great was in his spiritual practice. His prayer was answered, and he saw a pillar of fire stretching from earth to heaven. At the same time, he heard a voice: “Ephrem, Ephrem! As big as the pillar of fire that you have seen is, so is Basil.” Then Ephrem took an interpreter, who knew the Greek language, with him and went to Caesarea, where Basil the Great was an archbishop. They arrived in Caesarea on the Feast of the Epiphany, and Ephrem immediately went to the church in which Basil was serving. When he saw the latter in great glory and honor, surrounded by a multitude of priests, Ephraim exclaimed to his companion, “We have worked in vain, brother! Was this how I expected him to be! Can he be great before the Lord when he is of such rank and honor? It is in vain that we have traveled so far and had to endure the heat of the day! Once again I wonder how such a man can be like a pillar of fire.” In the meantime, Basil the Great sent an archdeacon to call Ephrem to the altar. When the archdeacon told Ephrem about the Archbishop’s invitation, Ephrem said, “His Eminence must have been mistaken: we are strangers, and he does not know us” – and stayed in his place. Then the sermon began. Well, what happened? Throughout the whole time the monk, to his horror, saw some kind of a fiery tongue, coming from the mouth of St. Basil. After the sermon, the archbishop said to the archdeacon, “Come, tell the foreigner to whom I had sent you the following, “Ephrem, come into the holy altar.” So the archdeacon said. Then the hermit exclaimed, “Basil is truly great! The Holy Spirit himself speaks through his mouth!” When he saw the archbishop after the Liturgy, the latter said to him, “I am glad to see you who has multiplied the disciples of Christ in the wilderness and cast out demons by the name of Christ. Why have you come to see me? I am a sinful man.” Ephrem was astonished. Later, having received the Holy Communion from the hands of St. Basil, he asked him to pray for God to grant him the understanding of the Greek language. The archbishop did it and then ordained him first as a deacon, and then as a presbyter.

See what Saint Ephrem said about Saint Basil when he first saw him? He said to his companion, “It was in vain that we took the trouble to come here and see him. Can he be great before the Lord if he has such a high rank and honor!” Was Ephrem right? No, because, first of all, he saw a flame coming from the mouth of St. Basil; secondly, St. Basil demonstrated his perspicacity to him; and finally, he made a miracle on him by getting him to understand a foreign tongue. Therefore judge nothing before the time (1 Corinthians 4:5) and do not forget that not only the poor are saved, but also those who are dressed in purple, and those who are honored by the great dignity of a bishop, and the rich, and the nobles, and other dignitaries. Indeed, David lived in the midst of royal splendor and won the crown. Abraham had a wife and children, three hundred and eighteen male and female slaves, and plenty of gold and silver; but this did not prevent him from earning the name of a friend of God. Yes, we repeat, before the time, judge nothing. Amen.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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