St Basil was born into a wealthy family about 330 AD, and ordained a priest of the Church of Caesarea in 364 AD. He became bishop of Caesaria in 370 AD. He later took up an ascetic life, retiring to a life of study and self discipline. But in this time he began to establish several monasteries and presided over one himself which was situated amongst a complex of hospitals and hostels that he helped to fund. His monasteries became schools for holy teaching and he was in the habit of visiting nearby towns to preach. St Basil`s particular importance to monasticism is that he changed it from a solitary to a social and united system; and moreover a system that focussed on community and love.
The coming together of the monasteries soon led to the establishment of societies and it became necessary to frame some basic rules for the sake of good order. The earliest rules were those framed by St Basil which followed the Scriptures in that they sought to maintain a duty to God as well as to fellow man. Time would vary the rules, as an ascetic life became a monasticism which included convenience as well as a true devotional feeling. In his short but fruitful life ( he died in 379 AD) St Basil was also responsible for giving precise terms for the Trinity which he defined as - one substance and three persons,
The rule. which more particularly apply to monasteries are contained in twenty-five chapters, totaling some ninety five individual rules.
The first chapter enjoins the monks to live together for the sake of mutual help. comfort, instruction, exercise of virtue, efficacy of prayer. and security from danger.
2. That none without trial, should be admitted into their fraternity.
3. That they should dispose of their wealth to the poor and needy.
4. That children, with the consent of their parents, in presence of witnesses. may be admitted.
5. That stinted measure be appointed for eating and drinking.
6. That their apparel be plain and decent, and that they wear a girdle.
7. That, next to God, they be obedient to their superior.
8. Declares the good qualities which their superiors ought to have.
9. That the superior of the monastery first reprove the offenders with meekness and gentleness; but if they prove obstinate, and will not be reclaimed, then he is to account them as heathens and publicans.
10. That he suffer not the least offense to pass unreproved.
11. That they confess their faults to those who are the dispensers of holy mysteries.
12. That they should possess all things in common.
13. That men of estates render to their kindred what is their due, and the remainder to the poor.
14. That none that are entered return to their parents’ houses, unless to give them instructions and that is to be done by permission of their superiors.
15. That whosoever defames, or patiently hears his brother defamed, be excommunicated.
16. That no man do his own will in the monastery, or the least thing, without the superior’s leave.
17. That they debar no man from entering into the convent upon trial, or give him any offense.
18. That the measure of eating and, fasting be set by the superior.
19. That he who scorns to receive a garment, when presented to him, ought not to receive it when he afterwards asks for it.
20. That those who by their own fault do not come to dinner at the fixed time, ought not to eat till the next day, at the same hour.
21. That none ought to give the least thing to the poor, but by the hands of those who are ordained for that office.
22. That they should be careful of the utensils appertaining to the monastery, no less than if they were the holy vessels belonging to the altar.
23. That they must apply themselves to handy crafts, that so they may be helpful to others.
24. That, as a token of humility, they wear sackcloth, and speak with moderation.
25. That the monks are not to discourse alone with women.
Besides these twenty-five chapters, there is another which is wholly monastic, and appertains to him who is the director of the nuns - That when he confesses a nun, or a recluse, he ought to do so with decency, in the presence of the abbess.
These are St. Basil’s monastic institutes which, with different modifications, formed the basis of the monastic rules by which the earliest monasteries were governed.
The monks who kept the Rule were partly priests and partly laymen. As an Order it flourished in the East. An idea of their austere life is given by St Basil himself, writing to a colleague St Gregory Nazianzene in which he states that the food consisted of bread and water, and herbs, and was limited to one meal a day. He only allowed them to sleep until midnight when they were required to rise for prayer. Cookery he described as `idle` - "no knife is familiar with blood; our daintiest meal is vegetables with coarsest bread, and vapid wine" At his death St Gregory gave an account of his friend who practiced what he had preached, saying that he had but one inner and outer garment; his bed was the ground; little sleep; no bath; his food bread and salt; his drink the running stream."