Basil the Great vs. Christina the Astonishing

New this year, we are pleased to offer a brief Opening Ceremony video for Lent Madness. It might not involve a cast of thousands like the Olympics, but it does feature two dead archbishops introducing a true Episcopal celebrity wearing a purple cassock. See, we win!

Isn't it just "astonishing" how many people have been looking forward to the start of Lent? Isn't it just "great" that Lent Madness has finally begun? The Supreme Executive Committee has fired the starting gun (don't worry, it's metaphorical) and...we're off! The 2014 Saintly Smackdown has officially commenced.

So, hang onto your halos as we begin whittling down our field of 32 saints. All are worthy (yes, they have already received their respective crowns of glory) yet only one will attain the coveted Golden Halo. There will be debates, ire, angst, rejoicing, and holy trash talking. Just remember, it’s all in the spirit of this season specifically set aside to grow closer to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ. On behalf of the Lent Madness team, we’re delighted you’ve decided to spend some of this holy season with us.

If this is your first year playing Lent Madness, welcome. You're in for a fun, informative, engaging, occasionally wild, ride. (Looking for a Lent Madness primer? Click here). If you're back for more heart-stopping saintly thrills, it's good to see you!

After you vote we encourage you to do three things: First, like us on Facebook. Second, follow us on Twitter (if you just can't get enough of the Madness, social media is the perfect way to continue the conversation). Finally, visit the Lentorium where you can purchase ebook versions of the Saintly Scorecard: The Definitive Guide to Lent Madness 2014 and other Lent Madness paraphernalia such as mugs. Your hairdresser, local barista, cousin, etc. will be thrilled with such thoughtful and wholly unexpected gifts.

Make sure you watch LentMadnessTV regularly for updates from Archbishops Thomas Cranmer and John Chrysostom, as well as the Supreme Executive Committee. Each week you'll find a video about that week's match-ups. Here's a video about the competition of Ash Week.

P.S. Here's a Lent Madness "Pro Tip" -- if you want to receive all the daily match-ups in your e-mail inbox, we encourage you to go to the home page and "subscribe" by entering your e-mail address (near the top right). This will insure you never miss a vote!

245_0035133313_Basil-The-GreatBasil the Great

In the early years of Christianity, much of what we take for granted was in flux. Exact points of belief were the source of schism and argument. In the 4th century, one of the great controversies was Arianism, or the belief that Jesus was subordinate to God and was not created with God the Father, but at a later time; therefore, Jesus was distinct from God. The initial Council of Nicea addressed the issue, but the debate would not rest.

In the region of Cappadocia, particularly, the Arian controversy threatened to divide the region. One of the priests in the region, Basil, stepped firmly into the fray.

Basil was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, three men who, along with their sister Macrina, profoundly influenced Christian orthodoxy in the 4th century. Basil was born into a family of wealth and privilege and educated in the classic Greek style of the era and the Christian faith. When his sister Macrina used her wealth and status to establish a monastery, Basil himself traveled in the area of Mesopotamia and lived the life of a solitary monastic. He soon shifted his interest to a community of faith rooted in prayer and work. Assisted by Gregory of Nazianzus, he  wrote a monastic Rule, which would become the foundation for Eastern monastic discipline.

He retired to a life of monastic living and writing, but was called out of retirement to defend against the heresy of Arianism. Through his intellect, profound and deep faith, and no small amount of political savvy, Basil did just as he was asked. In his On the Holy Spirit, Basil wrote that both the words of Scripture and the traditions of the Church require that the same honor, glory, and worship are to be paid to God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For Basil, correct worship would include the formula, “Glory to the Father with the Son together with the Holy Spirit.”

Basil lived what he preached. He never allowed his concern for proper orthodox belief to distract from his focus and work for the poor. He, in his life and after his death through bequests, built homes, hospitals, churches, and other support agencies for the poor and outcasts.

Basil died in 379 at the age of fifty. Two years later, the Second Ecumenical Council affirmed the Nicene faith as understood and presented by Basil and his supporters - the very same words we affirm today in the Nicene Creed.

Collect for Basil the Great
Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons:  Give us grace that, like your bishop Basil of Caesarea, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

 -- Laurie Brock

Christina-the-Astonishing-June-04-2Christina the Astonishing (also known as Christina Miribilis)

In 1172, in St-Tronde (Belgium), the body of a twenty-something orphan named Christina was brought into church, surrounded by a priest, her sisters, and other mourners, for her funeral mass. After the Agnus Dei, Christina rose from her open coffin and levitated into the rafters, where she perched like a bird as all the mourners except for the priest and one sister fled, amazed.

Christina then came down and told what had happened to her while she was “dead.” Angels had guided her into a dark place where she saw many people she had known, in torment. This was Purgatory. Then she was taken to Hell, where she saw others suffering. Finally, she was taken to Heaven and given this choice: stay in Heaven, or return to earth to make penances for those in Hell and Purgatory, that they might be released; and suffer to convert the living, too.

She chose to return. And, she said, “my life will be astonishing, like nothing you have ever seen.”

Christina, the patron of both the mentally ill and therapists, embarked on a life of extreme behavior. She became homeless, dressed in rags, begging for food. During intense prayer, she threw herself into fiery furnaces or into the frozen river for days, emerging unscathed. She recoiled from human contact and often was found perched in treetops, towers, and other remote places, because the smell of human sin was too much for her.

Her family, thinking her possessed, once had her captured and her leg broken by a thug in an effort to control her. Then they called a doctor. And then Christina escaped.

Yet she lived out her last three years obediently at St Catherine’s Convent where locals -- saints, counts, villagers -- came to her for counsel and confession. She died in 1224 at the age of 74.

In addition to being immortalized in plays, poems, and a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Christina’s original story was written down by a contemporary, Thomas de Cantimpre, a Belgian Dominican, based on eyewitness accounts from villagers and Cardinal Jaques de Vitry, who knew Christina. This astonishing woman was a great puzzle to everyone, who were never sure if she was a mystic or insane. Perhaps she was shattered by an encounter with the Divine.

She herself was convinced she was called to suffer for others, to be a different kind of witness. And that she was.

** Image of Christina the Astonishing by Cookie Scottorn. Used with permission.

Collect for Christina the Astonishing
Eternal God, in the example of Christina, we are reminded of the fine line between mysticism and mental illness. You gave to her a passionate spirit, a vivid mind, and the call to suffer for others. Through her example, may we be awakened to passionate and compassionate witness to your glory. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Collect written by Nancy Hopkins-Greene.)

-- Penny Nash

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Basil the Great vs. Christina the Astonishing

  • Basil the Great (55%, 3,801 Votes)
  • Christina the Astonishing (45%, 3,143 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,941

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283 comments on “Basil the Great vs. Christina the Astonishing”

  1. Christina the Astonishing was way too astonishing for me. Much more satisfying to contemplate the life and contributions of Basil and not think about Flying Nun imagery.

  2. Though as a new board member of NAMI Fox Valley I am going to be helping congregations learn how to better serve people living with mental illness (under the protection of Christina the Astonishing, I hope), today I have to cast my vote with Basil and the Trinitarian, mystical foundation on which our faith rests.

    1. Having worked in supportive services (library) at the state hospital for the Mentally Ill I too had a hard time not choosing Christina. I agree with you that the Trinitarian foundation pulled me in Basil's direction.

    2. I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I'm saying that as a person who voted the other way. Luckily, there's no wrong answer, jut vote your conscience, draw lots, whatever. In a few weeks, we'll get more astonishing details on one of these great saints!

  3. A vote for astonishment, to honour all those who struggle with mental illness, whose creativity may be lost in a desire to be more normal.

    1. Congratulations to Cathy H. for expressing my thoughts so beautifully. I had never heard of this saint before, but I was drawn to her immediately.

    2. Cathy H. I agree. What a lovely thought. I've wondered before about works of art and literature (Messrs. Picasso and Poe come to mind) that would not have been created had mental health cures been available. On the flip side, those people may have led happy fulfilled lives instead of being found face-down dead and penniless in a ditch (Mr. Poe) I cast my vote for Basil.

  4. I know I state the obvious: Christina would be astonished if Basil didn't win this first round match up

  5. In any other match-up I would have voted for Basil (whom I expect to prevail in any case), but I can't let pass the opportunity to vote for someone with the cognomen "Astonishing"! I so very seldom (if ever) get to vote for someone to whom that word could apply.

  6. Christina was amazing! At first, i thought "Crazy", but praying and thinking about it made me realize, God Shows Himself in many ways.

  7. A great upset: I prepared myself to press the "Basil" button as the obvious choice in contrast to the disturbing witness of Christina...when my heart lept at the words, "patron of therapists and mentally ill" and "make penances for those living in hell or purgatory". The mentally ill suffer and feel as though they were in purgatory or hell, separated from the love of God, tormented by their own personal demons. Therapists who work to heal everything from mood disorders to psychotic disorders do the Lord's work to liberate them from suffering and prepare them for the loving reality of God. Thank you Christina, for any sacrifice you made to benefit the souls of the ill and the healers.

    1. This is a really beautiful comment, Molly. Thanks for your analogy of the mentally ill suffering as if they were in purgatory or hell. So true.

    2. Yes, the image of Christina suffering on behalf of the mentally ill, whose lives are ravaged by interior torments, is redemptive. There is a very fine line between mysticism and madness. Yet Basil brought us to a deep flow of mysticism in the Trinity, and he models for us all a life of contemplation and action, together. Basil could indeed go the distance to the Golden Halo!

      1. Heath,

        Reading yours, I could just hear Chris Berman. I am not sure if this is a good thing or now.

  8. Lent Madness needs to hire a copy editor. Solitary only has one "o." That can count as a typo, but not this: "Jesus ... was not created with God the Father, but at a later time". No one claimed that God the Father was created (by whom?); that is a bridge too far even for heretics. So, maybe we should all read more Basil: my vote's for him.

    1. I noticed that, as well. Surely, must be a typo, but one that could not be more glaring, given the life legacy of Basil as one of the great teachers and defenders of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. "There was when He was not"? Ah, heck no!

    2. It's a translation issue - the same one that we reflect in the Nicene Creed "from the Virgin Mary" and "with the Virgin Mary." The SEC needs to hire better translators, obviously.

  9. Thought I knew exactly the choice -- Basil. Christina was too far out for me. Then I read the comments and I think maybe I need to go "out there" too.

    1. I have to agree with you, Estelle. Wish I had voted for Christina. Except, I didn't want to vote for Basil - I struggle with the 3 in 1 concept. Then I read about Christina, thought she was a bit far out there for me, then read people's comments. Ah well.

      1. Yay, Ann! Thank you for voting for Baz~~~ I was ordained on his feast day!
        So, he's kind of my patron saint, though truly it sounds as though Christina might be closer to the truth these days...! xoxo

    1. Kind of like the Holy Spirit? Which moved me to vote for her. We are called to be foolish in man's eyes for the sake of our faith. As Lily Tomlin said: "How come when we talk to God, it's called praying, and when God talks back, it's call schizophrenia?"

      1. What Linda writes is a serious dilemma. Are not those we would later recognize as prophets sometimes have appeared mentally ill?
        And don't we believe that God can be seen in many?

  10. BTW, I cannot find her on our liturgical calendar. Does anyone know which calendar she came from?

  11. Loved the opening ceremony video. Now off to read about the saints and pray for guidance as I place my vote later today.

  12. Voting for Basil. Where would we be without his clarification of the Trinity? I mean it. Where would we be? A bunch of Arianists saying Jesus was just a good guy with interesting ideas. Vote Basil.

    1. Thank you Marguerite! Totally agree. Exactly my thoughts as I voted. Vote for Basil, please.

  13. Love Basil and what he gave our church, but I can't get over the sacrifices that Christina made during her return to benefit those of the mentally ill.

  14. I vote for Basil. What fascinates me most about this guy, is that sainthood seemed to be the family business. His grandmother was St. Macrina the Elder, the patron saint of widows and against poverty. His father was St. Basil the elder, his mother was St. Emmelia of Caesarea. His brother was St. Gregory, his sister was St. Macrina the younger. His brother, St. Peter of Sebaste was a bishop and another brother St. Naucratius, looked like a Turkish Brad Pitt, but started to withdraw from his celebrity and popularity and became of a hermit, thus acting more like the Turkish Joaquin Phoenix. Alas, the great line of saints only lasted 3 generations; but there were 4 more lazy non-saint brothers, so maybe one of you eastern European madness maniacs out there has a little saint blood coursing through your veins.

    1. wow ! thanks for St. Basil's ancestral background.
      I wondered why St. Basil was "....of Caesarea ".
      I vote for Basil.

    2. WOW! That is a very Saintly Family tree! And props for the "Turkish Brad Pitt" - that gave me the giggles at the end of a workday.

  15. After much prayer and thought I decided on Basil. The deciding factor is that the church closest to where I am sitting is St Basil The Great. I'm a home town fan.

  16. Wow - great start, and truly hard choices. Each saint speaks to something within, and the final decision will be hard. Each lived the 'rule' as they heard it. Interested in seeing the final outcome.

  17. Jerry the Incredulous (of Christina the Astonishing) is voting for Basil the Great.

  18. Christina is a bit too astonishing for me, and as a Lutheran, I am not inclined to believe in Purgatory. I believe Christ's cross is enough to cover all sins. As Luther wrote, "We die in faith in Christ, who died for our sins and rendered satisfaction for us. He is my Bosom, my Paradise, my Comfort, and my Hope." Still, I recognize she would be a product of her time and her beliefs would reflect that time period (as Luther's earliest writings on such issues also did). It sounds like she lived in the tradition of religious mendicants and mystics, and beyond some of the more fanciful tales, there is likely some truth to her story. Although, all things are possible with God. I can even agree with others that a vote for her could be a sign of support for those with mental illness and start a great discussion. Still, it was Basil for me when it came to voting, but I did enjoy "meeting" her through Lent Madness.

  19. It's Basil for me. The Nicene Creed and the orthodoxy of the Trinity have staying power.

  20. Does the Episcopal Church today have a process for the canonization of a saint?
    Mystified in Maine.

    1. We do have a process, not to be canonized as a saint, but to be included in our calendar of Holy Women and Holy Men. The title of Saint is reserved for biblical persons (a nod to our Protestant roots) but the additions to the calendar come from grassroots devotion to a Christian witness (in the Catholic tradition). To be added (please note that every rule, in good Episcopal tradition, has its exception).
      1) be a Christian, and dead at least one generation
      2) be remembered by a local community over time in prayers, rituals, feast day
      3) be introduced and a case made for you at a General Convention - and voted in in two successive General Conventions, which meet once every three years.
      How long before Nelson Mandela is added? Start your campaign now!

  21. "or the belief that Jesus was subordinate to God and was not created with God the Father, but at a later time; therefore, Jesus was distinct from God." Saint Basil's halo may be spinning!

    1. I'm with you!! Maybe I'll vote for you instead of either of the "candidates".

    2. My predicament also. Basil articulated what we continue to struggle with (at least me with the whole 3-in-1 thing) and Christina's lifting up how God works through those who have mental illness. But the whole purgatory thing puts me on the fence. I think I'll come back later after reading more viewpoints from others.

  22. If I had known Nick Cave and the Bad Seed had written a song about her, I wouldn't have picked Basil in my bracket. I love the in depth we get. All I knew about St. Basil before today was he has a church named after him in my hometown.

  23. Outstanding Opening for the 2014 Lent Madness! I came prepared to vote for Basil but as I learned more about Christina the Astonishing my vote goes to her and her life of sacrifice and witness of God's Love!