January 1, 2023

The Death-Bed Wager Between Saint Basil the Great and a Jewish Physician

A Jew named Joseph lived in Caesarea. He was such an experienced doctor that he knew for three or five days by the veins that someone was going to die, and told the patient the hour of their death. And our God-bearing father Basil, foreseeing by the Spirit that Joseph would turn to Christ, loved him very much. He often invited him to his place to talk, and advised him to leave the Jewish law and receive holy baptism. But Joseph refused, saying: "In what faith I was born, in that I will also die." And the Saint said to him: "Believe me, neither I nor you will die, until you are born of water and the Spirit. Because without this grace it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God. Were not your fathers also baptized in the cloud and the sea, and it is written drank from the rock that was the prototype of the spiritual rock, Christ (1 Cor. 10:2-4), who was born of the Virgin for our salvation, whom your fathers crucified, and who, being buried, rose again on the third day and, ascending into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father, whence shall He come to judge the living and the dead?" And many other useful words were spoken to him by the Saint, but the Jew remained in his unbelief.

And when the time of Basil's departure to God approached, the Saint fell ill and called the Jew, ostensibly to ask him for medical help, and said to him: "What do you think of me, Joseph?" And he, after feeling the Saint's veins, said to the family: "Prepare everything necessary for the burial, because he will die immediately." Basil said to him: "Hey, you don't know what you're talking about." And the Jew answered: "Trust me, Bishop, the sun will not set today before you will die." Basil said to him: "And if I stay alive until tomorrow at noon, what will you do then?" Joseph answered: "I will die." The Saint said: "Yes, you will die to sin, in order to live to God." The Jew answered him: "I know what you are saying, bishop. But here, I swear to you, if you live until tomorrow, then I will fulfill your will."

And the divine father Basil prayed to God to prolong his life until tomorrow for the sake of the Jew's salvation. And the next morning they went to call the Jew. And Joseph did not believe the servant, who called him, that Basil was alive, but went to see the dead man himself. And when he saw him alive, he was astounded. And he fell at the Saint's feet, and said with a sincere heart: "The Christian God is great, and there is no other God but Him. Therefore, I renounce God-hating Judaism, and approach the true Christian faith. Order therefore, holy father, that they immediately give me holy baptism, and my whole household." Saint Basil said to him: "I will baptize you myself with my own hands." And the Jew approached, felt the Saint's right hand, and said: "Your strength has dried up, Bishop, and your nature has completely weakened, so you cannot baptize me." Basil answered: "We have a Creator who strengthens us."

And he got up, went to the church, and baptized the Jew and his whole household in front of everyone. And they named him John. And Saint Basil himself served the divine liturgy on that day, and gave him communion with the Holy Mysteries, and taught him as much as he needed about eternal life, and he also spoke an instructive word to his flock. And he lived until three o'clock in the afternoon. Then he gave everyone a final kiss and farewell; he gave thanks to God for all the unspeakable mercy He had shown him. And while gratitude was still in his lips, he committed his soul into the hands of God. And the archbishop joined the archbishops, and the preachers - the great thunderers of words, on the first day of the month of January in the year 379.

Saint Basil the Great shepherded the Church of God for eight years, six months and sixteen days. He lived on earth for forty-nine years.

When the newly baptized Jew saw the Saint where he stood, he fell on his face and with tears said: "Servant of God Basil, you would not have died even now if you had not wanted to." And many other archbishops gathered and sang funeral psalms. And in the church of the holy martyr Eupsichios, they buried the holy relics of the great comforter of God Basil, praising the One God in Trinity, to whom be glory forever, Amen.

From the Lives of the Saints of January by St. Justin Popovich. The story has its origins in THE PSEUDO-AMPHILOCHIAN VITA BASILII, an apocryphal life of Basil the Great. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.