This is an excerpt from the book STORIES, SERMONS, AND PRAYERS OF ST. NEPHON: AN ASCETIC BISHOP.

BITTER DEATH, PURE SOUL

Saint Nephon lifted the people who had fallen at his feet and had them sit on stools. Then he began an amazing narration:

“There lived a young man in Constantinople, Basil by name. He was crafty, filthy, and very shameless. He would spend all day and night in the dens of iniquity. On the other hand his master, Patrick, was an exceptional person, charitable, merciful, compassionate and lending to those in need as the Scripture commands. Basil, his employee, was eighteen years old Patrick sent him often to fill orders, and with that excuse he would go to the centers of depravity, polluting the beauty of his soul and body. But look how God, Who has ‘no pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ arranged his salvation.”

“At that time famine had fallen over all the land. With hunger came a very severe Winter, so severe that daily nearly a thousand people would die in our city. The number of dead was so high, that they were unable to bury them. Then when Winter prevailed for good along with famine - both evils together - all were forced to release their employees and some even their servants. Many even sold their children, so that they could get a nickel for food Since things became so tight for all, they were tight also for Patrick, about whom we were speaking. He, too, was forced to release his employees. ‘How will my children, my servants, and I be able to support ourselves?’ he thought, because he had a lot of personnel. Thus, young Basil along with all the other employees was also released The very first day he sold his tunic in a tavern and used up the money. In the same way, little by little he sold and spent everything he had; until, finally, naked and lamenting, he started begging here and there. He suffered so horribly from the cold, that blood would drip from his extremities. Day by day his torments worsened. But now he would say nothing more than ‘Glory to You, O God.’”

“Who can describe his lamentations or the bitterness of hunger and the horror of the God-sent cold which he endured thanking God?”

“All this torment lasted for a long time until once, while he was walking, he fell exhausted in an alley of the town. He lay sighing, trembling, dying of hunger. His feet froze completely from the horrible cold and his toes fell off, because the nerves and joints had rotted. And that amazing boy, true to his name, the unshaken rock, the bright star, suffered everything without grumbling, like another Job, without being indignant against God. Famine tormented him and the cold caused him excruciating pain. The wounds would freeze, since he was naked, and caused him unbearable suffering. In a word, he was gripped by suffering. But he continued to glorify God, the Lover of man. “Of course, there was no one to help then, because all were lamenting their own deprivation and misfortune. After a few days, a pious man named Nicephorus happened to pass by that alley. He saw him and his heart ached for him. Immediately he ordered his servants to lift him up and take him to his house. There with his own hands he prepared his bed and laid him down gently. He offered him every attention with all his heart. Indeed he charged a maid to wait on him, because he was in dire need of help, since his entire body had been burned by the cold.”

“Two weeks went by like that at Nicephorus’ and finally, the time came for Basil to travel to his Lord and God It was Saturday, around 9 o’clock in the morning. Resting as always in his beg he started to whisper: ‘Welcome, welcome, you beautiful. The Lord sent you! Welcome, wait just a little, and we depart.’”

“Please, come quickly, we beg you. The Lord is calling you!”

“’I beg you, good friends of God,’ Basil again whispered ‘be patient a little, a man loaned me ten obols, and I must return them to him. The prince of the air may find this as an excuse to take me into the abyss and my soul will be lost.’”

“Then the angels waited, because the Lord had commanded them to receive his spirit with every comfort and consolation. Immediately, pious Nicephorus called a maid, gave her the money, and ordered her to return it. Then Basil lifted up his hands, glorifying God, and surrendered his soul to the angels.”

“Therefore, you see, my children,” St Nephon concluded, “how the will of God provides things according to our intent. Good God examines the internal struggle of each one and rewards him accordingly; because many times it happens that outwardly a man seems sinful. Inside him, however, he can be struggling or reproving himself with sighs and considering himself vile, or showing compassion and humility toward others. In other words, many inwardly do what is pleasing to God, even if outwardly they are sinners. And God, Who looks deeply, does not permit them to be lost in the end While all those who are prisoners on the inside, full of hatred and wickedness, derive no benefit at all, even if on the surface they do good, because in their case God’s plans are wasted.”

“That young man, Basil, belonged to the first category. His whole being was illumined by an inner light, the wholehearted compassion for all those he would see sad That was his secret good point, even though outwardly he sinned That is why in the end God did not permit him to be lost. He saved him in the way you heard.”