Over the past few weeks, I've enjoyed reading Stephen Hildebrand's new book Basil of Caesarea, which is a great introduction to he fourth century missionary-monk-bishop's life and theology. I've written a formal review that should be out in a journal in the fall.
Basil was a coenobitic monk. That is, he valued community as the means of growth in Christian discipleship and the monastic life. The community was also the foundation from which he ministered--particularly to the poor, hungry, sick, and stranger in the region of Caesarea in Asia Minor. Hospitality played a central role as visitors from Asia Minor, Armenia, Syria and beyond were regular guests at his table. While showing Christian hospitality, Basil also saw this as an opportunity to witness to non-believers by demonstrating self control at the table (Hildebrand, 132; also Basil, Longer Rules 20.2).
For those who joined Basil's monastic community, gluttony was not an option. Hildebrand writes: "Anyone who would enter Basil's community, then, must be possessed of a certain measure of self-control. Taking sexual continence for granted, he spends most of his time in the Rules treating self-control in regard to food. His monastic legislation here, however, remains flexible, according to the varying needs of the various members. The young and the old, the sick and the well, those with strenuous occupations and those will light, have different dietary needs. All, however, have the benefit of hearing the Scriptures read at mealtime to forestall any undue attachment to food." (Hildebrand, 132; Basil, Shorter Rules, 180).
Ever struggled with over eating? Ever thought of reading Scripture at mealtime? Would feasting on Scripture help to keep other appetites in check?