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Basil the Physician

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Basil the Physician († 1118) was the Bogomil leader condemned as a heretic by Patriarch Nicholas III of Constantinople and burned at the stake by Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus.

Basil first came to the attention of the emperor after imperial officers had tortured a member of the Bogomil sect to reveal the identity of their leader. He admitted that Basil was their leader and that he had selected twelve teachers to act as his apostles. This sect, noted for their Manichean tendencies, Iconoclastic principles and their detestation of the Orthodox hierarchy, had been rapidly gaining adherents throughout Alexius’ reign, and began to cause alarm among the Byzantine clergy. Eager to confront this threat, he was ordered to appear before the emperor.

When Basil was brought before Alexius in 1110, Basil was modest and respectful. It was noted that his body was in good shape, and that he had a thin beard and an emaciated face, giving him the appearance of an ascetic. Apparently alone, Alexius received Basil with the appearance of frankness, even inviting him to begin discussions of his religious opinions. He gave Basil food and drink, and flattered him with remarks designed to get the man to incriminate himself.

His enthusiasm for his creed convinced him that the emperor was ripe for conversion. Basil launched into the subject, fully explaining all of his objections to the Orthodox Church, and outlining his heretical opinions, while an imperial secretary, hiding behind a curtain, wrote down all he said. When the discussion was all over, Alexius pulled open the curtain and showed to Basil that he had been speaking in front of the Patriarch, as well as members of the Senate and clergy.

In very short order he was convicted and condemned as a heretic before the patriarchal tribunal of Nicholas the Grammarian. Refusing to renounce his opinions, Basil was ordered to be burnt at the stake. Though the sentence was passed in 1110, the execution was delayed for eight years. During this time, every attempt was made to convince Basil to retract his opinions, as Alexius was keen to be known as a converter of heretics. He failed, and eventually Alexius was forced to put the man to death, especially as rumours began to circulate that Basil’s firmness was due to his belief that angels would descend from heaven to release him from the stake. He was burned as a heretic in the hippodrome of Constantinople.


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