The Tragic Story Behind St. Basil’s Cathedral

In Moscow, Russia, at the far end of Red Square, stands the iconic and beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral. Once a church, this unrivaled structure was not built by a saint—nor was it originally made to memorialize any Christian virtues.

It’s construction was ordered by the Tsar, Ivan Grasni, otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible and it was to commemorate his victories in war.

Ivan the Terrible was an iron-fisted ruler whose brutal legacy has haunted Russian history and politics. Given to paranoia and fits of rage, Ivan conquered nations and killed thousands—even his own son.

But just outside the Kremlin walls there was one man whom Ivan feared—a peasant by the name of Basil.

Those who knew Basil considered him a prophet. He saw things which others could not and did things which others would not. In heat of the summer and in the cold winter, Basil would walk the streets with little clothing, giving whatever he had to those in need. In sharp contrast to the murderous, opulent tsar behind the Kremlin wall, Basil lived humbly and nurtured life.

On numerous occasions, Basil openly rebuked the Tsar, calling him to repentance. Racked with guilt—Ivan would send gifts to the prophetic peasant, hoping to appease him. But Basil would simply give the gifts away.

As the story goes, Basil gave Ivan a piece of uncooked meat during Lent. The Tsar, claiming to be a devout Orthodox Christian, refused the gift. Animal products of any kind were and are prohibited during the Orthodox Great Lent. Basil responded by asking the Tsar why he chose to follow the canon of Lent while he continued to spill the blood of Christians. Basil told Ivan that his murderous actions would doom him to hell if he did not repent. [Source: Russian Life]

Time passed, and Ivan continued to wage costly wars while Basil gave what little he had to a precious few. Ivan became more hated and infamous, while Basil became more loved and venerated.

When Basil died, Ivan was `overcome with grief and did something that no one expected. He left the Kremlin walls and carried the peasant’s coffin to the Cathedral where they buried him. The humble heart of a peasant had melted the heart of a tyrant.

They then nick-named the building St. Basil’s Cathedral—in honor of the peasant prophet.

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