Saint Basil’s Keys to Spiritual Growth –   A 12 Step Plan for Everyone

Saint Basil the Great  (330-379) is a Doctor of both the Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West.  The title of “Doctor” is given to one whose contributions to theology and the Church is substantial. He is credited with being one of the founders of monasticism in the Eastern Church.

Alcoholics Anonymous was started by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in 1935 at Akron, Ohio.  They believed that recovering alcoholics could maintain sobriety with fellowship and especially by working with other alcoholics to help them achieve sobriety.  Over a number of years they worked out twelve steps suggested as part of a program of recovery from alcoholism.  These steps have been the basis of other 12 Step Programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Overeater’s Anonymous.

A little less than 1600 years earlier, Saint Basil outlined a 12 Step program of his own that he called KEYS to spiritual growth.  It seems to me that every Christian and anyone part of a 12 – Step Recovery Program will find these keys will work to unlock spiritual and personal growth. You will also find two quotations for each key.

Keys to Spiritual Growth by Saint Basil the Great

01. Recognize the presence of God

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:9

02. Accept the will of God

We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can: namely,
surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us. — Saint Teresa of Avila

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.
— Psalm 40:08

03. Accept spiritual direction

The virtuous soul that is alone and without a master (a spiritual director) Is like a burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter.
— St. John of the Cross

With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”
— Luke 24:31-32

04. Persevere

A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.
— Jim Watkins

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. — Hebrews 12:1-2a

05. Acknowledge faults

Confess your sins to the Lord and you will be forgiven;
confess them to a man and you will be laughed at.
— Josh Billing

If we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.  I John 1:9

06. Live simply

Live simply that others might simply live.  — Elizabeth Ann Seton

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
— Saint Paul: Philippians 4:12-13

07. Be honest about yourself

The best advice I can give to any young man or woman upon graduation from school can be summed up in exactly eight words, and they are —
be honest with yourself and tell the truth.
— James A. Farley

Why do you notice the splinter in your another’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your another,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your another’s eye.
— Jesus (Matthew 7:3-5)

08. Be willing to learn from others

I think he thought that the object of opening the mind
is simply opening the mind.
Whereas I am incurably convinced that
the object of opening the mind,
as of opening the mouth,
is to shut it again on something solid.
— G.K. Chesterton

Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
— Proverbs 1:5 (ESV)

09. Listen to people

A good listener is not only popular everywhere,
but after a while he knows something.
— Wilson Mizner

Two are better than one: They get a good wage for their toil.
If the one falls, the other will help the fallen one.
But woe to the solitary person! If that one should fall, there is no other to help.
— Quoheleth (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

10. Speak kindly to others

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.
–Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

No foul language should come out of your mouths,
but only such as is good for needed edification,
that it may impart grace to those who hear.
— Ephesians 4:29

11.  Accept others the way they are

We can never judge the lives of others,
because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation.
It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path,
but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.
— Paulo Coelho

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be,
since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.
— Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ

12. Be Centered and Serene

One who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment.
—  Meister Eckhart

God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and
wisdom to know the difference.
— Reinhold Niebuhr


About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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4 Responses to Saint Basil’s Keys to Spiritual Growth –   A 12 Step Plan for Everyone

  1. Pedro Erik says:

    Beautiful post. Thanks. Apart from Bible quotations, I enjoyed Chesterton and Elizabeth Ann Seton phrases. However, I do not think that Paulo Coelho deserve such companies. But, it is OK.

  2. A marvelous post that helps us to focus on St. Basil’s ability to give practical and fertile suggestions for the Spirit filled life.

  3. Great quotes says:

    From which of St Basil’s writings do the 12 keys come? I would love to read the original. Thanks!

  4. Fr. Maximilian says:

    # 11 must be understood in the context off simply not rejecting others because of their sinfulness, real or perceived, for we are commanded by Christ to go into the world and make believers of others, of all peoples and all nations in fact.

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