Today, at our Holy Eucharist at 12:00 p.m. (noon), we will commemorate St. Gregory Nazianzus, Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Faith.
THE LIFE OF ST. GREGORY NAZIANZUS
This Gregory, who is one of the first four Eastern Doctors of the Church, was born about the year 325 in Cappadocia, of a remarkable Christian family. For his father, Gregory the Elder, and his mother Nonna, and his brother Ceasarius who became a physician at the imperial court of Constantinople, are all revered in the Eastern Liturgy as Saints. Saint Gregory the Elder was a wealthy magistrate when he was converted to Catholicism, and thereafter he was ordained to the priesthood, and finally became Bishop of Nazianzus, which See he ruled for forty-five years, being assisted therein, during the latter years of his life, by his holy son Gregory. To both Caesarius and Gregory he had given the best education available; and Gregory used it to such purpose that, because of his extraordinary depth of sacred learning, he was afterwards given the honour (which he shared with the Apostle John) of being called The Divine (that is, the Theologian).
His education was acquired chiefly at Athens, where he became the intimate friend of his fellow student Saint Basil, with whom likewise, when they had acquired knowledge in divers branches of earthly learning, he gave himself up to learn the things of God. This they did for some years in a monastery, framing their opinions, not out of their own heads, but according to the interpretation arrived at by the wisdom and decision of the ancients; at which time Gregory assisted Basil to write the famous monastic Rule which Basilian monks follow. They were both distinguished by power of doctrine and holiness of life; they were both called to the duty of preaching the Gospel of truth; and through the Gospel they both begat many sons unto Christ. Gregory after a while returned home. He was first made Bishop of Sasima, and afterwards administered the Church at Nazianzus. Then he was called to rule the Church of Constantinople. That city, which he found reeking with heresy, he purged and brought again to the Catholic Fatith. But this, which deserved for him the warmest love of all men, raised up many enemies.
Among the bishops themselves there was a great party against him, and to still their contentions, he, of his own free will gave up his See, saying with the Prophet Jonah: Take me up, and cast me forth; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. So he went his way back again to Nazianzus, and when he had seen that Eulalius was set over that Church, he gave himself up altogether to think and write concerning the things of God. He wrote much, both in prose and verse, and that which wonderful godliness and eloquence. According to the judgement of learned and holy men, there is nothing in his writings which anywhere strays from the line of true godliness and Catholic truth, and not a single word which any one can justly call in doubt. He was a most vigorous champion of the doctrine that the Son is of one substance with the Father. During the reign of the Emperor Theodosius he dwelt in the country after the manner of a monk, unceasingly taken up with writing, study, and prayer until in the year 390 or thereabouts, being then in a good old age, he laid down his earthly, to enter on an heavenly life. He is reckoned one of the three Cappadocians (as he and Basil, and Basil’s blood-brother Saintn Gregory of Nyssa are jointly called), and by the Eastern Church is named one of the three Holy Hierarchs, which same are himself and Saints Basil and John Chrysostom.
***From the Anglican Breviary, 1998, The Lakeside Press, Chicago, IL, USA***
A READING FROM THE EULOGY PREACHED IN 379 BY GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF HIS LIFE-LONG FRIEND, BASIL THE GREAT
Basil and I were at Athens at the time. Like streams of a river, we originated from a common source in our native land, but in going abroad to pursue our studies we had become separated; but now, as if it were planned, as if God had wanted it this way, we found ourselves reunited.
I was not alone during this time in holding my friend, the great Basil, in high regard. I needed no convincing of his seriousness of purpose, his mature and wise conversation, but I sought to persuade others unacquainted with him, to share my regard for him. He was already well respected by many since his reputation had gone before him, with the result that he was accorded the special distinction of being almost the only new student in Athens to escape the treatment generally doled out to newcomers.
This was the prelude to our friendship. This was the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. We recognised a bond of mutual love. Gradually we were able to admit our affection for one another and to recognise our common ambition to dedicate ourselves to lives of true wisdom. From then on we became inseparable friends, sharing the same lodgings, the same table, the same sentiments, our eyes fixed on the same goal. Our mutual affection grew ever warmer and stronger.
We were driven on by the same hope: the pursuit of learning. This is an area of life notoriously open to jealousy; but between us there was none. Indeed, in some sense rivalry intensified our zeal. For there was indeed a contest between us. But it was not about who should have first place, but about how one could yield it to the other. For each of us regarded the achievement of the other as his own.
We seemed to have a single soul animating two bodies. And, while we could not believe those who claim that ‘everything is contained in everything’, yet in our experience, we were certainly intimately bound up in one another’s lives. Our sole object and ambition was virtue and a life so oriented in hope to the blessings that await us, that we severed our attachment to this life before we had to depart it. With this in view we ordered our life and actions, following the guidance of God’s law, and at the same time spurred each other on to virtue. And, if it is not too much to say, we were for each other a rule and a pair of scales for discerning good from evil.
Different men have different names, either derived from their ancestors or to do with their jobs and achievements. But our great ambition, the great name we relished, was to be Christian, and to be called Christians.
***From Celebrating the Saints, 2004, Canterbury Press, Norwich, England***
THE COLLECT FOR ST. GREGORY NAZIANZUS
Lord God, whose servant Gregory proclaimed the mystery of your Word made flesh, to build up your Church in wisdom and strength: grant that we may rejoice in his presence among us, and so be brought with St. Gregory to know that power of your unending love; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
***From Exciting Holiness, 1999, Canterbury Press, Norwich, England***