Thursday, March 10, 2011

Feast of St. Gregory of Nyssa, transferred

Yesterday was actually Gregory's feast day, but that pesky Ash Wednesday made us change everything!

Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church you eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nyssa, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

The lawyer Basil and his wife Emmelia of Cappadocia, had one heck of a family. They produced a daughter who started one of the first monastic orders, and two of their sons became bishops. Three canonized saints out of ten kids: five boys and five girls.

Gregory was overshadowed by the older kids, including Naucratius, the darling of the family. I imagine a typical conversation:
Basil and Naucratius: "Mom, tell Gregory to quit following us!"
Gregory: "I am not following them! I'm just walking in the same direction. Basil's lying, mom!"
Emmelia: Gregory, leave the boys alone. Go play with Macrina."
Gregory: "But she has cooties, mom!"
Emmelia: "No she doesn't; she's a saint compared to you three. Now go help Macrina feed the poor."

Gregory became a rhetorician like his father while Basil became Bishop of Caesarea. Gregory was happy to spend his time in contemplation and writing, but Basil had other plans for his brother. He named Gregory Bishop of Nyssa, a small, no-where town ten miles from Caesarea. Gregory had no desire to be a bishop; he didn't like being around people, he hated giving orders, and he only became bishop because Basil forced him to. Gregory, a man who experienced a lot of misery, later said that the day of his consecration was the most miserable in his entire life. Gregory was tactless, had no concept of money, and had no idea of human behavior. Three years into his episcopacy he was falsely accused of embezzling church funds and went into hiding. He returned to his See upon the death of the Emperor Valens, an Arian. As much as he resented his brother Basil, he was shocked by his death and he suffered another blow a few months later when he learned that his sister Macrina was dying. He hurried to her convent in Annesi and spent two days talking with her about death, the soul, and resurrection. She died in his arms. He wrote a wonderful description of her last days in his Vita S. Macrinae. While he was grieved and shocked by the deaths of his brother and sister, he was no longer under their shadows, and this seemed to allow him the freedom to grow as a theologian and writer. He produced his greatest works in the period after the year 379. He defended the Trinity, he defended the Nicene faith, he was a mystic, and, at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, he was honored as a Pillar of the Church. He and his brother Basil and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus are known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

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