Today the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates:
Saint Gregory of Nyssa
Saint Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, was a younger brother of Saint Basil the Great (Jan.1). His mother, Saint Emmelia and renowned lawyer father raised nine children–five girls and four boys—of whom, one brother Saint Nacratious was a lawyer and another, Saint Peter was the Bishop of Sebasta, a small town on the Mediterranean coast. Of the other brother and four sisters, little is known. Macrina, Gregory’s older sister, was widely known and beloved for her devout and holy life, who ultimately was honored as a saint. She was Gregory’s confidant, sometimes intellectual partner, and deep spiritual influence, who influenced his ordination decision. Saint Basil was the driving force in Saint Gregory’s decision to pursue holy orders. In a letter to Saint Peter, Saint Gregory expressed his deep gratitude to their older brother whom he described as “our father and our master.”
Having received an excellent education, he had trained for and started a career as a teacher of rhetoric, the study of effective pubic speaking and writing. His family, however, did not support his career choice and tried to convince Saint Gregory to use his talents in the service of the Church. When he chose to become a teacher, his brother Saint Basil, by then a powerful bishop, objected to and argued against Saint Gregory’s choice with long and impatient letters. Saint Basil initially failed to persuade his young brother of his mistake, but ultimately with Gregory’s friends and sister, Saint Macrina, St. Basil persuaded Gregory to become a priest. Saint Gregory was a reluctant cleric, but shortly thereafter, in the year 372, he was consecrated by Saint Basil as bishop of the city of Nyssa in Cappadocia.
Saint Gregory’s large body of theological work and his many letters constitute an eloquent and intellectually distinctive contribution to Orthodox theology and spirituality. His Catechism is testimony to his profound grasp of Christian belief. In The Life of Moses, Saint Gregory’s mystical portrayal of God–simultaneously audacious and humble and thoroughly brilliant—has no parallel in Christian thought. Similarly, his letters are models of elegant grace and beauty, some miraculously anticipating a style of writing and thought not to arise until 1400 years later in the Romantic era of western literature. He was a gifted writer and speaker who delighted in language and its power to persuade and invoke the senses while illuminating the intellect, a wholly unmatched attribute among writers of his period and unique among the early Church Fathers.
In 787 A.D., roughly four centuries after his repose, the Seventh General Council of the Church honored Saint Gregory of Nyssa by naming him, “Father of Fathers.”
St Gregory was an ardent advocate for Orthodoxy, and he fought against the Arian heresy with his brother Saint Basil. He was persecuted by the Arians, and falsely accused of improper use of church property, and thereby deprived of his See and sent to Ancyra.
In the following year Saint Gregory was again deposed in absentia by a council of Arian bishops, but he continued to encourage his flock in Orthodoxy, wandering about from place to place. After the death of the emperor Valens (378), Saint Gregory was restored to his cathedra and was joyously received by his flock. His brother St Basil the Great died in 379.
With much difficulty Saint Gregory survived the loss of his brother and guide Saint Basil, who reposed in 379. He delivered a funeral oration for him, and completed Saint Basil’s study of the six days of Creation, the Hexaemeron. That same year Saint Gregory participated in the Council of Antioch against heretics who refused to recognize the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God. Others at the opposite extreme, who worshipped the Mother of God as being God Herself, were also denounced by the Council. He visited the churches of Arabia and Palestine, which were infected with the Arian heresy, to assert the Orthodox teaching about the Most Holy Theotokos. On his return journey Saint Gregory visited Jerusalem and the Holy Places.
In the year 381 Saint Gregory was one of the chief figures of the Second Ecumenical Council, convened at Constantinople against the heresy of Macedonius, who incorrectly taught about the Holy Spirit. At this Council, on the initiative of Saint Gregory, the Nicean Symbol of Faith (the Creed) was completed.
Together with the other bishops Saint Gregory affirmed Saint Gregory the Theologian as Archpastor of Constantinople.
In the year 383, Saint Gregory participated in a Council at Constantinople, where he preached a sermon on the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. In 386, he was again at Constantinople, and he was asked to speak the funeral oration in memory of the empress Placilla. Again in 394 Sainat Gregory was present in Constantinople at a local Council, convened to resolve church matters in Arabia.
Saint Gregory was a fiery defender of Orthodox dogmas and a zealous teacher of his flock, a kind and compassionate father to his spiritual children, and their intercessor before the courts. He was distinguished by his magnanimity, patience and love of peace.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa reposed in 395, having reached old age. Together with his great contemporaries, Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian, he had a significant influence on the Church life of his time. His sister, Saint Macrina, wrote to him: “You are renowned both in the cities, and gatherings of people, and throughout entire districts. Churches ask you for help.” Saint Gregory is known in history as one of the most profound Christian thinkers of the fourth century. Endowed with philosophical talent, he saw philosophy as a means for a deeper penetration into the authentic meaning of divine revelation.
Gregory left behind many remarkable works of dogmatic character, as well as sermons and discourses. He has been called “the Father of Fathers.”
O holy Saint Gregory of Nyssa, please intercede for us all that we will be saved!
Troparion — Tone 4
O God of our Fathers, / always act with kindness towards us; / take not Your mercy from us, / but guide our lives in peace / through the prayers of the hierarchs Gregory and Dometian.
Troparion — Tone 4
In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith, / an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence; / your humility exalted you; / your poverty enriched you. / Hierarch Father Gregory, / entreat Christ our God / that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion — Tone 1
You kept watch with the eyes of your soul, holy bishop, / revealing yourself as a watchful pastor for the world. / With the staff of your wisdom and your fervent intercession, / you drove away all heretics like wolves. / You preserved your flock free from harm, most wise Gregory!