Monday, January 27, 2014

Gregory of Nazizus, Bishop (27 January 2014)

Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329– January 25 389 or 390) was Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century.  He greatly influenced Greek and Latin speaking theologians and his work continues to influence theologians today.  He and the two brothers, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil the great are known as the Cappadocian fathers, and together with Basil the Great and John Chrysostom are the great hierarchs in the Eastern Church.

Gregory’s parents were wealthy, and his mother, Nona converted his father Gregory to Christianity, and Gregory came to be Bishop of Nazianzus.   Gregory the son, after studying at home studied in Nazianzus, Caesarea, Alexandria and Athens.  On the way to Athens, during a storm which frightened him, Gregory promised God he would serve him if God would save him.  He continued to teach in Athens before returning home. 

His father desired to ordain him to the presbyterate, so Gregory could help him, but Gregory, preferring the monastic life, resented this, and left, living for a short time with Basil the great, who convince him to return and help his father.  Upon his return, he found divisions, which he was able to heal through his gifts of diplomacy and oratory.

By this time, the emperor Julian had declared himself to be opposed to Christianity.  Gregory wrote Invectives against Julian stating that the emperor should be opposed through love and patience. He also stated that this was a form of theosis, in which we become more like God.   Julian worked against those who opposed him until his death during a war against the Persians.  Gregory and Basil then embarked in a rhetorical war against the Arians, and clearly beat the Arians.  This success led them to be elected Bishops.

Basil was elected as Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and ordained Gregory as Bishop of Sasima, which he had newly created so that Gregory could aid him.  Gregory was unhappy in this position, desiring to return to the contemplative life, and not wishing to be involved in politics as Basil’s pawn.  Instead he went to help his father as co-adjutor of Nazianzus until his father’s death.  He continued to work in the area, but refused to be named bishop, living a simple life. 

In 379, the synod of Antioch under Melatus asked Gregory to go to Constantinople to reestablish Orthodoxy as opposed to Arianism.  A cousin offered him a villa, most of which he converted into a church (Anastasia, or Resurrection) from which he delivered powerful sermons on the Trinity and Unity of the Godhead.  His opponents fearing his popularity attacked and entered the church, injuring Gregory and killing another bishop.  The situation was confused, with Gregory staying (convinced by his followers), but with Arian priests in some of the churches, and remained so until the arrival of  the Emperor, Theodosius, who had Gregory enthroned as patriarch of Constantinople, taking the place of Demophilus. 

Theodosius and Gregory called the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 for the express purpose of uniting the empire behind Trinitarian Christianity.  After the death of the presiding Bishop, Gregory took over the council.  In order to prevent division, Gregory renounced his position as Patriarch, and after giving a farewell speech, he returned to Nazianzus as Bishop, struggling with heretics and poor health.  Eventually, finding himself to weak to continue his work, he appointed a new bishop to serve Nazianzus and retired to his parents estate where he lived for another five years until his death on 25 January 389 (or 390).

Gregory’s greatest role was in the defense of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and in Pneumatology.  He gave us the term procession referring to the Holy Spirit and emphasized that Jesus did not cease being God, nor did he lose his divine attributes when he became man. 

Collect:  Heavenly Father, you strengthened Gregory of Nazianzus through sickness and persecution.  As he was on fire with love for you, so train us up that we may be aflame with your love and share it with all the world.  This we ask through  Yeshua haMoshiach who lives and reins with you and the Ruach haKodesh, one God in glory everlasting.  Amen.  (white)

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