Saint of the Day: St. Gregory the Theologian

(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Timothy, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)

St. Gregory the Theologian 

Of the twenty centuries since the birth of Christ, no single century has had crowded into it so many great events as the fourth century, which witnessed a fragmented Christendom of God. Were it not for the efforts of such men, Christianity would not have become the spiritual haven of mankind it is today. The fabric of Christendom was woven into its strength and beauty of character by the threads of men such as St. Gregory the Theologian, who became one of the four great doctors of the Church during this era, along with Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Athanasios the Great. He is further remembered as one of the three so-called Cappadocian Fathers, an honor he shares with Basil and Gregory of Nyssa. He is also recognized as the champion of Orthodoxy against the heretical doctrine of Arianism.

The son of a bishop for whom he was named, Gregory was born in Arianzos in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, in 329. He was educated in Caesaria and then in Athens, where he met Basil, with whom he became close friends linked in a common resolve to serve Christ. At the suggestion of Basil, the two friends became monastics at a retreat in Pontos, where each embarked on a spiritual journey that was to lead them both to greatness. It was with some degree of reluctance, however, that Gregory left the monastery to be ordained into the priesthood to serve as an assistant to his father, the bishop of Nazianzos. The son’s
brilliance as a preacher outshone his father’s. When barely thirty years old, he won acclaim throughout the region as a mighty warrior in the fight against paganism and heresy.

It was largely through the influence of Gregory that his friend Basil was made bishop of Caesaria. In the process, he himself was made bishop of the relatively unimportant town of Sasima, a post he never sought and in which he never served, preferring to remain with his father in Nazianzos. He took over the church of Nazianzos after the death of his father in 374. With the loss of his father, he had a longing to return to asceticism in some retreat, there to meditate, pray and interpret the Scriptures. He was allowed to go to the seclusion of Seleucia in Isauria, where his tenure as an eremite was short-lived.

Afterr the death of the Arian Emperor Valens, followed closely by the death of Gregory’s friend Basil, Gregory was called to Constantinople. He was to head the reorganization of the Orthodox Church, which had been torn asunder by the heresy of Arianism from within and by the harassment of pagans without. In the course of this holy work, he achieved distinction as an orator, traditionalist and crusader that earned him the title of “Theologian” despite the opposition of Maximos the Cynic, who had been set up against him by the bishop of Alexandria.

When the Orthodox Emperor Theodosios came to power in 380, Gregory assumed the direction of the magnificent Church of Hagia Sophia, the most prestigious house of God in all Christendom. While director of this mighty church, Gregory took part in a synod held in Constantinople in 381 to settle the diff erences among the prelates of the Church. Known as the Second Ecumenical Synod, it resolved the issues and voted to accept Gregory as patriarch of Constantinople. It further added its official support to the Nicene doctrine which was championed at the First Synod in Nicaea.

For as long as he held the post of spiritual leader of Orthodoxy, the gallant Gregory served with honor and dignity. Moreover, he was the instrument of God in unifying the Church into a cohesive unit that could withstand any internal or external pressure. He grew weary of the personal attacks that are the occupational hazard of a patriarch and after a moving farewell address, he retired to live out his days in meditation, writing and prayer. He died January 25, 388.

But there can be no underestimating the value of the unrelenting service of St. Gregory to the Savior. St. Gregory earned the title of “Theologian” by reason not only of his knowledge of theology but by direct application of that knowledge to an eminent degree.


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