Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Saint Gregory the Wonderworker of Neocaesarea

Saint Gregory the Wonderworker of Neocaesarea (Feast Day - November 17)

Verses

Of old Gregory worked wonders,
Standing before God, he is even more wondrous.
On the seventeenth the great wonderworker died.

Saint Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea, was born in the city of Neocaesarea (northern Asia Minor) into a pagan family. Having received a fine education, from his youth he strived for truth, but the thinkers of antiquity were not able to quench his thirst for knowledge. Truth was revealed to him only in the Holy Gospel, and the youth became a Christian.

For the continuation of his studies Gregory went to Alexandria, known then as a center for pagan and Christian learning. The youth, eager for knowledge, went to the Alexandrian Catechetical School, where the presbyter Origen taught. Origen was a famous teacher, possessing great strength of mind and profound knowledge. Gregory became a student of Origen. Afterwards, the Saint wrote about his mentor: "This man received from God a sublime gift, to be an interpreter of the word of God for people, to apprehend the word of God, as God Himself did use it, and to explain it to people, insofar as they were able to understand it." Gregory studied for eight years with Origen, and was baptized by him.

The ascetic life of Gregory, his continence, purity and lack of covetousness aroused envy among his conceited and sin-loving peers, pagans that they were, and they decided to slander him. Once, when he was conversing with philosophers and teachers in the city square, a notorious harlot came up to him and demanded payment for the sin he had supposedly committed with her. At first Gregory gently remonstrated with her, saying that she perhaps mistook him for someone else. But the profligate woman would not be quieted. He then asked a friend to give her the money. Just as the woman took the unjust payment, she immediately fell to the ground in a demonic fit, and the fraud became evident. Gregory said a prayer over her, and the devil left her. This was the beginning of Gregory's miracles.

Having returned to Neocaesarea, the Saint fled from the worldly affairs into which influential townsmen persistently sought to push him. He went into the desert, where by fasting and prayer he attained to high spiritual accomplishment and the gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy. Gregory loved life in the wilderness and wanted to remain in solitude until the end of his days, but the Lord willed otherwise.

The bishop of the Cappadocian city of Amasea, Thedimos, having learned of Gregory's ascetic life, decided to have him made Bishop of Neocaesarea. But having foreseen in spirit the intent of Bishop Thedimos, the Saint hid himself from the messengers of the bishop who were entrusted to find him. Then Bishop Thedimos ordained the absent Saint as Bishop of Neocaesarea, beseeching the Lord that He Himself would sanctify the unusual ordination. Gregory perceived the extraordinary event as a manifestation of the will of God and he did not dare to protest. This episode in the life of Saint Gregory was recorded by Saint Gregory of Nyssa (Jan. 10). He relates that Gregory of Neocaesarea received the episcopal dignity only after Bishop Thedimos of Amasea performed all the canonical rites over him.

During this time, the heresy of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata began to spread. They taught falsely concerning the Holy Trinity. Bishop Gregory prayed fervently and diligently implored God and His most pure Mother to reveal to him the true faith. The All-Holy Virgin Mary appeared to him, radiant like the sun, and with Her was the Apostle John the Theologian dressed in archepiscopal vestments.

By the command of the Mother of God, the Apostle John taught the Saint how to correctly and properly confess the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Gregory wrote down everything that Saint John the Theologian revealed to him. The Mystery of the Symbol of the Faith, written down by Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea, is a great divine revelation in the history of the Church. The teaching about the Holy Trinity in Orthodox Theology is based on it. Subsequently it was used by the holy Fathers of the Church: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. The Symbol of Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea was later examined and affirmed in the year 325 by the First Ecumenical Synod, showing his enduring significance for Orthodoxy.

Having become a bishop, Saint Gregory set off to Neocaesarea. Along the way from Amasea he expelled devils from a pagan temple, the priest of which he converted to Christ. The convert was witness to still another miracle of the Saint: at his word a large stone shifted from its place.

The preaching of the Saint was direct, lively and fruitful. He taught and worked miracles in the name of Christ: he healed the sick, he helped the needy, he settled quarrels and complaints. Two brothers sharing an inheritance were not able to agree over the property of their dead father. There was a large lake over which they argued, for each of the brothers wanted the lake for himself. They both gathered their friends together, and were ready to come to blows. Gregory persuaded them to delay their fight until the following day, and he himself prayed all night long at the shore of the lake which sparked the quarrel. When dawn broke, everyone saw that the lake had dried up or gone underground. Through the intense prayer of the Saint, now there was only a stream, and its course defined the boundary line. Another time, during the construction of a church, he commanded a hill to move and make room at the place of the foundation.

When a persecution against Christians began under the emperor Decius (249-251), Gregory led his flock to a faraway mountain. A certain pagan, knowing about the hiding place of the Christians, informed the persecutors. Soldiers surrounded the mountain. The Saint went out into an open place, raised up his hands to heaven and ordered to his deacon to do the same. The soldiers searched the whole mountain, and they went several times right past those praying, but not seeing them, they gave up and went away. In the city they reported that there was nowhere to hide on the mountain: no one was there, and only two trees stood beside each other. The informer was struck with amazement, he repented of his ways and became a fervent Christian.

Gregory returned to Neocaesarea after the end of the persecution. By his blessing ecclesiastical feasts were established in honor of the martyrs who had suffered for Christ.

By his saintly life, his effective preaching, working of miracles and graced guiding of his flock, the Saint steadily increased the number of converts to Christ. When Saint Gregory first ascended his episcopal throne, there were only seventeen Christians in Neocaesarea. At his death, only seventeen pagans remained in the city.

Source


Reflection By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Let the following examples from the Life of Saint Gregory show how God guards and saves the righteous from assaults. While he was still at the school of philosophy in Alexandria, Gregory preserved the purity of his soul and his body, as he preserved it to the end of his life. In this, he was an exception among the dissolute youth of that time. This evoked envy and hatred among his companions. In order to debase Gregory, they found a harlot to help them carry out an evil plan.

Once, when Gregory was standing in the square with eminent teachers and philosophers, the foul woman approached him and loudly demanded that Gregory pay her the remainder due for impure relations with her. Some of the people present were scandalized, while others were angry at this shameless woman and began to chase her away; but she shouted even louder, demanding money. The innocent Gregory blushed, as any decent man would before such coarse slander, but he displayed neither anger nor hatred, and asked a friend to give her the amount that she sought so she would leave. The friend heeded Gregory, and gave her the money she wanted. But at that moment God let an evil spirit enter the woman and she fell to the ground and began writhing and convulsing, gnashing her teeth, and foaming at the mouth. Seeing this, everyone was terrified. But Gregory, innocent as a lamb, prayed to God for her, and the woman was healed and arose. Thus, instead of humiliation, Gregory acquired even greater glory.

Another example: When a bitter persecution of Christians took place, Gregory counseled Christians to hide, and he and his deacon hid on a hill. But the imperial soldiers caught sight of them and pursued them. When they were almost upon them, Gregory prayed to God for help, and God rendered them invisible to their pursuers. The soldiers searched for them in vain, and finally left without them.


HYMN OF PRAISE: 
Saint Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

St. Gregory, holy and glorious,
A shining light of the Church and an Orthodox hero,
Raised himself up to God by a very narrow path:
Through suffering and tears, he attained holiness.
He saved himself, and helped many.
By his exemplary life, words and miracles,
He helped the unbelievers to belief,
And believers to be pure and true to the Faith.
The heavens were open to him,
And he clearly penetrated the secrets of men.
He received mystical teachings from heaven;
As the heart of that teaching, he taught the Holy Trinity-
The Divine Trinity, one in Essence,
And Christ, the life-giving food and drink.
Just as pure dewdrops are full of sunlight,
Pure hearts are the dwelling place of the heavens.
With God's help, holy Gregory
Overcame the moonless night of idolatry,
And baptized pagans by the thousands;
Then he departed in peace, to stand with his King!
Holy Gregory, implore God
That the Orthodox Church overcome the adversary!



Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
By vigilance in prayer, and continuance in the working of wonders, thou didst acquire thine achievements as a surname; wherefore, intercede with Christ our God, O Father Gregory, to enlighten our souls, lest we sleep in sin unto death.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Since thou hadst received the power to work miracles, thou drovest from men diseases, O wise Gregory, and with fearful signs thou madest the demons tremble; hence, thou art called Wonderworker, O man of God; for thou hast received thy surname from thy works. 
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