Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saint Gregory the Theologian as a Model for our Lives

St. Gregory the Theologian (Feast Day - January 25)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Gregory the Theologian was from Nazianzus in Asia Minor. His mother Nonna was a pious Christian, while his father was initially a follower of the system of the Hypsistarians, which merged Jewish and Gentile religious elements, and in which the worship of the Most High God was combined with the worship of fire. His wife through prayer and daily persuasion succeeded in returning him to the Christian faith. He was baptized by bishops of the area and received the name Gregory. Shortly afterwards he was ordained Bishop of Nazianzus. Saint Gregory the Theologian likens his parents to Abraham and Sarah because they had three children at an advanced age - Gorgona, Gregory and Caesarius.

Saint Gregory was ordained Presbyter by his father and Bishop by his friend Basil. He was a great theologian. In hymnography he is mainly praised as "the utmost theological mind". The Church honored him by awarding him the title of "Theologian", which it has reserved for only three Saints. The other two are John the Evangelist and the venerable Symeon the New Theologian.

Saint Gregory was chosen to assume the leadership of the Church of Constantinople at a difficult time, during which the heretical Arians prevailed for forty years and the imperial court favored the heresy. There, despite great difficulties, his theological charisma shined, as well as the greatness of his soul. He delivered his famous homilies on theology and the small church in which he spoke and liturgized was called "Anastasia" ("Resurrection"), because he resurrected the divine word. Eventually, the Emperor Theodosius handed over the cathedral and the Second Ecumenical Synod elected him Archbishop of Constantinople. His enemies, however, raised the issue of canonical irregularity upon his election to the throne of Constantinople, because allegedly he held another office. The complaint, however, was not correct, because he was never settled in the city of Sasima. But to prevent schism within the Church, he departed Constantinople, after delivering a moving speech at the headquarters of the Synod, which revealed the splendor of his spiritual power. He said that if he was the cause of division, then let him be thrown into the sea like Jonah, that the storm may cease. And he retired to find "his friend quietude".

His life and writings give us the opportunity to highlight many and important things, but the narrowness of space allows us to mention the following:

First, Saint Gregory was a Theologian both by name and reality, because he had the personal knowledge and experience of God. His homilies, especially his festive discourses on the great Despotic Feasts, have theological content, because Orthodox preaching is simultaneously a catechism and an initiation into the mystery of theology. Orthodox theology is a way of life and helps man to be purified of his passions, that he may acquire personal communion with God, who is not only a higher power or an abstract idea, but a Person. Saint Gregory the Theologian, like all the Holy Fathers, nourished and nourishes the people of God with the teachings of Orthodox Theology, which offers solutions to the great existential problems.

Orthodox preaching today has been influenced, unfortunately, by foreign standards and secularism. Of course, there are exceptions, but one mostly hears sermons that are societal, moralistic, colorless and tasteless of Orthodox theology, leaving people untouched and untreated. The Holy Fathers, as pastors, certainly grappled with various social issues and problems, but they did so as Theologians. They reflected on the issues and proposed solutions from the perspective of Orthodox theology.

Second, we are in the first month of the year, and as is known, we tend to wish each other "many years". And we do this because we love life and want to live as much as possible. Nobody wants death because we weren't created to die, but to live eternally. Death is something foreign and an intruder in our lives. It is a result of sin, the misuse of freedom, and disobedience to God's will. Human life has a higher purpose and thus is of great importance and value. It is worth reflecting on the value and purpose of human life through the theology of Saint Gregory. The Saint will tell us that man is "an animal residing here but transferring elsewhere, and the end of this mystery is to move towards God." In other words, man is not made for the herein, but for eternity. In this life, by economy, we live, breathe, eat, drink, work, become a monastic, get married, etc., but the purpose of our life is something else. It is deification, namely communion with the Holy Triune God. Our true citizenship is not here, but elsewhere. It is the Kingdom of the Holy Triune God. We live here, but we are transferring elsewhere, that we may become citizens in heaven.

It is worth rejoicing in Orthodox theology, which offers solutions to our daily problems, and helps us overcome the herein, namely death and the enjoyment of life, not just for "many years", but for eternity.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΣ Ο ΘΕΟΛΟΓΟΣ", January 2004. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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