November 17, 2013

Saint Gregory the Wonderworker as a Model for our Lives

St. Gregory of Neocaesarea (Feast Day - November 17)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

He was a great figure of the third century. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in his encomium to the Saint, calls him "Great". Due to his internal purity and deep humility, as well as his great love for God and people, he received the gift of wonderworking "from a young age". However, the greatest miracle is what happened to him, by converting from paganism to Christianity.

He was born in a pagan environment. His wealthy parents, following his initial education in his homeland, sent him to study law in Beirut. On the way, and by good fortune, he came to know the great teacher Origen in Caesarea and was literally captivated by his words and rhetorical skill. What followed in his life took place according the will of God's good providence. He became a Christian and instead of law he studied theology in Alexandria. When he returned to his homeland, in Neocaesarea of Pontus, the Church found him to be the right shepherd for the Diocese of Neocaesarea. At that time Neocaesarea was a pagan city in which there were only 17 Christians. This was his entire congregation when he was ordained. But when he was called by God to abandon all earthly things, the city was inhabited almost entirely by Christians with only 17 pagans! And his biographer notes that he departed this life disappointed because he did not baptize them as well.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa says that he grew up listening to stories and descriptions of the facts of the life of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker as well as his inspired teachings from his grandmother Macrina. Macrina was a student and spiritual child of Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea and nurtured her grandchildren "in the education and admonition of the Lord", as the Apostle Paul says, milking them and nourishing them with the words and bright example of the Saint. Wanting to teach them, she told them how he treated temptations, difficulties, slander, persecutions and the war with the pagans. How with patience, prayer and fiery zeal he changed just about every inhabitant of the city from the darkness of idolatry to the bright faith of Christ. These incidents made such an impression on him that he remembered them until the end of his life, and he felt great gratitude for his grandmother who raised him in this way. Instead of tales with witches, dragons and non-existent figures, that sicken the imagination and create trauma for children, she gave them living words, true stories and real events, that have a direct relationship with truth and life and offer children proper models.

The Triune God of the Orthodox Church is not simply a higher power, an impersonal being or an abstract idea, but He is "the God of our Fathers". He is a Person and man has the ability to have personal communion with Him when, of course, he harmonizes his life with the way of life of the Orthodox Church. He does not dwell in the heavens, but He is in heaven and on earth, since He is "everywhere present and filling all things". He has heaven as His throne and the earth as His footstool and, according to the words of Christ, He contains Himself into human existence: "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Just as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Christ, "Who is entirely uncontainable", "contained Himself in the womb of a woman", the Holy Theotokos, so in the same way can He be contained in the human heart when it has been purified of the passions. This is not a utopia, because we see it demonstrated and verified in the lives of the Saints. The Saints experienced significantly in their existence true repentance, which leads to humility and the coming of Divine Grace that is felt in their entire being. This is why their words, which are "given from above", are regenerating, healing and life-giving.

Parents who wish to give their children a proper upbringing must raise them by offering them the truth, not fairy tales. An illiterate grandmother, yet with an entirely holy existence, said to her five-year old and seven-year old grandchildren: "Now you have grown up. No longer will you ask me, 'Grandma tell us a fairytale', but you will say, 'Grandma tell us about Christ and faith'." These words remind me of the words, full of gratitude, that Saint Gregory of Nyssa had about his grandmother Macrina: "From the blessed Macrina, we learned of the words of the blessed Gregory." By words he meant the divinely inspired words, which have the potential to offer true consolation and transfuse "life and more abundant life."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΣ ΝΕΟΚΑΙΣΑΡΕΙΑΣ Ο ΘΑΥΜΑΤΟΥΡΓΟΣ", November 2000. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.