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March 12, 2014

Saint Gregory the Dialogist as a Model for our Lives

St. Gregory the Dialogist and Pope of Rome (Feast Day - March 12)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Gregory the Dialogist was born and lived in Rome during the reign of Emperor Justinian. He followed the monastic life and proved to be a true ascetic and "merciful to the fullest extent". He was made worthy to become Bishop and Pope of Rome, when Rome was still Orthodox. He is named "Dialogist" because most of his works were written like a dialogue, with questions and a response.

When he was still a monk he was visited in his cell by an old man who was a castaway that sought his help. Saint Gregory gave him hospitality and six silver coins. After a short while the old man returned and the Saint gave him another six. He then returned for a third time and, because the Saint had no more money, he gave him a silver vessel that belonged to the monastery. And despite the fact that the canons do not allow such a thing, he did not hesitate to take this action, because he could not sadden the man.

When he became Pope of Rome, occasionally he would invite the poorest of the city to eat with them. Once he ordered that twelve poor people be brought to the Diocese for hospitality. While they ate, the Saint saw thirteen guests and one of them was different in appearance. He had a bright face, and sometimes he appeared as an old man and other times like a young man. When the others left he asked who he was, and the guest responded: "I am an angel of the Lord. I have visited you another time, when you were a monk, and you gave me twelve silver coins as alms and a silver dish. God wanted to test your discretion and by your example to teach others. Indeed, ever since then I received the command to always be with you, to protect you. Whatever you want from God tell me and I will convey it."

We have seen, therefore, that he was made worthy to host an angel of the Lord, and to talk with him. Now, in response to this incident, we will present here some things about the existence and work of angels.

Angels were created before the visible world and man. As Saint Gregory Palamas characteristically says, God "formed the angels before us on our behalf to be sent as ministers, as Paul says, to those who will inherit salvation in the future."

According to Orthodox theology, as summarized in the teachings of Saint John of Damascus, angels are spiritual beings, ever-moving, free, bodiless, who serve God and are by grace immortal. The form and condition of these beings, only God knows. But the angels are bodiless and ever-moving in their relation to man.

Compared to God, the only bodiless One, they move with difficulty and are material. They are formed out of fine material. Only God is truly immaterial and incorporeal. They have no need of language and hearing, but they exchange between one another their personal thoughts and decisions without the spoken word. When communicating with people, then they take a shape and form to be seen by them. They are viewed as bright and their clothing is usually white, which indicates their purity. Their food is the vision of God, Whom they see, to the extent of their ability.

Angels and Archangels preserve parts of the earth, are rulers of peoples and countries, as the Creator has ordered. They arrange human affairs and protect all those who call upon them, primarily from the hatred and fury of the devil. "Wherever your grace overshadows, Archangel, thence the devil is banished by force, for fallen Lucifer cannot bear to stand before thy light...." (Doxastikon of the Praises, Nov. 8th).

In every Divine Liturgy, which is a Synaxis of heaven and earth, the Angels concelebrate with the Bishop or Priest. During the Small Entrance, the Liturgist asks the Lord to send Angels to concelebrate with him and glorify with him the goodness of God. The Deacon, also, prays: "An angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask of the Lord."

"Nine are the heavenly orders, and three offices or three groups consist of a triad."

The first triad are those who are always around God and are ready to unite with Him immediately, without the intervention of anyone. These are the orders of the six-winged Seraphim, the many-eyed Cherubim and the most-holy Thrones.

The second group are the Dominions, the Powers and the Authorities. Their work is to arrange great things, such as miraculous actions and the Thrice-Holy Hymn of Holy, Holy, Holy.

The third, and last, group are that of the Rulers and Archangels and Angels, whose characteristic feature is to "serve in the liturgy and end the sacred hymn of Alleluia."

From the moment we left the womb of the Church, the font of Baptism, there stands by us an angel, who is the guardian of our souls and bodies. He does not leave us unless we turn him away by our sins. That which brings him back is true repentance. The angels rejoice and celebrate when someone repents sincerely.

At the end of the Small Compline, a solemn service we all need to read every night, there is a wonderful prayer to our guardian angel.

Father Paisios would say that we need to gain the friendship of the saints and angels, especially the saint whose name we bear and our guardian angel. This can take place through our organic joining with the spiritual atmosphere of the Church, with unceasing prayer, the sacramental life and asceticism, namely our living the commandments of Christ.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιος Γρηγόριος ο Διάλογος Πάπας Ρώμης", March 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.