April 6, 2015

Saint Gregory of Sinai as a Model for our Lives

St. Gregory of Sinai (Feast Day - April 6)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Gregory of Sinai was born in 1255 in Klazomenae, an ancient city of Asia Minor, forty kilometers southwest of Smyrna. His parents were wealthy yet pious, and raised him in "the education and admonition of the Lord." He did not love material wealth, bodily comforts and sensual pleasures, but rather the hesychastic life, which helps a person find the true purpose for their existence, which is loving communion with God and people. First he went to Cyprus, then to Alexandria, and after many adventures he arrived at Mount Sinai, where he was tonsured a monk. With asceticism and obedience he ascended the highest stages of the spiritual life, which brought envy to some monks, and this resulted in his departure for Jerusalem and from there to Crete. He then went to Mount Athos, where several monks gathered around him. Raids of the Hagarenes forced him to move first further into the Holy Mountain and then to the cities of Thessaloniki, Chios, Mytilene and Constantinople, and after a short time he returned to Mount Athos.

Eventually he settled in Adrianople, at Mount Katakekryomene, where he built a monastery and after an adventurous life he reposed there in peace.

The life and conduct of Saint Gregory of Sinai gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, Saint Gregory, as we saw, was forced to frequently change his place of residence, but this did not prevent him from striving to live according to God and to progress spiritually. Indeed, if one wishes to live according to the will of God there is nothing that can prevent this. The various excuses for our spiritual indifference and casualness is nothing more than a "lame excuse". Whichever way of life one has chosen, the purpose of life can be realized, which is communion with God, if only one truly desires to do so. The Gospel is one and the same for all people. I heard an Athonite Elder say that he knew a married man with many children, who lived in the world and was a professional truck driver, that reached such a high stage of the spiritual life that he had continuous noetic prayer.

Of course, it is not possible for life to not have its difficulties and problems, but these can help us spiritually progress if we treat them the right way. That is, if we have patience and a firm belief that God allows all things for our benefit. The saints especially faced many temptations and tribulations in their lives, but they also experienced spiritual joys and blessings. They empathize with people, pray for the entire world, and lift the grief and pain of the entire universe, but nevertheless they have inner fulfillment and peace and for this reason thousands of people find peace around them. Even dumb animals, and the so-called wild ones as well, feel their love and are clam near them.

Second, the saints are the spiritual heart of society. Just as the carnal heart delivers blood throughout the body, because if it keeps it all within it will explode and die, something similar takes place with the saints. Because they have overcome selfishness and individualism and achieved perfect love, they care for all people and do not hold on to any material or spiritual goods for themselves, but they channel it throughout the body of society. Above all they spiritually heal people, console them, support them and help them to obtain a correct orientation and meaning in life.

As long as people remain locked in their selfishness, individualism and self-interest and they do not care about others, they will create serious problems in the body of society, as well as themselves. But when they decide to break out of the shell of selfishness with sincere repentance and move with love towards others, then they become a true person and a true benefactor of humanity. Yet this cannot take place without the Grace of God, which does not violate human freedom, but operates only synergetically with each person. Those who have driven the Holy Triune God and the Church from their lives while trying to struggle to transform society do so in vain, because the passions cannot be defeated only by human powers. But where there are people who struggle to transform their passions with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, there progress is made, since there is trust and honesty in the relations between them.

It should also be noted that those who lift up daily with patience their cross, will participate in the sufferings of Christ, and for the dishonor, slander and various other temptations they endure for His love, they will also experience the glory of Christ and the joy of His Resurrection, as well as their own personal resurrection from the tomb of the passions and sins.

Progress in the spiritual life, and in the daily activities of each person in general, depends primarily on the will and the personal struggle, as well as patience and trust in the love of God and not on external conditions. The avoidance of cheap excuses and taking personal responsibility shows maturity and spiritual courage.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ὅσιος Γρηγόριος ὁ Σιναΐτης", April 2005. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.