November 23, 2016

Saint Gregory, Bishop of Agrigentum

St. Gregory of Agrigentum (Feast Day - November 23)


From Agrigentum to God you withdraw O Word,
He whom the ends of the earth judge a blessed father.

Saint Gregory was born on the island of Sicily, in the village of Pretorium, not far from the city of Agrigentum, to his pious and virtuous parents Chariton and Theodoti. The infant Gregory was baptized by the bishop of Agrigentum, Potamianos. When he was eight years of age his parents gave him over to sacred learning. At ten years of age the studious boy mastered writing and was able to read and to sing church hymns. At twelve years of age Gregory was given to the clergy, and he was put under the spiritual guidance of the archdeacon Donatus. Bishop Potamianos ordained him a Reader when he was eighteen, due to the fact that he had an excellent reading voice. One day, however, an angel of the Lord appeared to the holy youth as he slept, and after calling out his name three times, he said: "Gregory, your prayers have been heard. Therefore, hasten and go." Without delay Gregory left Agrigentum and went to Carthage, where he found a Spirit-bearing monk named Mark. Believing that God had sent him to Mark, he stayed with him for four years. Together they departed for Antioch, where Mark was greatly admired.

While in Antioch Gregory was prompted by a divine vision to go to Jerusalem, where he was ordained a Deacon by Patriarch Makarios of Jerusalem (552, 564–575). Gregory dwelt for a certain time at Jerusalem, and then went to Constantinople, where he was received with love by the brethren of the Monastery of the Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. The ascetic efforts of Gregory were noticed by Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople (552-565), at whose insistence the Saint participated in the Fifth Ecumenical Synod (553). The Saint's rebukes of the Monothelites made him famous even to the ears of the emperor. At the completion of the Synod, Gregory set off for Rome, to venerate the graves of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul.

During this time the Bishop of Agrigentum died. The elder clergy and illustrious citizens of Agrigentum journeyed to Rome with a request for the Pope to determine a successor for their late hierarch from among a list of candidates they were presenting. The Pope, however, declined their proposal through divine inspiration, and instead summoned Gregory to serve them as bishop.

For a few years Gregory peacefully guided the flock entrusted to him by God. He was a defender of the down-trodden, a wise preacher, and miraculous healer. As bishop, Gregory led the life of an ascetic monk, fervently observing monastic vows. The flock loved their hierarch and trusted in him. But there were also malicious people who had resolved to slander him.

Two priests, Sabinus and Crescens, for whom Gregory had done much good, could not at all tolerate Gregory's virtuousness. For such is the nature of vice, that it cannot tolerate virtue. Consequently, Sabinus and Crescens found a notorious prostitute and bribed her to malign Gregory by saying that he had had immoral relations with her. So it was that when Gregory was in church, the woman crept into his bedroom, and just as Gregory came out of church with the people, she emerged from his room. The two priests began to revile Gregory as a libertine. However, Gregory was composed and prepared for every suffering. They placed the holy bishop under guard. The people attempted to defend their bishop, but were unsuccessful. At the trial the harlot gave false testimony against Gregory. Just as she pronounced the words of slander, she went into a fit of frenzied rage. The judges accused the Saint of sorcery. Gregory was sent for judgment to the Pope in Rome together with a report about his "crimes."

The Pope, after reading the charges, did not want to see the accused, and gave orders to remand him to prison. The Saint endured his humiliation humbly, dwelling in constant prayer. His prayerful effort and wonderworking gifts quickly became known throughout the city and the surrounding region. Pious Romans began to gather at the prison, whom the imprisoned Saint taught about the righteous life, and he implored the Lord to heal the sick.

After two and a half years, without a trial or a verdict, the clairvoyant Elder Mark, who had known Gregory since youth, came to the Pope. The Elder did not believe the charges and he persuaded the Pope to convene a synod to decide Gregory's case. At the invitation of the Pope, many clergy from the city of Agrigentum came to the synod, together with all those making accusations against the Saint, including the harlot. From Constantinople three bishops and the imperial dignitary Marcian came to Rome. Along the way Marcian had fallen grievously ill. On the advice of many people who had received healing through the prayers of Gregory, servants carried the dying man to the prison where the wonderworking Saint languished. Through the prayers of Saint Gregory the Lord granted healing to Marcian.

At the synod the slanderers attempted to renew their accusations, and as their chief proof they presented the deranged harlot to the judge, declaring that Gregory had bewitched her. But the Saint prayed over her and cast out the devil. The woman came to her senses and told the synod the whole truth. Through her tears, she confessed that she had been bribed to malign the man of God, and that immediately after she had committed the slander, the evil spirit had entered her and held her in its power. Sabinus and Crescens, along with the other maligners - more than a hundred in number - found their faces suddenly turned as black as coal (which could also be seen in their descendants for many generations), and they were punished with exile. Marcian wanted to execute them, but Gregory implored forgiveness for them.

Gregory returned in honor to his own cathedral, and was received with great exultation by his people, and there he worked greater wonders than before. Surrounded by the love of his flock, he guided the Church for many years until he attained deep old age, and he reposed in peace in 590.

Portions of his skull can be found at the Metropolis of Thessaliotidos and at the Athonite Monastery of Dionysiou. Other relics are at the Athonite Monastery of Panteleimon, Palaiokastritsa Monastery in Kerkyra, and the Lavra of Saint Alexander Nevsky in St. Petersburg. His memory is celebrated on November 23rd, together with Saint Potamianos the Bishop and Saint Mark the Monk.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
O Gregory, thou wast diligent in thy Master's commandments, even from thy swaddling bands. Thou wast filled with heavenly gifts, and dost lead to verdant pastures those who cry to thee: Glory to Him Who has strengthened thee; glory to Him Who has crowned thee; glory to Him Who through thee grants healings to all.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O God of our Fathers, always act with kindness towards us; take not Thy mercy from us, but guide our lives in peace through the prayers of the hierarchs Gregory and Amphilochios.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
With the brilliant rays of the Holy Spirit, the Church enlightens the way of those who celebrate thy joyful repose,, O righteous and blessed Father Gregory.

There are ten exegetical commentaries of Saint Gregory on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Below is an excerpt from one of them:

"Come, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a glad heart; for what you do, God has approved beforehand" (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

This exhortation of Ecclesiastes is very proper if you take its words in their ordinary everyday sense. If we embrace a simple rule of life and let our beliefs be inspired bu a sincere faith in God, we should eat our bread with joy and drink our wine with a glad heart. We should not fall into slanderous speech or devote ourselves to devious stratagems; rather, we should direct our thoughts on straight paths and (as far as is practicable) help the poor and destitute with compassion and generosity – that is, dedicate ourselves to the activities that please God himself.

But the same text can be given a spiritual meaning that leads us to higher thoughts. It speaks of the heavenly and mystical bread, which has come down from heaven, bringing life to the world, and to drink a spiritual wine with a cheerful heart, that wine which flowed from the side of the True Vine at the moment of his saving passion. Of this, the Gospel of our salvation says: "When Jesus had taken bread and blessed it, he said to his holy disciples and apostles, Take, eat; this is my body which is being broken for you for the forgiveness of sins. In the same way he took the cup and said, Drink from this, all of you: this is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." For whoever eats this bread and drinks this mystical wine enjoys true blessedness and rejoices, exclaiming: You have put joy into our hearts.

Moreover, I think this is the bread and this is the wine that is referred to in the book of Proverbs by God’s self-subsistent Wisdom (that is, Christ our Savior): "Come, eat my bread and drink the wine I have mixed for you." Thus he refers to our mystical sharing in the Word. For those worthy to receive this are forever clothed in garments (that is, the works of light) shining as bright as light itself. As the Lord says in the Gospel, "Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." And, indeed, oil will be seen flowing eternally over their heads – the oil that is the Spirit of truth, guarding and preserving them from all the harm of sin.