January 25, 2018

Church of Saint Gregory the Theologian in Gelveri of Central Anatolia

Church of Saint Gregory the Theologian in Gelveri

Following the death of Saint Gregory the Theologian in 389, he was buried either at his estate in Arianzos or in Nazianzos itself or in nearby Gelveri. Oddly, for someone of Gregory's importance, the location of his burial seems to have gone unrecorded. In the early tenth century Niketas the Paphlogonian, in his Encomium to Saint Gregory the Theologian, relates that he was buried in his father's mausoleum, his body covered by a single stone. Before this we have no other text addressing his death and burial, and it seems as if he died unnoticed, with no Oration composed in his honor.

There is a tradition regarding the relics of Saint Gregory the Theologian that comes to us from the Greek-speaking Christian community of Gelveri (modern Guzelyurt) in central Asia Minor, near the historical location of Nazianzos (which is Nenezi, the modern Bekarlar). In the middle of the eighteenth century, residents of Gelveri said that men came from Constantinople in search of the bones of all the Fathers of the Church. When they asked for the body of Gregory, members of the Ikizoglu and Didymopoulos families (curiously in English both the Turkish and Greek family names translate as "son of the twins") took the body from its burial place and sent the wrong relics to Constantinople; these are now venerated at Mount Athos. The authentic relics were preserved in the Church of the Honorable Wood in Gelveri, whose name was subsequently changed to that of Saint Gregory. A portion of the skull of Gregory is recorded at Vatopaidi Monastery and may be from this translation; it was apparently a gift from the Patriarchate, with a letter to authenticate it. Other pieces of Gregory at the Holy Mountain can be found at Hilandari and Saint Paul's Monasteries which claim to possess one of the Saint's feet. Dionysiou, Koutloumousiou, Xeropotamou, Stavronikita, Xenophontos, Gregoriou and Rossikou claim to have relics as well.

Church of Saint Gregory the Theologian in Nea Karvali

As for the "authentic" relics preserved at Gelveri, these were taken by the residents during the population exchange of 1924 to Nea Karvali, east of Kavala in northern Greece. There the pilgrim will find, along with a Cappadocian Heritage Center, a domed church vaguely resembling that of the Church of Saint Gregory in Gelveri (designed this way by the architect Stelios Stelianou a decade after the population exchange based on a picture of the old church), within which are enshrined the relics of Saint Gregory, his father, and his sister Gorgonia. They are housed in a proskyneterion positioned on the north side of the nave - that is, in the same position it occupied in the church at Gelveri (in the 1980's a newly-assigned priest, unaware of this tradition, tried to move the relics to a new position, but this was quickly stopped by the locals). The relics are still venerated locally. And in recent years, families that came from Gelveri to Nea Karvali have been returning to Gelveri on January 25th to celebrate the feast of Saint Gregory, though the church is a mosque today (Aziz Gregorius Kilise Camii).