February 24, 2020

Saint Gorgonia as a Model for our Lives

St. Gorgonia (Feast Day - February 23)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Gorgonia was from Cappadocia and lived in the fourth century. She was the fruit of holy parents, Gregory the Bishop of Nazianzus and Nonna, as well as the sister of Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint Caesarius. She was a model wife and mother. From her marriage she bore five children, two boys and three girls, whom she raised "in the education and admonition of the Lord." For reasons only God knows she left this vain world prematurely, at the age of thirty-eight. Her brother Saint Gregory the Theologian in his funeral oration describes her God-pleasing life, which although brief, it was worthy of wonder and worthy of imitation. We will offer below some brief excerpts from this wonderful oration:

"In modesty she so greatly excelled, and so far surpassed, those of her own day, to say nothing of those of old time who have been illustrious for modesty, that, in regard to the two divisions of the life of all, that is, the married and the unmarried state, the latter being higher and more divine, though more difficult and dangerous, while the former is more humble and more safe, she was able to avoid the disadvantages of each, and to select and combine all that is best in both, namely, the elevation of the one and the security of the other, thus becoming modest without pride, blending the excellence of the married with that of the unmarried state, and proving that neither of them absolutely binds us to, or separates us from, God or the world (so that the one from its own nature must be utterly avoided, and the other altogether praised): but that it is mind which nobly presides over wedlock and maidenhood, and arranges and works upon them as the raw material of virtue under the master-hand of reason.

For though she had entered upon a carnal union, she was not therefore separated from the Spirit, nor, because her husband was her head, did she ignore her first Head: but, performing those few ministrations due to the world and nature, according to the will of the law of the flesh, or rather of Him who gave to the flesh these laws, she consecrated herself entirely to God. But what is most excellent and honorable, she also won over her husband to her side, and made of him a good fellow-servant, instead of an unreasonable master. And not only so, but she further made the fruit of her body, her children and her children's children, to be the fruit of her spirit, dedicating to God not her single soul, but the whole family and household, and making wedlock illustrious through her own acceptability in wedlock, and the fair harvest she had reaped thereby; presenting herself, as long as she lived, as an example to her offspring of all that was good, and when summoned hence, leaving her will behind her, as a silent exhortation to her house."

Her life and conduct give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, it is often said that God permits some people to live a few years, some many more, and others to reach deep old age. The first thing that can be done is to repeat the Apostle Paul's words: “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" Truly, who can know the will of God? It can be added that God is continually working for the salvation of all mankind, and takes each of us "in our best time", that is, when we are ready. But there are times when one leaves the world at a particular moment, by their personal choice and not because God wants it. And this happens when we depart from God and the Church and do not want to do the will of God in our life.

Someone once asked Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva if people departed this world according to the will of God, and he replied that it does not always happen this way, because when someone makes a bad use of their freedom, which is a divine gift, and doesn't allow God to act in their lives, then they bear the responsibility for what is happening, and God is not responsible for their choices and calamities. He went on to mention how at one time a young man visited him, and with the gifts granted to the Elder by God, he saw that the young man, if he traveled that night with his car, he would die because he was too tired to drive. Otherwise he would live many years and reach deep old age. He therefore insisted that he rest there and leave the next day in the morning. However, despite the persistent exhortations and petitions of the Saint he did not change his decision and, unfortunately, had a tragic end. And Saint Porphyrios would say that in this instance God did not "take" him, but he "left" on his own. Therefore, they who love God and obey His commandments, are blessed, because the will of God is what will turn out to be for the best of someone.

Wise Solomon stresses that honorable old age has nothing to do with living many years, but with prudence and a virtuous life. "But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age." After all, time is a gift of God to people in order to prepare them for eternity. And when they are ready, rather very much ready, then "speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul." Those, however, who have no hope in God and invest in that which is temporal, while denying the eternal, think they are "lucky" for living so many years. Yet no matter how many years someone lives upon the earth, before eternity it is like a drop in the ocean. Unfortunately, we do not realize that our lives are temporary, but life is eternal. Life is substantial. Christ is life, and whoever loves Him and struggles to apply His commandments, such will learn to overcome their daily difficulties and various temptations and in this way will truly rejoice in their lives.

Second, the begetting of children in marriage is indeed an important event. More important, however, is raising them and guiding them in such a way so that they acquire the Grace of God and become "children of the light" and "full of grace". In other words, to acquire spiritual eyes to be able to see that which is invisible and eternal, as opposed to what is visible and temporal. Although physical sight is important, flies and mosquitoes also have such sight. Incomparably higher are the eyes of the soul, by which we can see God, and when this happens, then we are like the angels, according to Saint Anthony the Great, who, upon meeting a theologian in Alexandria named Didymus who was physically blind, said to him: "Didymus, let not the loss of your physical eyes distress you, for you are deprived of such eyes merely as they are the common possession of mosquitoes and flies; rather rejoice that you have eyes such as angels see with, by which the Deity himself is discerned, and his light comprehended."

One is fulfilled who is "full of the Holy Spirit" and because of this their nous is enlightened, "by which the Deity himself is discerned, and his light comprehended."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.