Mar Gregorios of Nazianzus (329-389)


Mar Gregorios of Nazianzus (329-389)
Besides St. John who wrote the Gospel, only Mar Gregorius is given the title the “Theologian” by the Church. This may be because both St. John and St. Gregory Nazianzen have specially tried to show that the Logos, Christ, was truly God.
Mar Gregorios was one of the three Cappodocian Fathers, and a cousin and friend of the other two, namely Mar Baselius and Mar Gregorius of Nyssa. He was also a class-mate of St. Basil in Athens.
He was made a priest in 362, and ten years later was consecrated Bishop. For two years he was suffragan bishop to his father, the elder Gregorius. In 379 he went to Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, where the famous and large Church of St. Sophia was already in the hands of the Arians. He started in a small Church which belonged to the Orthodox party, and slowly by virtue of his character and preaching ability, drew the Christian crowds away from the Arian faith to the true Orthodox faith of the Church. During the great ecumenical synod of Constantinople (381) he was appointed Archbishop of that Imperial City, but retired from the Archbishopric within a few months. He went back to Nazianzus, and then to his own family estate, where he died at the age of 60.
St. Gregory was a great poet and a powerful orator. His sermons are ornate in style, but very balanced in theology, and full of biblical allusions. His five theological orations are a masterpiece. Along with St. Basil, he wrote the monastic rules for their community, and clarified the doctrine of the Trinity. He established on a sure foundation, along with St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa, the full Godhead of the son and the Holy Spirit. The faith of the Church about the Holy Trinity was formulated by the three Cappodocian Fathers.
St. Gregory was a shy, retiring, and sensitive soul, who ran away from all public praise. The towering figure of St. Basil dominated his life throughout, but St. Gregory was as profound and clear in his thinking as St. Basil.
There is a true story from his student days in Athens, about how St. Basil and St. Gregory became such good friends.
In those days too, young students were just as mischievously playful as they are today. And every new student had to undergo a severe test by his fellowstudents before being too long in school.
The students usually laid hold of a new boy, and took him to their home. He is then teased and questioned and harassed until some of them weep. The students threaten the new boy with all kinds of cruelties, and if he does not know that it is all a joke, he may get quite frightened. And then he was taken to the public bath, where he was further teased and jostled.
When Mar Baselius came to Athens as a first-year student, Mar Gregorios was already a senior student. Because Mar Baselius was already a famous student before he came to Athens, the others decided to give him a particularly rough treatment in order to curb his pride. But Gregorios knew that Basil was too dignified and sensitive to take such severe teasing, and so persuaded the students to exempt Baselius from the rough treatment. Basil is supposed to have been the only student who so escaped the pranks of his fellow students.
The fairness and goodness of young Gregory can be seen in another incident which involved Basil.
The students were than organized in regional groupings, and the Armenian students decided to debate publicly with Basil in order to bring down his pride. Gregory watched the debate, saw Basil was winning easily. Gregory took pity on the poor Armenian students and took their side in the debate. Basil was now loosing the debate, and the Armenians began to rejoice. Finally Gregory saw that Basil’s pride was well – broken, and then he joined Basil’s side, so that ultimately Basil won the debate. From then on Basil and Gregory became bosom pals.
St. Gregory’s brother, Caesarius was an outstanding doctor, who became chief physician to the Emperor Constantius when already quite young. Caesarius’character, manner and skill combined in an unusual way to produce a man destined for great success in the world. But Caesarius was a profound Christian, and Constantius’ successor, the anti Christian Julian, tried to make him into a pagan. St. Gregory fought for his brother against the Emperor who was also his class-mate at Athens.
Finally Caesarius left the Imperial court and joined Mar Baselius and Mar Gregorios in their mountain monastery. It was the presence of Dr. Caesarius which made it easy for the monastery of Mar Baselius to build their first hospitals and look after the sick in the whole surrounding area.
But let us get back to Mar Gregorius. His father was one of the last married bishops of the Church. He himself was an unmarried bishop, like the other Cappodocians, and all the other fathers of whom we speak in this booklet.
One day his own parish people in Nazianzus took hold of him when he was a young man of about 29 and took him to his own father, asking that he be ordained as a priest. Gregory ran away in to Pontus, where his friend Basil was already building his mountain retreat.
Some months later he returned to his parish and found all parish people very angry with him. Some accused him of being afraid to accept the priesthood, because he feared the Emperor Julian. Others said he was a coward. Yet others said that he was ambitious, and he ran away because they did not directly make him a bishop.
In his sermon explaining why he ran away, he describes the great qualities necessary for a priest. His sermon became the basis for several later books by others on the priesthood and its high responsibility.
His greatest theological contribution lay at two points. On the one hand St. Gregory Nazianzen as well as St. Gregory of Nyssa held that God could not be understood by the human mind or by any other created mind including the angels.
He can only be apprehended from what He does. And from what we now see as His work in the world, we can see that He is three in One – the Holy Trinity. This was his other contribution. He is called Theologos or Theologian because he showed finally that the Logos, the Word of God, was fully Theos, i.e. God. He also was a great help to St. Basil in proving that the Holy Spirit was also fully God.
The incomprehensibility of God and the Trinity may thus be regarded as two doctrines to which Mar Gregorius gave final shape.
He taught also that the Eucharist was a true sacrifice of the body and blood of our Lord and that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the bearer of God – Theotokos.
He became Patriarch of Constantinople for a short period during the famous synod of Constantinople in 381. He resigned soon after, returned home to breathe his last there in 389.

(From The Faith of Our Fathers by Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios)