Friday, January 10, 2014

January 10 - Gregory of Nyssa, Theologian, Cappadocian Father, Champion of Orthodoxy


When you're a middle child (and there are many middle children when you're one of ten) and your older brother is a well-educated Church Father, it's hard to grow up. Being compared to Basil was indubitably challenging for Gregory--especially since Basil was the only one to receive a formal education. His parents--descendants of martyrs themselves--had wanted to provide education for their children but their limited means meant that they could only afford to educate their eldest son. But, Basil came back and helped his younger brothers learn--especially Gregory. In fact, as Gregory grew both in maturity and intellect, older brother Basil predicted that in the future his name would lend more notoriety to the city of Nyssa then the city of Nyssa's name would lend to him. On this count, Basil was very correct.

Gregory's education may have been indirect and informal but it was a great gift that empowered Gregory to take an important role in the Church. He became influential and persuasive and gathered the attention of the Arians within the Church power structure. Gregory insisted that Jesus was not subservient to the Father but was, instead, coequal to the Father along with the Holy Spirit. This orthodox view did not gain Gregory any friends among the Arians and soon he was deposed from his position in the Church and forced to leave. He was no longer welcome in Nyssa and in his absence more charges were leveled against him by the powerful. He was accused of misuse and abuse of Church property and was slandered to any who would hear a harsh word about him. Yet, he continued to maintain his orthodox and trinitarian stance by encouraging the people of the Church who refused to believe the slander about him. Though he was no longer officially a bishop, he was a minister to the people who would not leave him or his orthodox position. Time passed and eventually those in power died or were removed from their office and Gregory was invited back to be bishop again and he gladly accepted having had his rhetoric honed to razor sharpness by his exile from the Church he loved and served.

Within a year of his return to the Church, his older brother Basil died and Gregory was emotionally and mentally crippled. Only through the care and comfort of his older sister Macrina was he able to recover and continue on with his calling as a servant of God and the Church. In 381, he was part of the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantitnople and helped draft the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed. This master work of the Church was a shield against heresy that delineated what orthodoxy was so that members of the Church could challenge themselves further to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Further, this creed helped label and identify the dangers of heterodoxy. He spent the rest of his life working with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus to teach orthodoxy to a people hungry for understanding.

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