Today, January 23, the Church celebrates the memory of St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395). The saint was a theologian, philosopher, mystic, and interpreter of the Scriptures. Gregory is one of the greatest Fathers and Doctors of the Church in the history of Orthodox Christianity.
Like Basil the Great (330-379) and Gregory of Nazianzus (325-389), Gregory is one of those whom theology calls the 'Great Cappadocians'. They lived and worked in Cappadocia. Hence the common name.
In a mysterious narrative, the Book of Genesis tells how the biblical Patriarch Jacob fought with God (Gen. 32:24). When applied to the realities of spiritual life, this episode reflects the attempt of a religious person to escape from his election and calling. God seems to give in, but in the end he always wins.
Such a ‘fight with God’, to a large extent, was the biography of Gregory. He was the younger brother of Basil the Great, born into a ‘family of saints’.
Already his name Gregory, translated from Greek, ‘awake, vigilant, awaiting the Second Coming’, suggests that his origin was deeply Christian.
In his youth, Gregory was tonsured as a reader. But despite the influence of his relatives and, first of all, his brother, he chose a secular career as a lawyer and got married.
The second half of the 4th century was an extremely difficult time for Eastern Orthodoxy. The decrees of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 in Nicaea were by that time either forgotten or deliberately abandoned.
Beginning with the son of Constantine the Great, Constantius (337-361). Emperors openly supported Arianism. This heresy condemned by the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The Arians believed that the Lord was created, that is, simply invented by God as an intermediary between Himself and people.
The emperors saw in the absolute monarchy of God the Father invented by the Arians the rationale for their arbitrary and undivided power.
It should be noted that the biblical Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity is one of the justifications for the principle of separation of powers that is classical for modern times. Such is the theological tectonics of non-theological things!
The bishop of the Eastern Church, in fear of the authorities, out of selfish motives, or simply out of ignorance, was on the side of the heretics. Indeed, from the great participants in the Council of Nicaea, such as Spiridon of Trymithous (278-348), Nicholas of Myra (270-348), almost no one remained alive by that time.
Many were deposed, some, like the Great Athanasius of Alexandria (298-373), were expelled many times.
Only a few of the Arians were intellectually strong and tried to refute the Orthodox with the help of Philosophy and Scripture. This was the most dangerous. Philosophy was like the computer technology of today. Her authority was enormous.
By the power of divine predestination, and, in many respects, thanks to the holy bishop Meletios of Antioch (+381), Basil the Great became the archbishop of Caesarea and, thereby, led the local church of Cappadocia.
At that moment Valens (364-378) was the Emperor. An open Arian heretic, he threatened Basil with exile and even murder.
In response, Basil denounced the Emperor. His words went down in history as one of the most glorious confessions of the Church's opposition to the heretical violence of the state.
So, Basil did not concede. Moreover, the superstitious Valens himself was frightened. In response, he began to act insidiously.
The province of Cappadocia, which corresponded to the diocese of Basil, Valens divided into two parts. Thus, he wanted to split the archdiocese of Basil. There were about fifty bishops under the saint's jurisdiction. Valens wanted to undermine the canonical foundations of his spiritual authority.
In response, Basil began to ordain as bishops Orthodox by conviction, intellectually prepared Christians. It was necessary to act immediately, otherwise the episcopate would be in the hands of non-Orthodox.
Among the ordained was Basil's brother Gregory. He became the bishop of the city of Nyssa - modern Nevsehir in the very center of Turkey. It was done against his own will.
Like the diocese of Sasima, which Basil created for his friend Gregory of Nazianzus, and also against his will, the diocese of Nyssa was also established.
Gregory was extremely gifted intellectually. The piety acquired from childhood has always remained in him. Therefore, out of love for the Catholic Faith, he agreed to be ordained.
However, like Gregory of Nazianzus in Sasima, Gregory of Nyssa's administration of the diocese did not go well. Around the year 375, for economic miscalculations, he was deposed by the Arian bishops.
But everything changed suddenly, when in 379, Gregory suffered the death of his great brother. Vasily died suddenly, his important works, including written ones, were not completed. The famous ‘Six Days of Creation’ was not completed, as well as the great ‘Refutation of the Apology of the Impious Eunomius’.
Both Gregory mentally found themselves in front of the coffin of the Teacher. It seemed to both that the cause of Nicene Orthodoxy was dead. The battle with God has been won. But she turned out to be a struggle against herself. She destroyed the Church.
Then, by amazing inspiration from above, as if becoming the hand of God, a new living brother Basil, Gregory of Nyssa turned into a Pillar of the Church. Became the foundation of the ‘Great City’ descending from Heaven (cf. Apoc. 21).
He began to complete what Basil had begun, moreover, to improve his works. So, just two years later, the Orthodox Emperor Theodosius I (347-395) by his decree recognized Gregory as a bishop, communion in the faith with whom meant impeccable Orthodoxy.
Gregory of Nyssa preached a lot, went on missions to Armenia and even Arabia, and wrote. It was he, together with Gregory the Theologian, who managed to refute all the arguments of the Arian heretics that existed at that time. So Basil from now on preached the gospel from above, in fulfillment of the apocalyptic words: ‘Blessed are those who die in the Lord now, for their deeds follow them’ (Rev. 14:13).
At the same time, unlike Gregory the Theologian, whose character was characterized by despondency and even a tendency to depression in some stunningly modern sense, Gregory of Nyssa was surprisingly realistic and full of energy. Like his younger contemporary St. Augustine (354-430), he had been married in his time, had a human understanding and biblical love for life.
Interestingly, it was Augustine who subsequently had to continue and develop the Cappadocian theology of the Holy Trinity!
Gregory the Theologian wrote a lot about himself, experienced the dogmas personally, Gregory of Nyssa - in the heights of theology, the mysticism of light and fire, the heights of divine darkness, he himself did not report anything about his biography. Except perhaps for one exception: having been in Jerusalem, he wrote that it was not worth going there. For the true Jerusalem is in the heart of the believer...
Gregory's theology is the pinnacle of the doctrine of the Trinity of that Great Epoch, which theology calls the Golden Age of Patristic Writing. It was to him that the Lord gave the ability to be the first to fully and accurately reveal the biblical teaching about the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Gregory of Nyssa gave a mystical justification to monasticism. His interpretations of the Scriptures, sermons are at the same time dogmatically Orthodox, bold - up to the teaching of the universal salvation of all from Hell - and, at the same time, poetic masterpiece!
Gregory's contribution to the victory of Orthodoxy over heresies at the end of the 4th century and the formulation of church doctrine is difficult to describe.
At the same time, although the name of Gregory is rightfully invariably found in the Orthodox calendar, he is hardly given any liturgical or popular veneration.
In this disproportion between the greatness and oblivion of Gregory of Nyssa, there is a special melancholy of holiness, ‘summertime sadness’ of the Golden Age of church history, in the words of Lana Del Rey song. As if like Moses, whom he so loved in his comments on the Scriptures, Gregory himself put a cover on his glory.