THE POET OF HEAVEN AND EARTH: Gregory of Nazianzus

Augustine Sokolovski

On February 7, the Church celebrates the memory of Saint Gregory Nazianzen (325-389).

The saint was theologian, philosopher, interpreter of the Scriptures and poet. His theological insights were truly prophetic. Gregory is one of the greatest Fathers and Doctors of the Church in the history of Christianity.

Like Basil of Caesarea (330-379) and Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), Gregory Nazianzen is among those whom theology calls the 'great Cappadocians'. They lived and worked in Cappadocia. Hence the common name.

Gregory was made a bishop by his friend Basil the Great. From 370 Basil was the archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia.

The territory and importance of Cappadocia was enormous. Let us remember that the See of Constantinople was then a simple subordinate diocese. The hierarch of Constantinople received the status of archbishop and patriarch at the IV Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Therefore, Basil of Caesarea was, in fact, the head of a local Church. There were about fifty bishops under his jurisdiction. But he did not seek either superiority or glory. His main concern was the care of the churches (1 Cor. 12:23).

Basil was convinced that the episcopate had to be impeccable, educated, and staunchly Orthodox. In those days, the heresy of Arianism raged in the Church. She was supported even by the Emperors. On the side of the Arians in the East was the majority of the episcopate.

In order to ordain Gregory Basil and created a new episcopal see in Sasima. It was one of the places where the transit prison was located at that time. Out of love for the Orthodox faith, Gregory initially agreed with this decisión of Basil. But then he came to the place of service and decided to refuse. The place seemed incompatible with evangelization, the creation of a diocese in it made no sense. By the way, that's how he wrote in his letters.

Without performing a single sacred rite, he returned back to his own father in the diocese of the city of Nizians. Therefore, in the Menologions he is also called ‘Nazianzen’.

Subsequently, it was this ‘hasty’ ordination that prevented Gregory from becoming Bishop of Constantinople. After all, according to the ancient canons, a bishop could not move from diocese to diocese.

In the new capital, he served, preached and, in a polemic with the Arian heretics, eventually defended Orthodoxy. It was for the amazing depth of his sermons on the trinity of God in the Orthodox East that he was called ‘Theologian’.

The example of Gregory teaches us that holiness is labor and achievement. In the words of Viktor Tsoi, this is ‘a war between earth and sky’. This is a war that a person must lose in order to win by the power of grace.

For grace is communication between earth and heaven from God. Therefore, holiness has a divine-human character. It is synergy, or, in modern terms, the cooperation of man and God, and, at the same time, God and man.

The saints made mistakes, but for the sake of God and neighbor, they almost always overcame themselves. What they did not overcome, by the Method of Grace, God Himself did. Such is the example of Gregory, 'his Constantinople'.

And, finally, the Father of the Church himself, the Theologian Gregory, in deed and word, throughout his life, taught the Church to love, value, and defend theology. For true theology is priceless for the Church and is akin to prayer. Those who study theology cry out to God for help day and night (cf. Luke 18:7).

The theologian hears the words from the Divine Word. Thus, he prays to convey to the universe words from God, Whom the Christian creed calls the 'Poet of Heaven and Earth'.