09 March 2013

With the Saints in Lent (25): Saint Gregory of Nyssa, 9 March

Saint Gregory of Nyssa … one of the Cappadocian Fathers, he helped phrased the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople

Patrick Comerford

Saint Gregory of Nyssa was born at Caesarea in what is now Turkey around the year 330, the child of an aristocratic Christian family.

Unlike his elder brother, Saint Basil, he was academically undistinguished, but he became the most original of the theologians among the Cappadocian Fathers. Saint Gregory, his brother Saint Basil of Caesarea, and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

Apocryphal hagiographies depict him studying at Athens, but this is speculation probably based on the life of his brother Basil. While he was young, Saint Gregory was at best a lukewarm Christian. However, when he was 20, some of the relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste were transferred to a chapel near his home, and their presence made a deep impression on him, confronting him with the fact that to acknowledge God at all is to acknowledge his right to demand a total commitment.

Saint Gregory was introduced to the spiritual life by his elder sister He may have been a reluctant Christian, but he became a man enchanted with Christ and dazzled by the meaning of his Passion.

After the death of their father, Saint Macrina converted the family home into a sort of monastery on one of the family estates. Saint Gregory married Theosebia, a deeply spiritual woman, and at first he refused ordination, pursuing a secular career as a rhetorician.

He was ordained only later in life, and in 372 was chosen to be Bishop of Nyssa. When his brother Saint Basil died in 379, Saint Gregory was shocked by his death . Several months later, he received another shock: his beloved sister Saint Macrina was dying. Saint Gregory hastened to Annesi and conversed with her for two days about death, and the soul, and the meaning of the resurrection. Choking with asthma, Saint Macrina died in her brother’s arms.

The two deaths, while stunning Gregory, also freed him to develop as a deeper and richer philosopher and theologian. He reveals his delight in the created order in his treatise, On the Making of Man. He exposes the depth of his contemplative and mystical nature in his Life of Moses and again in his Commentary on the Song of Songs. His Great Catechism is still considered second only to Origen’s treatise, On First Principles.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa was an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene Creed. For Saint Gregory, God is met not as an object to be understood, but as a mystery to be loved.

As Bishop of Nyssa, Saint Gregory faced opposition from Arians in the city, and in 373 Bishop Amphilochius of Iconium visited the city to quell discontent. In 375, Bishop Desmothenes of Pontus convened a synod at Ancyra to try Saint Gregory on charges of embezzlement of church funds and the irregular ordination of bishops. He was arrested by imperial troops in the winter of the same year, but escaped. He was deposed by the Synod of Nyssa in 376.

However, Saint Gregory regained his see in 378, the same year Saint Basil died. A year later, he attended the Synod of Antioch in 379, where he failed to reconcile the followers of Meletius of Antioch with those of Paulinus. After visiting the village of Annisa to see his dying sister Saint Macrina, he returned to Nyssa.

He visited Sebaste in 380 to support a pro-Nicene candidate as bishop, but was elected himself. However, after several months, he returned home to Nyssa.

In 381, . Saint Gregory tattended the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, where he was honoured as the “pillar of the Church.” At the council, he defined the Trinity as “one essence [οὐσία] in three persons [ὑποστάσεις], the formula adopted by the Council and now incorporated in the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa died on 9 March 394. He is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches.

The Roman Martyrology commemorates his death of on 9 March.

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge is holding a Community Day with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on Saint Gregory of Nyssa on Saturday 22 June. For more details visit: http://www.iocs.cam.ac.uk/resources/texts/Metropolitan_Kallistos_CD_22_June_2013.pdf


Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nyssa, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.


Wisdom 7:24–28; Psalm 19: 7–11 (12–14); Ephesians 2: 17–22; John 14: 23–26.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with your servants Gregory and Macrina
to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (10 March): The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.

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