The 17th of the month, Memory of our Venerable
Father GREGORY the WONDERWORKER, Bishop of
Our holy Father Gregory was born into an illustrious pagan family at Neocaesareain Pontus, about the year 214. His mother, who had been left a widow, took care that
her three children should receive the best possible education.
Gregory, who was then called Theodore, was seen to possess not only a remarkable aptitude for studies-especially in rhetoric but also a deep wisdom and great meekness. The Christian faith was almost unknown in the region at the time, and Neocaesarea
had no more than seventeen Christian inhabitants.
When he was fourteen, impressed by the harmony of the created world from which he tried to derive some idea of the one Creator, he drew away from the noisy games of his companions. They resented his chaste and contemplative way of life and, one day, they paid a prostitute to put it about that Theodore had lain with her. When he heard what she was saying, the lad did not protest his innocence nor become angry with those responsible for this calumny; he simply gave the woman the same amount of money to leave him in peace as she had already received for telling lies about him, and sent her away.
Theodore’s mother decided to send him and his brother Athenodorus to study at the famous law school of Berytus (Beirut) but, first of all, they had to take their sister to Caesarea in Palestine to join her husband. There they met the great Origen and, giving
up all thought of legal studies, they became keen students of the Alexandrian master for eight years, and were baptized. They possessed discernment enough, however, to avoid certain errors into which Origen was led by the excessive boldness of his speculations
about the mysteries of God.
When he returned to Pontus, Gregory was showered with tempting offers from many great families in the Province who wanted him as tutor for their children. But, turning his back on every misleading attraction that the world offers, the young man fled into the wilderness, to live alone before God in ascesis and prayer. The Archbishop of Amasia, Faidimus, was well aware of Gregory’s virtues and of his abilities as an orator, and he wanted to make him Bishop of Neocaesarea. He did all he could to prevail upon him to come to Amasia for cansecration, but Gregory would not leave his retreat to return to the troubles of the world. Faidimus, therefore, took the unwonted step of ordaining him in absentia (without the laying on of hands) and informed Gregory by letter that, like it or not, he was now Bishop of his native place. This initiative reflects the elasticity of canonical discipline in the early days of the Church and would not have been permissible in later years.
So Gregory, who was then about thirty years of age, had to obey the will of God, although he did not leave the desert until he had spent many days and nights in
prayer to gain the strength he would need in his pastoral task. One night, the Most Holy Mother of God and Saint John the Theologian appeared to him, and revealed with great clarity the mystery of the unity of the divine Nature and of the distinction of the three Persons in these words: ‘There is only one God, Father of the living Word, of the hypostatic Wisdom, of the eternal Power and of the eternal Imprint. He is the perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten. There is one only Lord, the Unique come forth
from the Unique, God come forth from God, Imprint and Image of the Divinity, all-accomplishing Word; Veritable Son of the Veritable Father, Invisible come forth from the Invisible, Eternal come forth from the Eternal. There is one only Holy Spirit, who
proceeds from God the Father and is revealed by the Son. He is the origin of life, the holy well-spring and principle of sanctification. In Him, God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all, manifest themselves-perfect Trinity.
In the Trinity there is nothing created or subservient, nothing subsequent, which has not always been. Thus, neither has the Son ever been lacking to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son.
Strong in the might of the Holy Spirit and accounted worthy, like Moses, of the direct revelation of divine mysteries, Gregory showed himself a tireless apostle of the true Faith in all the region of Neocaesarea. He won converts as much by his words as by his
miracles, which brilliantly demonstrated that the power of God was with him and not with the impotent demons of the pagans, and he soon became known as ‘the Wonderworker’.
In 250, at the time of the violent persecution of Decius, Gregory and a large number of his faithful decided to flee to the mountains near Neocaesarea rather than risk death unnecessarily. He himself had died to the world long since, and to depart and to be with
Christ was for him, as for Saint Paul, far better (Phil. 1:23); but love for his faithful and concern to preserve the Church by strengthening the faith of the weakest, persuaded him to take to the hills. From his mountain refuge he prayed fervently for the Martyrs who were offering their blood, and described their contests to those with him as if they were happening before his eyes.
At the end of the persecution, he had the relics of the Martyrs collected and he instituted solemn feasts in their honour on the same days that the pagans were accustomed to give over to revelry. The whole region became deeply Christian as a result, and the gross pagan customs of the people were transformed into spiritual
Through his preaching of the Orthodox faith and by his miracles, Saint Gregory continued for many years to be a burning and a shining light in the region. About the year 275, several days before his departure to the eternal habitations, he asked his relatives how many pagans remained in his diocese. They told him there were no more than seventeen, exactly the same number as there had been Christians in his youth. So it was that he fell asleep in the peace and joy of the faithful servant, who has fulfilled the task entrusted to him by his Master.