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St. Gregory Nazianzen

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Gregory Nazianzen, a thoughtful, quiet and scholarly man, spent a good deal of his life struggling against himself, putting aside the work he loved in order to do the work God sent him.

He was born during the fourth century in Cappadocia, a major province in Asia Minor on the Black Sea. As a boy he attended school in Caesarea, the capital of Cappadocia, where he met the future St. Basil, and a firm friendship grew between the two young students.

It is not known when Gregory decided to devote his life to God, but a tempestuous sea voyage brought about a religious experience that affected him deeply. The ship encountered a storm and was nearly wrecked, and Gregory, who was an unbaptized catechumen, trembled in the face of death. When he reached his destination he continued his studies, but after several years he returned home to help his father, who had become a bishop. It is likely that Gregory received baptism at his father’s hands.

The following years were busy ones. Gregory helped his friend Basil to plan and build a monastery and work out its monastic rule. Although he was naturally inclined to a life of solitude and prayer, he left the monastery to accept ordination from his father and to help with pressing ecclesiastical and family matters.

After his father’s death, and a sorrowful rift in his friendship with Basil, Gregory lived in seclusion as a monk, but again his heart’s desire was denied him. He was called upon to become the bishop of Constantinople, where the heretical Arians were very strong and the few Catholics were disorganized and discouraged. Gregory went reluctantly, dreading the confusion, acrimony and corruption he knew he would find, and the people gave him a poor reception when they saw that he was bent, frail and plainly dressed. But when they heard him preach at the small church he chose for his parish, they came in greater and greater numbers. Gregory won a reputation as a wise and holy man, and through his eloquence and hard work the Catholics grew in strength and fidelity.

But despite his successes, Gregory still faced trouble. After his formal installation as bishop of the see of Constantinople, dissenters questioned the validity of his election. To prevent further argument and schism in the Church, Gregory humbly resigned his see.

During the last years of his life, Gregory at last found the peace and solitude he had so ardently wanted. The sorrows and frustrations of his life were replaced by quiet joy as he did what he had always wanted to do. In a rough habit he lived the monk’s life of simplicity and penance, and spent his time praying, studying, writing and tending his garden. The literary and theological works that Gregory produced have been admired by scholars and writers from St. Jerome to Cardinal Newman, and he was named a Doctor of the Church.

St. Gregory Nazianzen’s feast is celebrated on May 9 in the Western Church and on January 25 in the Eastern Church.

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