Today in the West is the feast of St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 331-395), the younger brother of St. Basil the Great (Saint of the Week here) and the youngest of the Cappadocian Fathers (brief blurb here), the others being his brother Basil and Basil’s university buddy Gregory of Nazianzus. One could also include the holy women of Sts. Gregory and Basil’s family, the Sts. Macrina, their grandmother and sister, the former who helped raise them, the latter who helped raise them up to holiness.
St. Gregory was not originally destined for an ecclesiastical career. He originally pursued law, but the bidding of his mother Emily, was drawn to the holy life. According to abbamoses.com (see January 10), she had him come to a service in honour of the 40 Martyrs. Tired from his journey and not especially zealous, he fell asleep. Whilst asleep, the 40 Martyrs came to him in a dream, rebuking him for his sloth. Overcome by penitence, he decided that he would thenceforth lead a holy, righteous, and sober life.
In 372 he became bishop of Nyssa in Asia Minor, but was exiled by the Semi-Arian Emperor Valens in 374. In 378, the Nicene Emperor Gratian recalled St. Gregory to his bishopric. He was present in 381 at the Council of Constantinople, which produced the form of the “Nicene” Creed in use to this day. In 395 he fell asleep, having left behind a large body of writings.
One of the blessings that comes from reading the Cappadocian Fathers, especially this youngest of the three, is their bridging of the gap into an age where Nicene Orthodoxy was the accepted norm for theological discourse. This gives their writings a different tone from those of St. Athanasius, who spends great energy and passion in polemic against Arianism, or in later ages when new controversies arise, producing the polemic of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Augustine of Hippo. This must be qualified, of course, because there are always various smaller controversies, or certain local ones, that give flavour to theological writings.
Be that as it may, St. Gregory of Nyssa is able to produce works of theology that are not always on the defense but are often simply the proclamation of Orthodoxy. It is a position of security rare in the world of theology and one not to be missed.
The only work of his which I have read in full is his Life of Moses. I recommend it highly. It is a guide to the virtuous life, using a “spiritual” rather than literal approach to Scripture, basing the steps of the virtuous life upon that of Moses. Although it takes a bit of getting used to, many good ideas and truths are found in this book. It is a great introduction to how the Fathers read Scripture as well as providing much food for thought and consideration of how we live our lives.
How to honour St. Gregory of Nyssa? Do not simply read his works, but praise, worship, honour, and glorify the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit whom he adored. Live a virtuous life. The Fathers seek no higher honour than this. Although, if you really like a guy, an icon wouldn’t hurt ;).