St Gregory of Nyssa

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith.  (Hebrews 13:7)

When each of the bishops of our Diocese were consecrated to the episcopacy, they received the honorary title of an ancient Christian city. When Metropolitan Orestes was consecrated in 1938, he received the honorary title of "Bishop of Agathonikeia". Bishop John received the title "Bishop of Nyssa"; Metropolitan Nicholas – "Bishop of Amissos". When His Grace, Bishop Gregory was recently consecrated as our new bishop, he received the same honorary title as Bishop John: Bishop of Nyssa. His new title: Bishop Gregory of Nyssa brought much attention around the Orthodox world since one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers was St. Gregory of Nyssa. (although Bishop Gregory's patron saint is another Gregory: St. Gregory Palamas, archbishop of Thessalonica)

St. Gregory of Nyssa was born in the 4th century, about the year 335 in the region of Cappadocia (modern day Turkey). He is numbered among the "Cappadocian Fathers", that is holy bishops, theologians and spiritual writers of the early centuries of Christianity who originated from this region including his brother, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzus. St. Gregory was born into a very pious Christian family, his mother Emmelia was the daughter of a Christian martyr. His family was one of the most illustrious Christian families in history: his grandmother Macrina, his parents Basil and Emmelia, and his siblings: Basil the Great, Peter of Sebaste and Macrina, have all been recognized as saints of the Church.

In his early life, Gregory was a highly unlikely prospect of one day becoming a leading figure in the Church and a famous saint. Gregory had no interest in devoting his life to the service of the Lord as did his brothers and sister, but instead chose to follow his father's career as a teacher. However his life underwent a complete change. When he was twenty years old, some of the relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste were brought to a chapel on the family estate. During an all-night vigil service at the chapel in honor of the Martyrs, something dramatic occurred. Gregory, called to participate by his family, half-heartedly and with indifference attended the divine service. Wearied by the long prayers, Gregory left the chapel during one of the sermons and fell asleep. During his sleep he had a vivid dream of trying to enter the church but the Forty Martyrs would not permit him. It was only with the help of one of them that he managed to escape punishment. This frightening dream left a lasting impression on Gregory. He soon left his worldly studies and devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures and the spiritual life.

St. Gregory's change of heart did not last long, and he soon abandoned his life of dedication to the Lord and resumed his secular career as a teacher. However, under the influence of his devout family and friends, he returned to the Church and entered a monastery founded by his brother, St. Basil the Great. His brother Basil had an enormous influence on Gregory. In one surviving letter from Gregory to his younger brother, Peter, he refers to their elder brother Basil as "our father and master".

In the year 372, St. Basil consecrated his brother as bishop of the small city of Nyssa. Unfortunately, Gregory had little peace in his episcopal ministry for soon heretical clergy rose up to oppose his work. Charges were made that Gregory was not validly ordained and that he had embezzled church funds. He was arrested, taken away by a band of imperial soldiers and deposed as bishop. Gregory managed to escape but was forced to wander, homeless, from town to town. After the death of the Emperor Valens in 378, who was a follower of the heretic/priest Arius, Gregory was allowed to return home and was restored to his episcopal office. Gregory's joy shortly turned to sorrow with the death of his beloved brother and mentor Basil, and then the death of his sister, Macrina.

With the death of St. Basil, St. Gregory stepped in to take the place of his brother as the foremost defender of the Orthodox Faith from the various rampant heresies. St. Gregory became known throughout the empire for the spiritual depth of his sermons and writings. He is considered one of the most deep and profound writers of the Christian Faith, and stressed the importance of moderation in life. Furthermore, he played an important role at the Second Ecumenical Council which was convened at Constantinople in 381 A.D. which defined the teaching on the Holy Spirit. At the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 A.D. he was honored with the title "Father of Fathers". Many of St. Gregory's writings, letters and sermons survive and have been translated into English. Among the most popular are his "Life of Moses" an allegorical meditation on the life of Moses, and "On the Soul and Resurrection" a reflection on life after death which takes the form of a dialogue between himself and his beloved sister St. Macrina.

Little is known of the final years of St. Gregory's life. The last record of him is his presence at a Synod in Constantinople in 394. He died, probably in 395 and is commemorated each year on January 10 (Gregorian Calendar) or January 23 (Julian Calendar).


St. Gregory undoubtedly became great in the eyes of the Lord through the influence of his grandmother, parents, brothers and sister. Even when he strayed away from the Lord and his faith, it was the influence and prayers of his devout family that led him back. Years ago a young couple asked me to baptize their new daughter. As we talked I asked them "What do you really desire for your daughter?" They answered unhesitatingly "We want her to be successful!" As I observed them over the years as their daughter matured, it was clear that her worldly success was their primary focus. The little girl was enrolled in dance classes, then later piano lessons, and a soccer league. They brought her to church and Sunday School, infrequently, as long as it did not conflict with her other activities, especially soccer games.

For Orthodox Christian parents, the most important desire for our children is that they gain salvation and eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. Nothing else matters compared to this! This is the only way that we will be together with them for eternity. Only their strong, active faith will help them face the challenges of life. When they face tragedies, difficulties, and stresses being able to play the piano well or excel at kicking at soccer ball will be of little help!

The Holy Bible commands parents:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath,but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Whatever happened to that baby girl I baptized many years ago? She grew into a beautiful and talented young lady, an excellent student. But she drifted away from the church once she reached high school, much as I expected. As far as I know, she has never been back.

- Father Edward Pehanich