March 9: Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, c. 394

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Gregory was a man enchanted with Christ and dazzled by the meaning of his Passion. He was born in Caesarea about 334, the younger brother of Basil the Great, and, in his youth, was but a reluctant Christian.

When he was twenty, the transfer of the relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste to the family chapel at Annesi quickened Gregory’s faith, and he became a practicing Christian and a lector. He abandoned this ministry, however, to become a rhetorician like his father.

His brother Basil, in his struggle against the Emperor Valens, compelled Gregory to become Bishop of Nyssa, a town ten miles from Caesarea. Knowing himself to be unfit for the charge, Gregory described his ordination as the most miserable day of his life. He lacked the important episcopal skills of tact and understanding, and had no sense of the value of money. Falsely accused of embezzling Church funds, Gregory went into hiding for two years, not returning to his diocese until Valens died.

Although he resented his brother’s dominance, Gregory was shocked by Basil’s death in 379. Several months later, he received another shock: his beloved sister Macrina was dying. 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, 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.

In 381, Gregory attended the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, where he was honored as the “pillar of the Church.” In the fight for the Nicene faith, he was one of the three great Eastern theologians, known with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus, as the Cappadocian Fathers.


I     Almighty God, who hast revealed to thy Church thine eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like thy bishop Gregory of Nyssa, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of thee, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who livest and reignest now and for ever.  Amen.

II     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

Ephesians 2: 17-22

John 14: 23-26

Psalm 19: 7-11 (12-14)

Preface of Trinity Sunday

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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13 thoughts on “March 9: Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, c. 394

  1. The new New Testament Scripture reading seems to be an appropriate choice for this ‘reluctant Christian.’

    He needs a ‘He died in about 394.” statement.

  2. There is more than one town named Caesarea in the Near East. In fact, I tend of think of Caeserea Philippi or even Caesarea Martina (or Caesarea Palatina) before I think about Caesarea in Cappodicia (Turkey). I am sure I am not the only lay person who would not think first of Caesarea in Cappadocia. So identifying which town of Caesarea is intended would be very helpful.

  3. It seems ironic that in the title his “claim to fame” is his status as bishop, and yet we learn he didn’t want to be bishop, lacked the gifts required for being bishop, and had to hightail it out of town for two years for problems related to being bishop. His outstanding quality seems to be theologian, not bishop.

    The Wikipedia article on him covers much more of his theological contributions, with many points of continuing import and relevance to this very day.

    I had hoped to discover more about him in terms of his actual practice of pastoral ministry and devotional life, but theological contribution dominates everything I read.

    I am pleased that HWHM seems to have walked the line successfully between telling us about him as “person” (especially his web of family influences) and as theologian and beleaguered bishop. The readings and collect were adequate, but greatest interest came from reading his theological contributions — even beyond the scope allowed by the parameters of HWHM’s available space and purpose. I am pleased he continues to be included, and pleased with the commemoration’s component parts. Thank you!

  4. Since we’re having saints share dates these days, wouldn’t putting the Cappadocians and their sister Macrina together make sense? Their careers and accomplishments were closely intertwined, and almost half of the text of each of their write-ups in HWHM is devoted to the other three, anyway. Then maybe some of the odd couples – such as Aidan and Cuthbert, C. S. Lewis and Cecilia, and Hugh and Robert Grosseteste – could be given individual dates.
    A “feast of the Cappadocians” would also allow the theft or paraphrase of Jaroslav Pelikan’s summary of them in The Melody of Theology:
    “During the fourth century of the Christian era, the Roman procuratorial province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor—like Florence in the fifteenth century or colonial Virginia in the eighteenth—became the scene for a remarkable outpouring of literary and philosophical genius, lending its name to three outstanding leaders of Christian thought, whose theological accomplishments were, and still are, classics of courageous speculation even as they represent the golden age of Greek Christian orthodoxy. . . .
    “As the heirs simultaneously of Greek learning and of Christian faith, they brought to their exposition and defense the theological and exegental insights they had inherited from the Greek patristic tradition, as well as the analytic and rhetorical skills that had come to them from the Greek philosophical tradition. . . . this combination of traditions made Cappadocian thought the intellectual fulfillment of the saying of Jesus: “Be wary as serpents, innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).”

  5. Steve Lusk’s suggestion makes a great deal of sense. I love the quotation from Pelikan, a favorite author of mine.

    Now a question to display my ignorance: is the gesture Gregory makes in the icon an Eastern form of blessing? Is there symbolic significance to the way he gestures? I love this place because I learn so much.

    • I know the answer … but thought that Wikipedia might say it more succinctly.

      Wikipedia says:
      In the Orthodox Church liturgical blessings are performed over people, objects, or are given at specific points during divine services. A priest or bishop usually blesses with his hand, but may use a blessing cross, candles, an icon, the Chalice or Gospel Book to bestow blessings, always making the Sign of the Cross therewith. When blessing with the hand, a priest uses his right hand, holding his fingers so that they form the Greek letters IC XC, the monogram of Jesus Christ. A bishop does the same, except he uses both hands, or may hold the crozier in his left hand, using both to make the Sign of the Cross. A bishop may also bless with special candlesticks known as the dikirion and trikirion.

  6. The title is unsatisfactory: there are too many other Gregorys. I suggest “Gregory Nyssen” (or “Gregory of Nyssa”).

    The subtitle is not helpful: we need to have a hint as to why he is in our calendar, I suggest simply “Theologian”. That he happened (however reluctantly!) to be a bishop is not why he is here, and is explained in the text of the bio.

    Line 3, fifth paragraph: use italic for the title of the book.

    Lines 4 & 5, fifth paragraph: use italic for both listed works (Life of Moses ).

    Lines 6 & 7, fifth paragraph: use italic for On First Principles.

    Line 5, 6th paragraph: add “Gregpry died on March 9, probably in Nyssa in about the year 394”.

  7. Thank you to whomever is putting these pages together. They are brief enough to capture my interest and, for some, further research elsewhere.

    Nigel, John, Suzanne- perhaps you should write your own elsewhere?

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