Saturday, November 08, 2014

Broken Heroes: The Life and Ministry of Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-c. 390) was born into a family of moderate wealth and influence that resided in the Roman province of Cappadocia (eastern Turkey). His parents were ardent Christians, in fact, his father (also named Gregory) was bishop of the small town of Nazianzus where he built a church and served the Lord for some forty-five years.

The younger Gregory, born near the beginning of his father’s ministry, was the second of three children. Along with his younger brother, he was educated in several great centers of learning, including Cappadocian Caesarea, Palestinian Caesarea, Alexandria (Egypt), and Athens (Greece). While on the way to Athens, the ship on which Gregory traveled encountered a violent storm and thus he prayed that if the Lord would deliver him, he would devote his life to the service of the Lord. The Lord did indeed deliver Gregory, and he would eventually use him, along with several others, to protect and prosper the church.

At Athens, Gregory met, roomed, and studied with Basil of Caesarea who became a life-long friend and partner in ministry. He eventually completed his studies and returned to his home town to live a quiet, spiritual, and scholarly life. However, in the year 360, his father began to press him to become an ordained pastor so that he could help shepherd the church in Nazianzus. He was later appointed to this post against his wishes, but instead of embracing the position, he fled to the remote area of Pontus where he hoped to live a life of solitude.

But as is often the case with those who run from the call of God, he soon broke under the weight of conviction, embraced his calling, and wrote a treatise entitled, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus, which speaks of the weight of ministry and the valid reasons one might flee from it. The inner turmoil that drove him to Pontus, plagued him all the days of his life, but his sense of duty and his love for the body of Christ compelled him to press through the pain and fulfill his calling, his promise to the Lord.

In the course of time, Gregory’s friend Basil rose to prominence and persuaded him to be appointed bishop of Sasima so that he could help defend the church against the onslaught of Arianism. The Arians taught that Jesus was created from nothing by God the Father, but Gregory and others, following Athanasius, argued that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are of the same substance; that they are equally God though they differ in roles. They were right, and by the grace of God, they rose up to save the church from grievous error.

Gregory was later appointed Bishop of Constantinople against his wishes, but while there he turned the jurisdiction from Arianism to orthodox Christianity. He later resigned amidst much turmoil, and returned home to spend his remaining days in prayer, study, and writing. Gregory is a hero of the church for whom we should give thanks and praise to God.

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