Gregory of Nyssa 335 – 394

In 03 Nicean Fathers on 2011/11/28 at 11:11 PM

Gregory of Nyssa is often refered to at “the Theologian” and Vatican II called him the “Father of Fathers.”  His older brother, Basil,  was considered “the doer” and their mutual friend, Gregory Nazianzen, “the thinker”.  Nyssa, was “the dreamer” .  He is considered to be the most speculative and systematic theologian of the trio; and was the church’s leading theologian against Arianism.

His grandmother, the saintly Macrina the Elder, was a confessor of the Faith, a victim of the last violent persecution.  This godly grandmother had a powerful influence on the mind of Gregory; a role that was later taken on by his sister.  Macrina the Younger who tried to keep him in line. Gregory wrote that she was:  “my teacher in all things”.

Gregory married,  and Macrina, aided by her sister-in-law tamed the wild streak in Gregory, eventually subduing him and his friend, Peter, who also later became a bishop.

Gregory would write a work, Life of Macrina, in which he details the sanctity of the entire life of his sister.  He also composed a “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” which had the form of a discourse with his dying sister.  Macrina  appears as teacher and speak of the soul, death and resurrection.  He venerated her as does the Eastern Church.  Macrina developed concept of social welfare in connection with religious community mainly dedicated to works of mercy and serving in hospitals.

Originally a teacher of rhetoric, Gregory often lamented the ignorance of his ignorance of his students.  When he was widowed, at Basil’s recommendation, Gregory entered the religious life.  Later, Gregory was chosen bishop of Nyssa in Armenia, and he was a major figure in the Council of Constantinople in 381.  This Council confirmed the decrees against Arius that the Council of Nicea had concluded.

Gregory of Nyssa is known more for what he thought than for what he did. He wrote numerous biblical commentaries, apologetic manual and countless pastoral letters.  His biography of his sister Macrina is considered one of the most important documents of the early church regarding the leadership and role women, virgins and widows.

Macrina had persuaded her mother, once all the children were grown, to establish a religious community on the family estate. A pious group of women studied the Gospels in a scholarly manner and they prayerfully meditated on its truths.  These women received excellent intellectual training.  They supported themselves by copying manuscripts. Macrina, the Mother Teresa of her age, developed the concept of social welfare connected to her religious community which also dedicated itself for works of mercy in brother Basil’s Basileaiad.  This is the model followed by Women’s Religious communities in the Orthodox Church.

Even today, they wear the same habit, and if you look carefully at  the film of the Coronation of the present Queen Elizabeth you will see her widowed mother-in-law, Princess Alice of Battenburg, in the habit of an Orthodox nun.


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