The Many St. Gregorys

Last week I celebrated my name day/feast day – St. Gregory the Theologian – and yesterday was the feast of the Three Hierarchs, of which Gregory the Theologian is one of them. I received some wishes yesterday for what is sort of a secondary name day feast for me. In all cases I am very thankful for people remembering; it seems that we are slowly losing the name day tradition, and this is a sad thing. In addition to the greetings I also heard from a lot of people that they were confused about the many different St. Gregorys – there are indeed a lot of saints bearing this name! Here is a quick rundown on some of the more well known saints (all dates refer to the Orthodox feast – in some cases they have a different date in the Roman Catholic church):

-The vast majority of people with my name in the Greek Orthodox Church celebrate St. Gregory the Theologian (Jan. 25), who lived in the 4th century. He is sometimes known as Gregory of Nazianzus, but this more properly refers to his father, Gregory the Elder, who is also a saint.

-St. Gregory the Illuminator (Sep. 30), active in the 3rd and 4th century, is the patron saint of Armenia. He brought Christianity to that country, which was the first to adopt Christianity as its official religion. The Armenian version of Gregory is Krikor. Mike Connors, who passed away almost exactly a year ago, starred in Mannix and his real name was Krekor Ohanian. I always wondered why he didn’t just go by Gregory Ohanian, but apparently Hollywood changed his name because it was too close to George O’Hanlon, an old-time Hollywood actor who, most importantly to me, voiced George Jetson in The Jetsons.

-St. Gregory the Great (March 12) was active in the 6th century and is also knows as Gregory, Pope of Rome and Gregory the Dialogist. This latter term is how he is known in the Eastern church and refers to his authorship of The Dialogues. Some years back our Metropolitan distributed to us a translation of one of his works which argued that women should NOT refrain from receiving communion when they are menstruating. I blogged about this at the time and will try to repost.

-St. Gregory of Nyssa (Jan. 10) is hugely popular in Orthodox circles and really in many Christian jurisdictions for his theological writings. He was active in the 4th century. His brother was St. Basil, and the two of them, along with Gregory the Theologian, are known as the Cappadocian Fathers – a reference to where they were from and were active.

-St. Gregory the Wonderworker (Nov. 17) was yet another saint active in the 3rd century and in Asia Minor. He is probably the coolest guy in this list because there is an air of mystery about him; few of his writings survive but his life is well attested and he was known for making miracles, hence his title.

-St. Gregory of Palamas (second Sunday of Lent). Gregory is the most recent saint on this list – he reposed in the mid-14th century. He was a key figure in the Hesycast controversy – a dispute in the Church about contemplative prayer (Hesycast comes from the Greek word for silence). We celebrate him on the second Sunday of Lent, which follows the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The idea is that his work was a continuation of the work of those who won the day in the Iconoclastic controversy.

There are many more saints who bear the name of Gregory. Like most if not all Greeks, I celebrate St. Gregory the Theologian, but I am thankful for name day wishes whenever any of these great saints are celebrated 🙂

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January 31st, 2018 by Fr. Greg

Haters Gonna Hate

I am in the stretch run of my doctorate, and in the process I have been going through old emails from the classroom portion of the program.  During the eight classes we were usually responsible for posting reflections on a weekly basis.  In the next few weeks I will post some of them; here is one, from a class called Ministry In A Secular World…

While the focus of this class is on ministering in a secular age or environment, this week’s readings from Mark – chapters 2 and 3 – deal with fanatical believers rather than secularists. This is good, because we have to deal with the problem of hateful fanatics as well as the secular culture. In fact, very often the fanatics keep people who have marinated in the secular culture away from the Church. A good example of this is on Facebook, where there are a bunch of Orthodox groups. Most of them are great. One very popular one is called, ominously, Traditional Orthodox (Canonical).

First of all, if you need to label yourself canonical you likely aren’t. In addition to this, the profile picture for the group is an icon of Jesus wielding a sword. I imagine this is in reference to the passage in Matthew about coming to bring the sword, but it is scary. The stuff that is posted is also scary. I was recently involved in a lengthy thread on the term “Papist”, which the people in the group were using. I explained that this is an offensive term, and their response was like “So? It is technically correct”. The discussion ended with people debating if I was a real priest because I don’t have a beard and I wear a “Roman dog collar”. The scariest part of this group is that non-clergy are part of it and many are new to Orthodoxy. Can you imagine investigating the faith and seeing these discussions? There is zero love in the group. I remain a part of it so I can keep an eye on what is going on and also to be a troublemaker with the haters.

Christianity’s destiny was set when Paul set his sights on the west (although we need to remember that for close to a thousand years the eastern church – the Church of the East – thrived and had missions all the way to Mongolia). But as the account in Mark reminds us, Christ had to deal with insiders who hated the truth. These people remain with us to this day, and they are an obstacle to ministering to our own people as well as to reaching out to the unchurched who live in a secular environment.

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January 29th, 2018 by Fr. Greg

God And Clothes

I have a new post in the “Our Faith” section of the church website going up soon.  Here is an excerpt – you can read the rest there:

We are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their disobedience to God. The story forms the basis of our Orthodox understanding of humanity – we are imperfect beings striving to continuously improve and live holy lives. One of the many facets of the story is the introduction of the idea of shame – Adam and Eve, after sinning, become aware that they are naked and, in the brief verse 21 in Genesis 3, we learn that God made “garments of skin” for them to wear. This is an interesting detail (and in the Bible the details have meaning – they are never just added for color). Why did God choose to make clothes from animal skins rather than from a plant-based material?

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January 4th, 2018 by Fr. Greg