The Advent Journey With the Saints: St Gregory the Wonderworker

17/30 NOVEMBER

Saint Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea, was born in the city of Neocaesarea (northern Asia Minor) into a prominent pagan family (between 210 – 215), and his original name was Theodore.

After his elementary education, Saint Gregory and his brother Gregory, or Athēnódoros1 (according to some hagiological sources) they went to Beirut to study law. The great thinkers of antiquity were not able to quench his thirst for knowledge, however. Truth was revealed to him only in the Holy Gospel, and the young man became a Christian.

In order to continue his studies, Saint Gregory went to Alexandria, known at that time as a center for pagan and Christian learning. Eager to acquire knowledge, Gregory went to the Alexandrian Catechetical School, where the presbyter Origen taught. Origen was a famous teacher, possessing a great strength of mind and profound knowledge. Saint Gregory became a pupil of Origen. Afterward, the Saint wrote of his mentor: “This man received from God a sublime gift, to be an interpreter of the Word of God for people, to apprehend the Word of God, as God Himself did use it, and to explain it to people, insofar as they could understand it.” Saint Gregory studied for eight years with Origen, who baptized him.

Saint Gregory’s ascetical life, his continence, purity, and lack of covetousness aroused the envy of his conceited and sin-loving peers, pagans that they were, and they decided to slander Saint Gregory. Once, when he was conversing with philosophers and teachers in the city square, a notorious harlot came up to him and demanded payment for a sin he had supposedly committed with her. At first Saint Gregory gently remonstrated with her, saying that perhaps she had mistaken him for someone else. But the profligate woman would not be silenced. Then he asked a friend to give her the money. Just as the woman took the unjustified payment, she fell to the ground in a demonic fit, and the fraud was revealed. Saint Gregory prayed over her, and the demon was expelled. This was the first of his miracles.

After returning to Neocaesarea, the Saint fled from worldly affairs, into which influential townsmen persistently sought to push him. He went into the desert, where by fasting and prayer he attained great spiritual heights, as well as the gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy. Saint Gregory loved his life in the wilderness and wanted to remain in solitude until the end of his days, but the Lord willed otherwise.

Learning of Saint Gregory’s ascetical life, Bishop Phaίdēmos of the Cappadocian city of Amaseia, decided to make him Bishop of Neocaesarea. But foreseeing in spirit the intention of Bishop Phaίdēmos, the Saint hid himself from the hierarch’s messengers who were sent to find him. Then Bishop Phaίdēmos consecrated Saint in absentia as Bishop of Neocaesarea, entreating the Lord to bless the unusual ordination. Saint Gregory regarded the extraordinary event as a manifestation of God’s will, and he did not dare to protest. This episode in the life of Saint Gregory was recorded by Saint Gregory of Nyssa (January 10). He relates that Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea received the episcopal rank only after Bishop Phaίdēmos had ordained him to all the canonical ranks.

During this time, the heresy of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata began to spread. They taught falsely concerning the Holy Trinity. Saint Gregory prayed fervently and diligently imploring God and His most pure Mother to reveal the truth to him. The Most Holy Theotokos appeared to him, as radiant as the sun, and with her was the Apostle John the Theologian dressed in hierarchal vestments.

By the command of the Mother of God, the Apostle John taught the Saint the correct way to speak of the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Saint Gregory wrote down all that Saint John revealed to him. The Symbol of the Faith, as written down by Saint Gregory, is a great divine revelation in the history of the Church. The teaching concerning the Holy Trinity in Orthodox Theology is based on it. Subsequently, it was accepted by the Holy Fathers of the Church: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. Saint Gregory’s Symbol (Creed) was later examined and affirmed in the year 325 by the First Ecumenical Council, showing its enduring significance for Orthodoxy. Even those who disagreed with Saint Gregory regarded him as a second Moses.2

After becoming a hierarch, Saint Gregory journeyed to Neocaesarea. Along his way from Amaseia, he cast out the demons from a pagan temple, the priest of which he converted to Christ. That convert was a witness to yet another of the Saint’s miracles: at his word a large stone moved from its place.

The Saint’s sermons were direct, lively and fruitful. He taught and worked miracles in the name of Christ: he healed the sick, helped the needy, and settled disputes and complaints. Two brothers who shared an inheritance were unable to agree about their dead father’s property. A large lake was the cause of their dispute, for each brother wanted the lake for himself. Both of them gathered their friends together, and were ready to come to blows. Saint Gregory persuaded them to delay their fight until the following day, while he prayed all night long on the shore of the lake which had sparked the quarrel. When dawn came, everyone saw that the lake had dried up or gone underground. Now, by the Saint’s intense prayer, there was only a stream, and its course defined the boundary line. Another time, during the construction of a church, he commanded a hill to move and make room for the foundation to be dug.

When the persecution of Christians began under Emperor Decius (249-251), Saint Gregory led his flock to a faraway mountain. A certain pagan, who knew where the Christians were hiding, informed the persecutors, and soldiers surrounded the mountain. The Saint went out into an open place, raised his hands to heaven, and ordered his deacon to do the same. The soldiers searched the entire mountain, and several times they went right past those who were praying. Unable to see them, they gave up and went away. In the city they reported that there was nowhere to hide on the mountain. There were no people, just two trees standing next to each other. The informer was struck with amazement, he repented of his ways and became a devout Christian.

Saint Gregory returned to Neocaesarea after the end of the persecution. With his blessing, Church Feasts were established in honor of the martyrs who had suffered for Christ.

By the holiness of his life, his effective preaching, his miracles, and inspired guidance of his flock, the Saint increased the number of converts to Christ. When Saint Gregory first came to his See, there were only seventeen Christians in Neocaesarea. At the time of his repose, only seventeen pagans were left in the city.

Source: The Orthodox Church in America

Canon of the saint, the acrostic whereof is:

“I shall weave praise for Gregory the Wonderworker,” the composition of Theophanes, in Tone VIII.

Ode I, Irmos: The wonderworking staff of Moses, * striking and dividing the sea in the figure of a cross, * once drowned Pharaoh the pursuing charioteer, * while it saved the fleeing people of Israel * as they fled on foot, * chanting a hymn unto God.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

O father Gregory, do thou now splendidly show forth the divine activity of thy wonders in me, delivering me from the abyss of my transgressions and enlightening me with thy radiance, that I may hymn thee as is meet, O blessed one.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

As one who is skilful, sensible and wise, thou didst prefer nobility of soul to the passions of the flesh, O blessed one, industriously assembling the dogmas of wisdom whereby the soul that draweth nigh to God is nourished, O Gregory.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

When thou hadst acquired chastity as a sister, as a good companion, O Gregory, the wicked serpent, beholding thee, raised up hatred against thee. But thou didst put him to shame, O father, by thy longsuffering, healing the woman who was held fast in the clutches of passion.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Residing in a strange land, O venerable one, in thy virtue thou wast manifest to all as honourable, pious and God-loving, having received the gift of working wonders from God, whereby thou hast been known, O divinely eloquent one, shining forth in the world like the sun.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Thou wast put forth as a shoot from a royal root, O pure one, and, in a manner surpassing comprehension and thought, thou didst give birth from thy pure blood unto Christ the King, the incarnate Word of God, Who is of two natures, yet a single hypostasis.

Ode III, Irmos: O Christ fortify me on the rock of Thy commandments, * Thou who in the beginning didst establish the heavens with understanding * and didst establish the earth upon the waters, * for there is none holy save Thee, O only Lover of mankind.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Having cleansed thy mind of the turbulence of the passions, and being full of the love of wisdom and vision, thou wast shown to be magnificent, an abode of wisdom, enriched with the gift of prophecy, O Gregory.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Being conversant in the divinely inspired Scriptures, O all-blessed one, and having clearly chosen a different way of life, thou didst establish within thyself the single image of virtue, O divinely wise Gregory.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

O divinely revealed one, having obtained the mystery of theology through divine initiation, enlighten us, that we may honour the consubstantial Trinity, one in essence, uncreated and equally everlasting.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Instructed by God, in that thou didst seek Him with love, thou didst have the pure Theotokos Mary and the son of thunder as instructors in the mysteries, guiding thee to the light of the Trinity, O divinely eloquent one.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O pure Maiden, we all know thee to be the staff which budded forth Christ, the Flower of incorruption, and the golden censer who held in thine arms the Burning Coal of the divine Essence, O divinely blessed one.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Sessional Hymn, in Tone III, Spec. Mel. “Of the divine faith …”: Thou wast a new Moses in thy works, receiving the tablets of faith on the mountain of mystical divine revelation, setting down as law for the people the piety of the mystery of the Trinity, O Gregory. Wherefore, all we, the faithful, honor thy memory, asking for great mercy through thee.  

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion, in Tone III: Thou wast the divine tabernacle of the Word, * O only most pure Virgin Mother * who surpassed the angels in purity. * By the divine waters of thy supplications * cleanse me who, more than all others, * have become dust, defiled by carnal transgressions; ** and grant me great mercy, O pure one.

Ode IV, Irmos: Thou, O Lord, art my strength and Thou art my power, * Thou art my God and Thou art my joy, * Thou Who, while never leaving the bosom of Thy Father, * hast visited our poverty. * Therefore, with the Prophet Habbakuk I cry unto Thee, * ‘Glory to Thy power, O Lover of mankind!’

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Having ploughed the good earth, O divinely wise father, and sown the seed of the Word, thou dost ever now evangelically increase thy yield an hundredfold, O Gregory, by thy teachings bringing to God those who chant: Glory to Thy power, O Lover of mankind!

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Thy life, shining forth like lightning, O father, hath dispelled the falsehood of the demons; for their darkness could not withstand the light of thy virtues. Wherefore, the minister of spiritually pernicious deception, moved like the stone he beheld, was enlightened.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Thou wast deemed worthy to behold the darkness of the most divine Light, O father, and, having received the divinely written law like Moses, thou didst obtain precision in theology. Hence, thou hast been shown to be a law-giver of the Church of Christ, O divinely wise Gregory.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Having turned away from the foolish talk of the rhetors and being enlightened by the word of grace, O father, thou didst truly receive the apostles’ power over the demons, for the prince of darkness fled before thy brilliant splendour.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

From of old the ark prefigured thee, O all-immaculate one, who received within thy womb the divinely written Law, ineffably conceiving the life-creating Word, Who doth richly nourish the souls of those who cry aloud: Glory to Thy power, O Lover of mankind!

Ode V, Irmos: O Light never-waning, * why hast Thou turned Thy face from me * and why hath the alien darkness surrounded me, * wretched though I be? * But do Thou guide my steps I implore Thee * and turn me back towards the light of Thy commandments.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Having loosened hardened hearts with the husbandry of thy words, thou didst cast upon them the divine seed, O hierarch, bringing forth an abundant harvest, the salvation of the faithful, unto the Redeemer, O divinely eloquent one.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Phaedimus, the servant of God, aflame with zeal, piously trusting in God, Who knoweth all things, and in thine honourable life, O divinely eloquent father Gregory, ordained thee even though thou hadst not come to him.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

With the streams of thy precepts thou didst quench idolatrous immolations, and established the faithful through thy teachings, O all-wise one, having, like Samuel, ascended the mountain through visions, and being also like an oak in thy steadfastness.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

O divinely wise and holy hierarch, by thy prayers deliver me from evil and grievous circumstances, and rend asunder the handwriting of my transgressions, O father, for thou art a priest who hast received from God the power to loose transgressions.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O Virgin, thou wast adorned with the most-pure beauties of thy virginity, covering the misshapen shame of the first Eve, having given birth to Christ, Who bestoweth upon those who honour thee the garment of immortality.

Ode VI, Irmos: Cleanse me, O Saviour, * for many are mine iniquities; * lead me up from the abyss of evils I pray Thee, * for unto Thee have I cried, * and Thou hast hearkened unto me, * O God of my salvation.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

The lake which was the cause of contention between two brethren didst thou dry up in a miraculous fashion; and thou didst cause the rushing of the river to cease, O all-wise one, and when thou didst plant thy staff, it took root and grew at thy divine command, O Gregory.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Godly zeal consumed thee, O thou who art most noetically rich in grace, for unable to endure the sight of an insult to God, O divinely eloquent one, thou didst destroy the vain-minded one by thy prayers.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

The wretched and impious Jew, who wished to destroy thee, himself died, showing thee forth as a fulfiller of the dogmas of God, Who doth glorify thee, O divinely wise Gregory.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Spirit, Who worketh all things, came down upon thee, O all-immaculate one, and the Word of God made His abode within thee, ineffably becoming flesh, yet remaining unchanged.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Kontakion, in Tone II: Spec. Mel.“Seeking the highest …”: Receiving the power to work many miracles, * thou didst terrify the demons with awesome signs, * and dispelled the diseases of men, O all-wise Gregory. * And thou wast called the wonderworker, ** receiving this title from thy works.

Ikos: Where shall I, wretched as I am, begin to weave praises, beholding so many and most wondrous things? If I begin with the life of the venerable one, I will not in any way be able to proceed; for his divine life surpasseth comprehension. And if I begin with his miracles, I shall be ashamed to try to proceed any further, for they are more numerous than the sands of the sea. For this cause he is called the wonderworker, receiving this title because of his works.

Ode VII, Irmos: Once in Babylon the fire stood in awe * of God’s condescension; * for which sake the youths in the furnace, * dancing with joyous steps as in a meadow, chanted: * O God of our fathers, Blessed art Thou!

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

The boast of the fathers and the pride of the holy instructors, the luminary of the Church and immovable pillar of piety hast thou been revealed to be, O Gregory, who dost cry aloud: O God of our fathers, Blessed art Thou!

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Shining forth in miracles, thou didst enlighten the whole world, O divinely wise Gregory; wherefore, having assembled together, we bless thee, nurtured by thy words and chanting: O God of our fathers, Blessed art Thou!

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

O divinely wise one, thou hast poured forth healing upon all the infirm; for most abundant and wonderworking grace was poured forth through thy mouth, whereby thou didst cry: O God of our fathers, Blessed art Thou!

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Now all things are filled with divine light through thee, O most pure one; for thou hast been revealed to be the door through which God hath communed with the world, enlightening those who cry with faith: O God of our fathers, Blessed art Thou!

Ode VIII, Irmos: In his wrath the Chaldean Tyrant made the furnace blaze, * with heat fanned sevenfold for the servants of God; * but when he perceived that they had been saved by a greater power * he cried aloud to the Creator and Redeemer; * ‘ye children bless, ye priests praise, * ye people, supremely exalt Him throughout all ages’.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Enriched by thee with the radiance of the consubstantial and honoured Trinity and celebrating now thy festival, O Gregory, we ask that we may be illumined with wonderworking grace, crying aloud to the Master: Ye children bless; ye priests hymn; ye people supremely exalt Him throughout all ages!

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Receiving the radiance of the sovereign Godhead like a newly revealed mirror, thou hast illumined the world with rays of light, beaming down Orthodoxy upon those who melodiously chant: Ye children bless; ye priests hymn; ye people supremely exalt Him throughout all ages!

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Protected by God, O all-wise one, thou wast preserved in hiding on the mountain for those who honour God, as a source of piety, like another Moses the law-giver; and thou didst teach them to hymn the Creator and Redeemer, singing: Ye children bless; ye priests hymn; ye people supremely exalt Him throughout all ages!

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Thou wast the abode of the unwaning Light, O most pure one, shining with the beauties of virginity and illumining all who from the depths of their souls confess thee to be the true Theotokos and who chant: Ye children bless; ye priests hymn; ye people supremely exalt Him throughout all ages!

Ode IX, Irmos: Heaven was stricken with awe, * and the ends of the earth were filled with amazement, * for God hath appeared in the flesh, * and thy womb was rendered more spacious than the heavens. * Wherefore, the ranks of men and of angels * magnify thee as the Theotokos.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

Shining with the light of thy most exemplary life, thou dost now stand before the great Light, crowned as a victor with divinely wrought miracles, O divinely wise wonderworker, venerable hierarch, father Gregory, thou beacon of the Church and adornment of the Orthodox.

Holy father, Gregory, pray to God for us.

In thy supplications do thou now ask that the royal elect and sanctified priesthood be guided aright, O wonderworker, and that those who now faithfully celebrate thy memory receive the Kingdom of heaven and be deemed worthy of divine gladness.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Having put down the attacks of the demons and subjected the reasoning of thy flesh, O wonderworker, as a venerable and guileless hierarch, arrayed in the garment of righteousness, thou dost stand before the throne of the King of all with boldness, O all-blessed one.

Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O Virgin Mother of God, thou art revealed as she who, in a manner transcending nature, gaveth birth in the flesh to the good Word, Whom the Father poured forth from His heart before all ages, in that He is good. Him do we now know as more exalted than all beings, even though He hath been clothed in a body.

Troparion, in Tone VIII: By vigilance in prayer and continuance in the working of miracles, * thou didst acquire the name of thy worthy deeds. * Yet pray thou to Christ God, O father Gregory, ** that He enlighten our souls, lest we sleep unto death.