January 2, 2015 - SAINTS BASIL AND GREGORY NAZIANZAN:

EPHESIANS 4:1-7,11-13; MATTHEW 23:1-12

SAINTS BASIL AND GREGORY NAZIANZAN, both of whom we commemorate in this Eucharistic liturgy today, are, like Peter and Paul, honored as a pair.  Their lives of witness were so joined as to be inseparable in the testimony they gave to God's redemptive plan of salvation.  Just as we find striking differences of temperament that was reflected in the ministry of the two outstanding apostles of the primitive Church, so also Basil and Gregory proved to have such different characters that after their early years as students, they gradually went their separate ways in their service of the Church.  Basil was a decidedly more aggressive and assertive personality in the practical affairs of his Episcopal charge than was his associate in the early years of their friendship.  During the period of persecution by the Roman Emperor, Basil fearlessly opposed the government.  By his confident demeanor he so impressed the hostile governing powers that he managed to maintain the liberty of the Church in his area of influence.

Gregory, on the other hand, less endowed for the political conflicts so prominent in these years, yet has no less a role to play in the life of the Church, Indeed, he became the more influential of the two in the domain of dogma where he attained to such prominence as to be designated Gregory the Theologian, his title in the Eastern Church.  For it was he who, through prayer and ardent studious meditation, was able to give the classic expression to Catholic faith in God as the trinity of equal Divine Persons.  In a serious of five Homilies he preached to the Second Ecumenical Council, held at Ephesus Gregory managed to present the faith in a manner that eventually gained the acceptance of the universal Church.  In the course of dealing with the conflicts associated with the establishing of this central issue of Christ's revelation the tensions and criticisms that he encountered, led to his decision to resign the Presidency of the Council.   His retirement left him free to live the quiet life of prayerful meditation that he had felt strongly attracted to all along.  Gregory devoted himself to writing his autobiography at two periods of his conflicted ministry.  Both versions proved to be so replete with significant material that they have been preserved through the centuries.  There is a passage in one of these accounts that gives us still today a sense of knowing him as a person.

Yesterday, ground down by my distress, alone, far from others, I found myself in a shady wood, devouring my heart.  For I love very much this remedy in my sufferings - to speak to my heart in silence.  The wafting of the air murmured in concert with the song of birds, dispensing from the height of the branching trees an agreeable torpor, balm to the bruised heart.... I nonetheless, bore my distress as best I might I did not defend myself against all that, for the spirit, enveloped with affliction, refuses to go forth to meet joy.  For me then, in the storm of my whirling heart I held this debate in contradictory words: who was I, who am I and what will I be? I have no idea and the man whose wisdom surpasses mine knows no better than I: enveloped in a cloud, here and there I wander, having nothing, even in dream, of what I desire... Gregory of Nazianzus (cited in Jean Bernardi, "St. Gregoire de Naziance"., Paris: Cerf ,1995, 315).

As we commemorate these two Fathers of the Church in this Eucharist today, we are given the example of great gifts so fully dedicated to the service of the Church.  May their intercession obtain for us the grace of courageous fidelity to the Catholic faith that Jesus who renews his sacrifice here today? unites us with his Father in the Holy Spirit.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger