St. Gregory the Theologian (325/330 – 389/390) was a 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, outstanding theologian and a carrier of the Christian Othodox faith.
Numerous accounts of St. Gregory’s life are found in the saint’s own works such as in his work About Myself, a poem About my Life, extensive correspondence with his relatives and friends and the works by his contemporaries.
St. Gregory the Theologian was descended from a noble and wealthy family. His mother, St. Nonna, was Christian. Under her influence the saint’s father, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (St. Gregory Sr.) converted to Christianity at the age of 45. Gregory’s parents were barren for a long time, and St. Nonna vowed to dedicate her child to God. St. Gregory the Theologian committed all of his life to carrying out this vow.
Gregory was born in the family estate at Arianzus (today’s Sivrikhisar, Turkey) in the vicinity of the city of Nazianzus in Cappadocia (four km to the northwest from today’s village of Bekârlar, Turkey). In the opinion of historians, St. Gregory was born in ca. 325–330 AD. St. Nonna raised her children in the Christian faith. Gregory attended best educational institutions of that time at Nazianzus and Caesarea in Cappadocia where he met St. Basil the Great who would later become his closest friend. To continue their education Gregory and his brother Caesarius went to Alexandria and then to Athens. In Athens, Gregory fundamentally studied rhetoric, Antique literature and philosophy. Upon finishing his education he taught rhetoric in Athens for a short time.
In 356–357, at the age of thirty, Gregory returned to Nazianzus and baptized. He had considered a monastic existence but was forced to help his father, the Bishop of Nazianzus, in managing his diocese and family estate. His father ordained him as presbyter and St. Basil the Great as the bishop of Samosata. Upon the death of his father, Gregory the Theologian was ordained the Bishop of Nazianzus and later the Archbishop of Constantinople.
Public activity was burdensome for St. Gregory who became involved in a struggle against Arianism and other heresies that were widespread on Christian Orient at that time. The opponents of the Nicene Creed resorted to intrigues and false accusations in their struggle. From time to time the saint had to leave his bishop see to study theology in seclusion. His works provided the basis for the teaching of Eastern Christianity.
St. Gregory the Theologian spent the rest of his life in his family estate praying and writing literary works. He died ca. in 389–390 leaving almost all of his property to the Church of Nazianzus to take care of the poor.
In Byzantine and Russian art St. Gregory the Theologian is depicted as an old man with gray or dark hair, with large receding hairline and a broad medium-length beard, dressed in monastic clothes – phelonion and omophorion, holding a Gospel book or a scroll. The earliest surviving depiction of the saint is found in wall paintings of the altar at Santa-Maria Antiqua Church dating from 649 AD. The earliest known image of St. Gregory in Russian medieval art is found in mosaic of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev (1037–1045). The image of the saint was included in the Deesis tier of the altar. One such example is a 1408 full-length icon of St. Gregory the Theologian from the Deesis tier at the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, now located at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. St. Gregory the Theologian was often depicted both individually and collectively, in a group of selected saints. After the establishment of the feast of the Three Saints in 1084, there appeared the icons depicting Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom frontally at full-length, such as in the Pskovian icon of The Three Saints of the late 16th – early 17th centuries from the State Historical Museum collections.
St. Gregory is commemorated on February 7 (January 25, O.S.) and February 12 (January 30, O.S.).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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