After his baptism at 30, Gregory gladly accepted his friend Basil’s invitation to join him
in a newly founded monastery. The solitude was broken when Gregory’s father, a bishop, needed help
in his diocese and estate. It seems that Gregory was ordained a priest practically by force, and
only reluctantly accepted the responsibility. He skillfully avoided a schism that threatened when
his own father made compromises with Arianism.
At 41, Gregory was chosen suffragan bishop of
Caesarea and at once came into conflict with Valens, the emperor, who supported the Arians. An
unfortunate by-product of the battle was the cooling of the friendship of two saints. Basil, his
archbishop, sent him to a miserable and unhealthy town on the border of unjustly created divisions
in his diocese. Basil reproached Gregory for not going to his see.
When protection for
Arianism ended with the death of Valens, Gregory was called to rebuild the faith in the great see of
Constantinople, which had been under Arian teachers for three decades. Retiring and sensitive, he
dreaded being drawn into the whirlpool of corruption and violence. He first stayed at a friend’s
home, which became the only orthodox church in the city. In such surroundings, he began giving the
great sermons on the Trinity for which he is famous. In time, Gregory did rebuild the faith in the
city, but at the cost of great suffering, slander, insults and even personal violence. An interloper
even tried to take over his bishopric.
His last days were spent in solitude and austerity. He wrote religious poetry,
some of it autobiographical, of great depth and beauty. He was acclaimed simply as “the