(Icon of Gregory of Nazianzus courtesy of Wikipedia)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 9, 2012)
Readings for the feast day of Gregory of Nazianzus, May 9:
Psalm 37:3-6, 32-33
Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.
--collect from Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 365
Although we remember Gregory today mostly because of his golden-tongued oratorical skills and his ecclesiastical duties as Bishop of Constantinople, it's actually one of his big failures in life that catches my attention--his falling out with his friend Basil the Great. It was a breach that never was repaired, from the time Gregory was sent by Basil to be Bishop of Sasima in 372 until Basil's death in 379.
Basil and Gregory had a great deal of history together, first as fellow students, later as co-ascetics and co-authors of the Philokalia, an anthology of Origen's writings. Their combined theological minds were a great force in the understanding of Trinitarian theology at a time Christianity was threatened by the Arian heresies. But despite Gregory's intellectual prowess in all this, he carried some serious wounds and some heavy resentments. All Gregory ever wanted was to be a simple monk. Yet, despite his wishes, his father insisted that he be ordained as a presbyter. One can imagine that these resentments he held towards his father "primed the pump" when Basil, by that time, Bishop of Caesarea, had Gregory ordained as Bishop of Sasima. This appears to have been a strategic move on Basil's part to put a heavy theological hitter in a spot that would strengthen his position against Anthimus, Bishop of Tyana, but it was definitely in the boonies. Gregory once described Sasima as, "an utterly dreadful, pokey little hole; a paltry horse-stop on the main road... devoid of water, vegetation, or the company of gentlemen."
Gregory never got over this slight, as he perceived it. The move irreparably tore their friendship asunder, and it was probably the theological equivalent to the breakup of the Beatles.
The story of their breakup is a reminder how old resentments and ego can create a never ending feedback loop of blame, where two people continually pace in a circle, eyeing the other, but never getting around to taking a step forward to break the pattern. What great theological truths might have been uncovered or what knowledge could have been revealed, had they patched up their differences well enough to collaborate again?
All of us, when we think back and allow ourselves to touch our own woundedness, can recall times of irreconcilable differences with people who once were very close to us. Ex-intimate partners, of course, quickly come to mind, but we are not exploring this fully if we only confine our thoughts to "those whom with we've shared sexual intimacy." It's ironic that our jargon these days talks about BFF's--"Best friends forever," when at some point, the truth is very few BFF's seem to be around a decade, let alone "forever."
How many times has a resentment towards another person or situation come out sideways in our present relationships? What great works could be accomplished if we could reconcile with those people again? How many times does our inability to reconcile seem bound up in our own feelings more than the slight that actually caused the breach? But more importantly, how do we take that first step towards the green grass in the center, when we've perfected pacing in a circle?