Thursday, January 25, 2007

January 25: Saint Gregory the Theologian

Today the Church remembers St Gregory Nazianzen, one of the few Fathers to be honored with the title "Theologian." In the icon to the left, he is pictured with St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom, the Three Hierarchs, who will be commemorated together on January 30.

On of my favorite passages from St Gregory's writings is this excerpt from his second Easter oration, in which he discusses the "ransom theory" of the atonement -- that is, to whom the precious Blood of Christ was offered on the Cross:

"Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth enquiring into. To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was It shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice.

We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause?

If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, then it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether!

But if to God the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed. And next, on what principle did the Blood of His only-begotten Son delight the Father, who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being sacrificed by his father, [Abraham,] but changed the sacrifice by putting a ram in the place of the human victim? (See Gen 22).

Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the incarnation, and because Humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant (i.e., the devil) and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, whom it is manifest He obeys in all things."