Orthodox America

St. Gregory the Great

540-604 A.D. Commemorated March 12

This Father of the Church was born in Rome around 540 A.D. It was said that his education was that of a "saint among saints" because his mother, Sylvia, and all four aunts all became saints. At the age of 30 he served as prefect of the city of Rome-an important civil responsibility-but in the year 574 he underwent a total conversion of life, sold his estates, and used the money for the Church. As his biographer wrote: "He who had been wont to go about the city clad in silk and jewels now was clad in a worthless garment and serving at the altar of the Lord."

After serving for some years as a representative of the Church of Rome in Constantinople, where he became well acquainted with the life of the Eastern Church, in 590 he was elected bishop of the city of Rome, and from this great position was able to greatly expand the missionary activities of the Church, including the sending of a mission to England under St. Augustine of Canterbury. In spite of constant ill health, his 14 years as Pope of Rome were extraordinarily fruitful and energetic.

When he died on March 12, 604, he left behind a body of writings consisting of the celebrated "Dialogues" on the saints of Italy (for which he is generally known in the Orthodox Church as the "Dialogist"), a renowned handbook of "Pastoral Care", homilies on the Gospels and on the book of Job, as well as letters, prayers, hymns, and sermons. He carefully preserved and handed down the Church's liturgical tradition; to this day in the Orthodox Church the liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (celebrated on weekdays of Great Lent) bears his name, and the ancient liturgical chant of the West is still known as "Gregorian Chant".

The following is an excerpt from a homily given on Luke 14: 16-24, called "The Supper of God and the Soul".

There is this difference, Dearly Beloved Brethren, between the delights of the body and those of the soul, that the delights of the body, when we do not possess them, awaken in us a great desire for them; but when we possess them and enjoy them to the full they straight-away awaken in us a feeling of aversion. But spiritual delights work in the opposite way. While we do not possess them we regard them with dislike and aversion; but once we partake of them, the more do we hunger for them....For spiritual delights, when they fill the soul, increase in us the desire of them; and the more we savor them, the more we come to know what we should eagerly love.

"And so we do not know these delights, because we have not come to savor them. For who can love what he does not know? Because of this the Psalmist speaks to us, and exhorts us, saying: 'O taste and see that the Lord is good' (Ps. 33: 9)!