“My trials are merely a fraction of the spitting and blows Christ endured.”
Gregory Nazianzen wrote this in his Orations. As a student, Gregory traveled on a ship from Alexandria to Athens, and the ship encountered a terrible storm. Legend suggests that young Gregory uttered one of the famous prayers repeated by sailors through the years: “Lord, if you get me out of this, I’ll dedicate my life to your service.”
Unlike many people who forget their prayer as soon as they smell fresh cut grass, Gregory kept his promise. He studied rhetoric and philosophy and became a great defender of Trinitarian theology. After completing his education, he returned to his hometown in 361 and became a priest.
I cannot imagine serving in ministry or writing theology in fourth-century Cappadocia. Along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers of the Church. Yet, they are not memorable for simply being in the church at that time. There were other ministers and other theologians. We continue to remember them because we celebrate a triune God (Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer) who is three persons in one God.
Gregory Nazianzen writes with a devotional awareness of God’s presence. Problems do not confront humanity in isolation. Jesus faced what we face. Gregory writes, “We face these dangers for him and with his help.” He cites the crown of thorns and other inhumane ways Jesus suffered. Instead of projecting the difficulty we might bring to this suffering, he personalizes Jesus’ response. “My struggles aren’t worthy of the gentleness he showed in his passion. Was he betrayed with a kiss? He corrects us with a kiss, but doesn’t strike us” (Orations 33.14).
We can learn from the parents of the church. We can adopt a devotional view of Jesus that isn’t watered down with sentimentality. This is the savior of humanity who rebukes evil but loves unconditionally. I learn from his words:
“Let all who love people be loving in their actions, as Christ was in his sufferings. Nothing could be worse than refusing to forgive our neighbor of even the smallest wrongs when God died for us” (Orations 33.14).