Gregory Nazianzen: Doctor of Vigilance

I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to study Greek and Syriac patristic theology in Rome near the locations where so many saintly theologians lived and composed their works. When I consider our rich tradition of saint scholars that inspired generations of Christians to progress more rapidly in spiritual maturity, one towering figure stands out as a guide to the essence of Christian vigilance: Gregory Nazianzen, who perhaps we could call “the Doctor of Vigilance.”

A fourth-century Patriarch of Constantinople and legendary theological poet, Gregory Nazianzen, left us a timeless body of work on the importance of vigilance. His eloquent words resonate through the ages, breaking presumptions and sparking fervent desires. As we progress through the season of Advent, Gregory Nazianzen becomes a wisdom figure, guiding us to ever more perfect dispositions of watchfulness and readiness.

The following is an excerpt from Gregory’s poem concerning “The parables of Christ according to all the Evangelists” (PG 37.502–504)”:

Let me not be found among the guests wearing their wedding dress, myself in filthy garb, and then bound hands and feet, and so to fall, cut off from friends, the bridal chamber, and marriage. Or when the ten pure virgins, with burning torches keeping watch, looked out with lights unsleeping for their ruler, bridegroom, beloved God, so that, aflame, they went to meet the joyful one approaching, don’t put my mind among those dull and senseless ones, who labor on when Christ is soon to come, lest I notice all my torches’ feeble flame and seek the flowing oil of the light of life too late.

Let not locked doors restrain me from the wedding, while the mingled Word, within, by using great chains of desire, gives glory and courage to the pure of heart. And should my king return again from the wedding feast, to look over the waiting and those not waiting, me he’d find among the waiting, and would praise me for my fear, just like a faithful servant, and find me mild among the ones who guard, and one who gives a reliable account and grain to both in fairness… may you not set me numbered with the goats, but rather with the sheep, upon your right hand, and may your left wait for the worse.(1)

Advent is a period of heightened attentiveness and of preparation for the end. In view of this point of no return, Gregory's poignant words cease to be mere guidance; they become a compelling call to transcend superficial adornments and technological diversions. Instead he inspires us to embark on a courageous pursuit of the Divine King, directing the focus of our mental faculties toward the approaching, unexpected Divine Judge. Let us embrace this enduring counsel, cultivating a keen intellect and a pure heart, finely attuned to the ever-present divine essence within the depths of our inner lives.

(1) Gregory Nazianzen. Transl. Brian Dunkle. Essay. In St. Gregory of Nazianzen: Poems on Scripture. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012.

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