Between Two Fears
Why Gregory Nazianzen Ran Away from the Priesthood: A Reflection on His Second Oration
by Addison H. Hart
On Easter Day in A.D. 362, in the Cappadocian town of Nazianzus, a young priest stood nervously before a sparse congregation to deliver what would in time be known as his First Oration. The number of those in attendance was low—hardly to be expected on the Church’s Day of Days—for the simple reason that this particular congregation was angry with this particular priest. They were angry with the young Gregory Nazianzen, the son of their own Bishop Gregory the elder, because he had run away months before, abandoning his flock, abandoning his father and bishop, as a reaction to his sudden ordination to the priesthood, something that he had not at all expected or desired. Indeed St. Gregory Nazianzen, still in his early thirties, regarded his ordination at the hands of his father as an act of “noble tyranny,”1 and his response was to pack his bags and skip town. He wanted to live the contemplative life, and so he went to Pontus to join his monastic friend, Basil of Caesarea. But now, after time in Pontus for reflection upon his actions, he had returned to his father’s side in Nazianzus to exercise his priestly ministry.
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Addison H. Hart is retired from active ministry as parish priest and university chaplain. He is the author of Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God and The Yoke of Jesus: A School for the Soul in Solitude (both from Eerdmans). His forthcoming book is a study of the Sermon on the Mount. He lives and writes in Norheimsund, Norway.
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