Today we honor St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzas. They were Greek speaking bishops in the middle of the fourth century. We usually think of them in conjunction with another Gregory, Basil’s brother, who became the bishop of Nyssa. The three had studied together in Alexandria and Athens.
My interest in them was aroused when I came across St. Makrina, the older sister of Basil and Gregory of Nyssa. I read that Makrina had turned her estate into a Theological think-tank for the three young men. She encouraged them to ponder the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
Makrina put me in mind of Ireland’s Lady Gregory who lived fifteen hundred years later. Lady Gregory, as a wealthy Protestant child, had an Irish-speaking nurse who filled her imagination with Irish legends. After her husband, Lord Gregory, died she turned her estate at Coole in Galway into a haven where the writers of Ireland’s renaissance literature. I visited there, getting a kick out of finding the tree where W. B. Yeats, Sean O’Casey, and John Millington Synge had carved their names.
Makrina’s brothers, Basil and Gregory, along with Gregory Nazianzas, were to become noted bishops, but it was their collaboration as Makrina’s guests that benefited us most. They worked out the deeper meanings in passages of John’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. As well, the three of them took to appearing together as a debating team. In those debates they corrected the mistakes of Semi-Arians who saw the Son’s substance as only similar to the Father’s. They straightened out the followers of Bishop Appolinaris who had denied the human nature of their Lord.