In honor of the Annunciation to the Most Pure Mother of God on March 25th, or Lady Day as it is also known (for a sermon about this great feast day: https://www.holytrinityorthodox.com/iconoftheday/los/March/25-01.htm), we offer a couple of essays this week on women. Today is the second: the funeral oration of St Gregory the Theologian (+389) for his sister St Gorgonia (+372). We hope all Southern women (and men!) will be spurred on to greater virtue by the recounting of St Gorgonia’s life in the oration of her brother. Here is just a part of it:
11. . . . Of her prudence and piety no adequate account can be given, nor many examples found besides those of her natural and spiritual parents, who were her only models, and of whose virtue she in no wise fell short, with this single exception most readily admitted, that they, as she both knew and acknowledged, were the source of her goodness, and the root of her own illumination. What could be keener than the intellect of her who was recognized as a common adviser not only by those of her family, those of the same people and of the one fold, but even by all men round about, who treated her counsels and advice as a law not to be broken? What more sagacious than her words? What more prudent than her silence? Having mentioned silence, I will proceed to that which was most characteristic of her, most becoming to women, and most serviceable to these times. Who had a fuller knowledge of the things of God, both from the Divine oracles, and from her own understanding? But who was less ready to speak, confining herself within the due limits of women? Moreover, as was the bounden duty of a woman who has learned true piety, and that which is the only honourable object of insatiate desire, who, as she, adorned temples with offerings, both others and this one, which will hardly, now she is gone, be so adorned again? Or rather, who so presented herself to God as a living temple? Who again paid such honor to Priests, especially to him who was her fellow soldier and teacher of piety, whose are the good seeds, and the pair of children consecrated to God.
12. Who opened her house to those who live according to God with a more graceful and bountiful welcome? And, which is greater than this, who bade them welcome with such modesty and godly greetings? Further, who showed a mind more unmoved in sufferings? Whose soul was more sympathetic to those in trouble? Whose hand more liberal to those in want? I should not hesitate to honour her with the words of Job: Her door was opened to all comers; the stranger did not lodge in the street. She was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, a mother to the orphan.7 Why should I say more of her compassion to widows, than that its fruit which she obtained was, never to be called a widow herself? Her house was a common abode to all the needy of her family; and her goods no less common to all in need than their own belonged to each. She hath dispersed abroad and given to the poor,8 and according to the infallible truth of the Gospel, she laid up much store in the wine-presses above, and oftentimes entertained Christ in the person of those whose benefactress she was. And, best of all, there was in her no unreal profession, but in secret she cultivated piety before Him who seeth secret things. Everything she rescued from the ruler of this world, everything she transferred to the safe garners. Nothing did she leave behind to earth, save her body. She bartered everything for the hopes above: the sole wealth she left to her children was the imitation of her example, and emulation of her merits.
13. But amid these tokens of incredible magnanimity, she did not surrender her body to luxury, and unrestrained pleasures of the appetite, that raging and tearing dog, as though presuming upon her acts of benevolence, as most men do, who redeem their luxury by compassion to the poor, and instead of healing evil with good, receive evil as a recompense for their good deeds. Nor did she, while subduing her dust9 by fasting, leave to another the medicine of hard lying; nor, while she found this of spiritual service, was she less restrained in sleep than anyone else; nor, while regulating her life on this point as if freed from the body, did she lie upon the ground, when others were passing the night erect, as the most mortified men struggle to do. Nay in this respect she was seen to surpass not only women, but the most devoted of men, by her intelligent chanting of the psalter, her converse with, and unfolding and apposite recollection of, the Divine oracles, her bending of her knees which had grown hard and almost taken root in the ground, her tears to cleanse her stains with contrite heart and spirit of lowliness, her prayer rising heavenward, her mind freed from wandering in rapture; in all these, or in any one of them, is there man or woman who can boast of having surpassed her? Besides, it is a great thing to say, but it is true, that while she was zealous in her endeavour after some points of excellence, of others she was the paragon: of some she was the discoverer, in others she excelled. And if in some single particular she was rivalled, her superiority consists in her complete grasp of all. Such was her success in all points, as none else attained even in a moderate degree in one: to such perfection did she attain in each particular, that any one might of itself have supplied the place of all.
14. O untended body, and squalid garments, whose only flower is virtue! O soul, clinging to the body, when reduced almost to an immaterial state through lack of food; or rather, when the body had been mortified by force, even before dissolution, that the soul might attain to freedom, and escape the entanglements of the senses! O nights of vigil, and psalmody, and standing which lasts from one day to another! O David, whose strains never seem tedious to faithful souls! O tender limbs, flung upon the earth and, contrary to nature, growing hard! O fountains of tears, sowing in affliction that they might reap in joy.10 O cry in the night, piercing the clouds and reaching unto Him that dwelleth in the heavens! O fervour of spirit, waxing bold in prayerful longings against the dogs of night, and frosts and rain, and thunders, and hail, and darkness! O nature of woman overcoming that of man in the common struggle for salvation, and demonstrating that the distinction between male and female is one of body not of soul! O Baptismal purity, O soul, in the pure chamber of thy body, the bride of Christ! O bitter eating! O Eve mother of our race and of our sin! O subtle serpent, and death, overcome by her self-discipline! O self-emptying of Christ, and form of a servant, and sufferings, honoured by her mortification!
15. Oh! how am I to count up all her traits, or pass over most of them without injury to those who know them not? Here however it is right to subjoin the rewards of her piety, for indeed I take it that you, who knew her life well, have long been eager and desirous to find in my speech not only things present, or her joys yonder, beyond the conception and hearing and sight of man, but also those which the righteous Rewarder bestowed upon her here: a matter which often tends to the edification of unbelievers, who from small things attain to faith in those which are great, and from things which are seen to those which are not seen. I will mention then some facts which are generally notorious, others which have been from most men kept secret; and that because her Christian principle made a point of not making a display of her [Divine] favours. You know how her maddened mules ran away with her carriage, and unfortunately overturned it, how horribly she Was dragged along, and seriously injured, to the scandal of unbelievers at the permission of such accidents to the righteous, and how quickly their unbelief was corrected: for, all crushed and bruised as she was, in bones and limbs, alike in those exposed and in those out of sight, she would have none of any physician, except Him Who had permitted it; both because she shrunk from the inspection and the hands of men, preserving, even in suffering, her modesty, and also awaiting her justification from Him Who allowed this to happen, so that she owed her preservation to none other than to Him: with the result that men were no less struck by her unhoped-for recovery than by her misfortune, and concluded that the tragedy had happened for her glorification through sufferings, the suffering being human, the recovery superhuman, and giving a lesson to those who come after, exhibiting in a high degree faith in the midst of suffering, and patience under calamity, but in a still higher degree the kindness of God to them that are such as she. For to the beautiful promise to the righteous "though he fall, he shall not be utterly broken,"11 has been added one more recent, "though he be utterly broken, he shall speedily be raised up and glorified."12 For if her misfortune was unreasonable, her recovery was extraordinary, so that health soon stole away the injury, and the cure became more celebrated than the blow.
16. O remarkable and wonderful disaster! O injury more noble than security! O prophecy, "He hath smitten, and He will bind us up, and revive us, and after three days He will raise us up,"13 portending indeed, as it did, a greater and more sublime event, yet no less applicable to Gorgonia's sufferings! This then, notorious to all, even to those afar off, for the wonder spread to all, and the lesson was stored up in the tongues and ears of all, with the other wonderful works and powers of God. . . .
The rest is at http://ecmarsh.com/fathers/npnf2/NPNF2-07/Npnf2-07-36.htm
(Thanks to C for the link to the Oration.)
Holy Gorgonia and Holy Gregory, pray for the South!
Holy icon of St Gorgonia from https://www.uncutmountainsupply.com/icons/of-saints/by-name/g/icon-of-st-gorgonia-the-righteous-1go10/ .
Holy icon of St Gregory from https://www.bostonmonks.com/product_info.php/products_id/261 .
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!