Vol. 2 No. 2 - Pentecost 2007
A Few Great Men
Whither Saint Gregory?
"Much might be said of his imperishable genius, which was unimpaired even by the most severe physical afflictions; for while other popes devoted themselves to building churches and adorning them with silver and gold, Gregory's sole concern was to save souls," - Venerable Bede, on the repose of St. Gregory, Pope of Rome, in 605 A.D.
Saint Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome while that great western see still held the Orthodox Faith long before the Schism of 1054, was what one might call an unexpected missionary. A Roman Church envoy to Constantinople, it was quite possible that the saint would have only been known to us for the magnificent chant that bears his name in the Orthodox West, had it not been for the divine providence which brought him to the Roman slave market.
It was here that Saint Gregory saw for the first time English-speaking people, whom he declared bore the likeness of angels, and it was here that he declared his intention to bring the Gospel to their land. As history tells us, Gregory did not get his wish: instead, he was made Patriarch of Rome. Yet it is in this unanticipated event that the door opened to bring the English speaking world to Christ's Holy Church - a door that remains open to us to this day.
Saint Gregory presents to us a true apostle to a nation: a nation he never visited, but which benefitted incalculably from the missionaries he dispatched and supported. What makes such an apostle? Saint Gregory set a priority in first building up authentic monastic foundations in his English mission field, constructing and supplying monasteries, filling them with monastics from abroad who could pass on their living experience to a new nation of monastics. It was not enough to have monastic vocations reading in isolation about monastic life: Saint Gregory saw to it that this life was transmitted in an ongoing, comprehensive way, in order to allow it to put down roots.
This Orthodox patriarch of the west also provided for the needs of poor and missionaries from his own pockets. This approach assumes stable churches which provide extra monies to their bishop, voluntarily, for this purpose (one can imagine a Canadian missions fund, providing for the growth of domestic missions just as did Saint Paul's collections from and for various churches).
The true greatness of the saint is perhaps best manifested in the fact that he looked beyond his own people. The Venerable Bede tells us that he encountered the first Angles in a slave market in Rome, and was saddened when he was not able to personally carry out his dream to do mission work to these "angels". As Pope of Rome, he was later in an unequaled position to support such work.
For the Orthodox in Canada, one lesson from Saint Gregory the Great is perhaps most poignant: he was never interested in building a colony of his own people in a far-off land. In fact, it is very difficult to think of a saint who ever tried to do this; it is simply jurisdiction building, a sickness that afflicts every jurisdiction in North America today. Saints were and are always interested in building up the Church, especially in doing everything it takes to bring others to the Faith (we can note Saint Gregory's letter to Saint Augustine of Canterbury on the importance of apprehending anything pagan that is redeemable: pagan Angles and Celts were never forced to be Romans in order to be Christians).
Sadly, in Canada such holiness is so often missing, with a great amount of attention paid to serving "my people" and "my nation", with no attention in many quarters to missionary work. If there is any doubt on this point, one might check to see which jurisdictions have a budget and clergy dedicated specifically to mission work to Canadians who are not already Orthodox; this is of course the way the saints always did things, while others chose the opposite path.
Where will such saintly bishops be found in our time, in our country? Perhaps they already exist; perhaps there even exist some who have not yet begun their saintly work, whose sanctity will be revealed as they see the futility and spiritual dead-end of building a jurisdiction, rather than labouring for the universal mission of the Gospel of Christ, as the saints always did.
Perhaps Canada is a land full of such missionary saints-in-waiting. Perhaps.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pentecost, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.