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E01299: Gregory of Nyssa, on 9 March 379, in his Second Encomium on the *Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (martyrs of Sebasteia/Sebaste, E00103), mentions a shrine with relics of the saints built earlier on his family estate in Pontus (northern Asia Minor). His parents are buried there; a soldier is miraculously healed there; and Gregory himself has a dream vision of the saints during the consecration of the shrine. Composed in Greek at Kaisareia/Caesarea of Cappadocia (central Asia Minor).

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posted on 21.04.2016, 00:00 by erizos
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Forty Martyrs II (CPG 3189, BHG 1208), p. 166-168

(ed. Lendle 1990, p. 166.7 - 168.7)

Ἀλλὰ τί μακρὰ διατρίβομεν; ἐφλέχθη τὰ σώματα, καὶ τὸ πῦρ αὐτὰ διεδέξατο. τὴν δὲ κόνιν ἐκείνην καὶ τῆς καμίνου τὰ λείψανα ἐμερισάμεθα, καὶ πᾶσα γῆ σχεδὸν τοῖς ἁγιάσμασι τούτοις εὐλογεῖται. ἔχω κἀγὼ μερίδα τοῦ δώρου καὶ τῶν ἐμῶν πατέρων τὰ σώματα τοῖς τῶν στρατιωτῶν παρεθέμην λειψάνοις, ἵνα ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς ἀναστάσεως μετὰ τῶν εὐπαρρησιάστων βοηθῶν ἐγερθῶσιν. οἶδα γάρ, ὡς ἰσχύουσι, καὶ τῆς παρρησίας αὐτῶν τῆς πρὸς θεὸν ἐναργεῖς ἐθεασάμην τὰς ἀποδείξεις· καὶ δὴ βούλομαι ἕν τι τῶν εἰς θαῦμα τελούντων τῆς ἐκείνων ἐνεργείας εἰπεῖν· κώμης τῆς ἐμοὶ προσηκούσης, ἐν ᾗ τὰ τῶν τρισμακαρίων τούτων ἀναπέπαυται λείψανα, ἔστι τις πολίχνη ἡ γείτων, Ἴβωρα καλοῦσιν αὐτήν. ἐν δὴ ταύτῃ κατὰ τὸν συνήθη Ῥωμαίοις νόμον καταλόγου στρατιωτῶν διάγοντος εἷς τις τῶν ὁπλιτῶν ἐπὶ τὴν κώμην τὴν προλεχθεῖσαν ἀφίκετο πρὸς φυλακὴν τοῦ χωρίου παρὰ τοῦ ταξιάρχου δοθείς, ἵνα τῶν συστρατιωτῶν ἑαυτοῦ τὰς ὁρμὰς καὶ τὰς ὕβρεις ἀνείργῃ, ἃς εἰώθασιν ἐπάγειν τοῖς ἀγροίκοις ὑπὸ θράσους οἱ ὁπλιτεύοντες. ἐνόσει δὲ οὗτος τὸν ἕτερον τοῖν ποδοῖν καὶ ἐχώλευε· καὶ τὸ πάθος αὐτῷ χρόνιον καὶ δυσίατον ἦν. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐντὸς ἐγένετο τοῦ μαρτυρίου καὶ τῆς ἀναπαύσεως τῶν ἁγίων, καὶ θεῷ προσευξάμενος τὴν τῶν ἁγίων πρεσβείαν ἐπεκαλέσατο· νύκτωρ αὐτῷ φαίνεταί τις ἀνὴρ ἀξιοπρεπὴς καὶ τινα ἄλλα διαλεχθείς· Χωλεύεις, ἔφη, ὦ στρατιῶτα, καὶ δεῖ σοι θεραπείας; ἀλλὰ δός μοι ψηλαφῆσαι τὸν πόδα. λαβόμενος δὲ ὄναρ αὐτοῦ σφοδρῶς ἐφειλκύσατο. τῆς δὲ νυκτερινῆς ὄψεως τοῦτο ποιούσης ὕπαρ τηλικοῦτος ἐγένετο ψόφος, οἷος ἂν γένοιτο ὀστέου τῆς φυσικῆς ἁρμονίας ἐξολισθήσαντος, εἶτα βιαίως ἐναρμοσθέντος· ὥστε ἀφυπνίσαι καὶ τοὺς συγκαθεύδοντας καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν στρατιώτην, διεγερθῆναι δὲ τὸν ἄνθρωπον εὐθὺς καὶ βαδίζειν ὑγιῶς κατὰ φύσιν, ὡς εἴωθε. ταύτην τὴν θαυματουργίαν εἶδον ἐγὼ αὐτῷ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτυχὼν ἐξαγγέλλοντι πρὸς πάντας καὶ κηρύττοντι τὴν τῶν μαρτύρων εὐεργεσίαν καὶ τὴν τῶν συστρατιωτῶν φιλανθρωπίαν ὑμνοῦντι. Εἰ δέ τι χρὴ προσθεῖναι καὶ τῶν κατ᾽ ἐξαίρετόν μοι προσηκόντων, ἐρῶ. ἡνίκα γὰρ τὴν ἐπὶ τοῖς λειψάνοις πανήγυριν τὴν πρώτην τελεῖν ἐμέλλομεν κἀν τῷ ἁγίῳ σηκῷ ἀναπαύειν τὴν λάρνακα, ἡ μήτηρ ἡ ἐμὴ (αὕτη γὰρ ἦν ἡ τῷ θεῷ συνάγουσα καὶ κοσμοῦσα τὴν ἑορτὴν) ἥκειν με πρὸς τὴν μετουσίαν τῶν δρωμένων ἐκέλευσε πόρρω τε διάγοντα καὶ ἔτι νέον ὄντα κἀν τοῖς λαϊκοῖς ἀριθμούμενον. οἷα δὲ φιλεῖ γίνεσθαι ἐπὶ πράγμασι κατεπείγουσιν, ἄσχολος ὢν βαρύτερον ὁ ἀνόητος ἐδεξάμην τὴν κλῆσιν ὑπομεμψάμενος τῇ μητρί, διότι μὴ εἰς ἄλλον καιρὸν ὑπερέθετο τὴν πανήγυριν, ἀλλά με πολλῶν ἀποκινήσασα φροντίδων μεθείλκυσε ταύτῃ καὶ πρὸ μιᾶς τῆς συνόδου. ἀφικόμην εἰς τὸ χωρίον· παννυχίδος δὲ οὔσης ἐν κήπῳ, ἔνθα καὶ τὰ λείψανα τῶν ἁγίων ἐτύγχανε ψαλμῳδίαις τιμώμενα, ἐμοὶ πλησίον ἐπί τινος δωματίου καθεύδοντι φαίνεται ὄναρ ὄψις τοιαύτη· ἐδόκουν βούλεσθαι εἰσιέναι εἰς τὸν κῆπον, ἔνθα ὕπαρ ἡ παννυχὶς ἐτελεῖτο. γενομένῳ δέ μοι περὶ τὴν θύραν πλῆθος ὤφθη στρατιωτῶν προσκαθημένων τῇ εἰσόδῳ· ἀθρόον δὲ οἱ πάντες διαναστάντες, ῥάβδους ἐπανατεινόμενοι καὶ ἀπειλητικῶς ἐφορμῶντες οὐ συνεχώρουν τὴν εἴσοδον· ἔλαβον δ᾽ ἂν καὶ πληγάς, εἰ μή με εἷς, ὡς ἐδόκουν, φιλανθρωπότερος ἐξῃτήσατο. ὡς δέ με ὁ ὕπνος ἀφῆκε, καὶ ἦλθον εἰς ἀναλογισμὸν τῆς ἐπὶ τῇ κλήσει πλημμελείας, ᾐσθόμην εἰς τί ἔφερεν ἡ τῶν στρατιωτῶν ἐπίφοβος ὀπτασία· καὶ πολλοῖς θρήνοις ὠδυρόμην τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ ματαιότητα· καὶ αὐτῇ γε τῇ θήκῃ τῶν λειψάνων πικρὸν ἐπέρρευσα δάκρυον, ἵνα μοι ὁ θεός τε εὐμενῶς ἔχῃ, καὶ οἱ ἅγιοι στρατιῶται τὴν ἀμνηστίαν χαρίσωνται. Ταῦτα εἶπον, ἵνα πεισθῶμεν, ὅτι ζῶσιν οἱ μάρτυρες, καὶ εἰσὶ θεοῦ δορυφόροι καὶ πάρεδροι οἱ σήμερον ἡμῶν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν ὠφελήσαντες καὶ κοσμήσαντες·

‘But why should we linger on this matter so long? Their bodies were lit and the fire consumed them. And we shared that dust and the remains of the furnace, and almost all the Earth is blessed by these holy pieces (hagiasmata). I myself possess a piece of the gift, and have put the bodies of my parents to rest by the relics (leipsana) of the soldiers, so that they may rise in the company of highly influential helpers, at the time of the resurrection. Because I know how powerful they are, and have seen clear proofs of their freedom of speech before God.

I wish indeed to recount one of the wonderful stories of their working. Near the village which belongs to me and where the relics of these thrice-blessed men rest, there is a certain township: they call it Ibora. A unit of soldiers was stationed there, according to the customary practice of the Romans, and one of the soldiers arrived at the aforementioned village, assigned by his commander to guarding the area, in order to prevent the assaults and offences by his own fellow soldiers, which men of the army in their insolence are accustomed to inflicting on the farmers. Now one of his legs was unwell, and he limped, and his suffering was chronic and difficult to cure. When he entered the shrine (martyrion) and the resting place (anapausis) of the saints, he prayed to God and invoked the intercession of the saints. During that night, a dignified man appeared to him and, having talked with him about some other things, he said: “Are you limping, soldier, and need a cure? But let me touch your leg.” And he grabbed and pulled it strongly, in the dream. And while this was happening in the nocturnal vision, in reality there was such a loud sound – just like when a bone, slipped out of its natural order, is violently re-set – that it woke up both the others sleeping with him and the soldier himself, and the man stood up immediately and walked in a healthy and normal way, as he once used to do. I witnessed this miracle by meeting the man himself who was announcing it to everyone, declaring the benefaction of the martyrs, and praising the charity of his fellow soldiers.

But if I may add also an absolutely personal story, I shall tell it. When we were about to celebrate the first festival for the relics (leipsana), and put the casket (larnax) to rest in the holy shrine (sēkos), my mother – for it was she that had called and organised that celebration for God – ordered me to participate in the ceremony, although I was living far away, and was still young and a layman. But, as tends to happen in urgent situations, I was busy, and therefore, in my foolishness, I received the invitation with disaffection: I accused my mother, because she had not postponed the festival to some other time, but rather took me from other duties and dragged me into this, and that one day before the feast. I arrived at the place. While an all-night vigil was taking place at a garden where the relics of the saints happened to be honoured with psalmody, the following vision appeared to me in a dream, as I was sleeping in a room nearby: I saw that I wanted to enter the garden where the vigil was actually being celebrated, but, when I approached the door, I saw a crowd of soldiers sitting by the entrance. Suddenly all of them stood up and, brandishing sticks and advancing menacingly, they did not allow my entrance. And I would even have taken a beating, unless one of them – the most compassionate, as it seemed to me – had requested my release. When sleep left me and I contemplated my lack of zeal at the moment of the invitation, I realised the meaning of the dreadful vision of the soldiers, and with much weeping I lamented my own folly. And I shed bitter tears over the casket (thēkē) of the relics itself, that God might be propitious towards me, and that the holy soldiers might grant me pardon.

I have said these things so that we may be convinced that the martyrs are alive, and that these figures, that have assisted and honoured our church today, are guardsmen and companions of God. (…)’

Text: Lendle 1990, p. 166.7 - 168.7.
Translation: E. Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E01299

Saint Name

Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103

Saint Name in Source

Τεσσαράκοντα μάρτυρες

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

379

Evidence not after

379

Activity not before

350

Activity not after

370

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nyssa

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Anniversary of church/altar dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Aristocrats Other lay individuals/ people Soldiers

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Reliquary – privately owned

Source

Gregory of Nyssa was born in the late 330s as one of the youngest of a leading Christian family of Cappadocia. His siblings included important figures of church life, namely Basil of Caesarea, the ascetic Makrina the Younger, and Peter of Sebaste. Gregory was trained in philosophy and rhetoric mainly by his brother Basil, who, in 371 or 372 ordained him bishop of the Cappadocian township of Nyssa. In 376, Gregory was deposed from his see, to which he was able to return in 378, and, from then onwards, he was one of the protagonists of church politics in the East Roman Empire. He played an important role during the Council of Constantinople (381) and was very close to the imperial family of Theodosius I. He was sent on missions to Armenia and Arabia in order settle problems in local churches. Gregory died after 394. He left a large literary heritage on philosophical, theological, ascetical, catechetical and homiletic works. On the manuscript tradition of this oration, see: Heil, Cavarnos, and Lendle 1990, cclix-cclxiii (O. Lendle), and http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/18737/

Discussion

For a discussion on the date and occasion of this sermon, see E01298. This passage is the earliest dated testimony to the distribution of relics and ashes of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in Anatolia in the early to mid 4th century. It allows the reconstruction of the history of a strikingly early case of a shrine founded in the Pontic countryside by a Christian landowner, in order to house a privately acquired reliquary. The shrine was built on the extensive estate of Gregory’s family near Ibora in Pontus. Gregory’s family lived there until the 330s, and moved back after the death of his father, Basil the Elder, in the 340s. The estate was now inherited by Gregory's elder brother, Basil of Caesarea, and most of the family still lived there, including their mother Emelia, their elder sister Makrina, Gregory himself, and his younger brother, Peter. In 357, Basil of Caesarea became closely connected with Eustathios of Sebaste, one of the leading – and rather controversial – figures of monasticism in Anatolia in the early and mid-4th century. Under his advice, Basil and his sister, Makrina organised an ascetic community on the family estate, which was briefly joined by Basil’s friend, Gregory of Nazianzus. In the same period, Eustathios was elected bishop of Sebasteia/Sebaste, the city of the Forty Martyrs. The acquisition of their relic by the family of Basil and the foundation of their shrine of their estate may be a result of their friendship with Eustathios (Maraval 1999, 197-198). Gregory, however, does not talk about that. If this hypothesis is correct, the matter would have been a cause of embarrassment in 379, since, from 374 on, Eustathios was regarded as a heretic in Kaisareia/Caesarea. Gregory’s claim that he buried his parents next to the relics is problematic: when the relics arrived at the estate, his father, Basil the Elder, was already dead. Either the shrine was in fact built at the pre-existing tomb of Basil the Elder, or Basil’s remains were reburied at the new church. In either case, this shrine became a family tomb where Emelia and Makrina were also buried in the late 370s (see E01675). Gregory makes it clear that burying the dead together with the remains of martyrs had the purpose of securing for them a place next to influential intercessors on the Day of Judgement. In this case, however, the presence of relics turned the family tomb into a shrine of martyrs which attracted worshippers and pilgrims, and developed a reputation for miracles. The story about the soldier suggests that incubation was practiced there. It is worth noting that the three figures buried at the shrine, Basil the Elder, Emelia, and Makrina, came to be regarded as saints as well. In one of his letters, Gregory reports his plan to build a sumptuous octagonal martyrium (see E01766). It is unknown if that building was meant to replace the chapel mentioned here. Of special interest is Gregory’s memory of the dedication of the shrine: it was a feast, centring on the veneration and deposition of a reliquary, which took place in a garden, starting with a night vigil on the eve of the dedication. The event is described as a festal gathering (ἑορτή/heortē, πανήγυρις/panēgyris, σύνοδος/synodos) organised by Gregory’s mother, Emmeleia, who summoned the young Gregory to help with the ceremony. Interestingly, Gregory does not seem to have had any intention of attending, until he was forced to. The shrine was probably a chapel which is described as a μαρτύριον/martyrion. The reliquary is called λάρναξ/larnax and θήκη/thēkē (coffin/casket), while the place where it was stored is called σηκός/sēkos (sanctuary, shrine) and ἀνάπαυσις/anapausis (resting place). The relics are described as dust (κόνις/konis) and remains from the furnace (λέιψανα/leipsana). The language used by the author here is particularly important, since it seems to be making a distinction between dust and corporeal relics, all of which are described by the broader term ἁγιάσματα/hagiasmata (‘holy things’ or ‘blessings’). This term probably corresponds to the Latin term sanctuaria which is widely used in the West.

Bibliography

Text: Heil, G., J. P. Cavarnos, and O. Lendle, eds. Gregorii Nysseni Opera X.1: Gregorii Nysseni Sermones Ii. Leiden: Brill, 1990, 137-156 (O. Lendle). Further reading: Bernardi, J. La prédication des pères Cappadociens, Paris : Université de Paris, 1968, 303-307. Daniélou, J. (1955), ‘Chronologie des sermons de Grégoire de Nysse’, Revue des Sciences Religieuses 29.4, 346-372. Duval, Y. Auprès des saints corps et âme. L’inhumation « ad sanctos » dans la chrétienté d’Orient et d’Occident du IIIe au VIIe siècle. Paris : Etudes Augistiniennes, 1988, 66-68. Leemans, J. (2001), ‘On the Date of Gregory of Nyssa’s First Homilies on the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (Mart Ia and Ib)’, Journal of Theological Studies 53: 93–8. Limberis, V., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Maraval, P., ‘Les premiers développements du culte des XL Martyrs de Sébastée dans l’Orient byzantin et en Occident’, Vetera Christianorum 36, 1999, 193–211. On Gregory of Nyssa: Dörrie, H., “Gregor III,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 12 (1983), 863-895. Maraval, P., ‘Grégoire, évêque de Nysse’, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 22 (1988): 20–4. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 1-57.

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