Thursday, November 17, 2016

St. Gregory the Wonderworker and the Harlot

By St. Gregory of Nyssa

From The Life of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker

When he [Gregory] dwelt in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, to which assiduous young men flocked to study philosophy and medicine, the youthful [Gregory] was an irksome sight to his peers because he was adorned with a restraint unlike anyone else in the city, and the esteem surrounding his integrity irritated such corrupt individuals. Because of this, some undisciplined characters sought to make all sorts of excuses if no one went along with them. They maintained that this great man's life was tainted with a certain flaw and hatched a plot to release from prison a harlot notorious for shameful behavior. But following the conduct of learned and responsible men accustomed to philosophical speculation, [Gregory] approached the woman in a nonchalant and unassuming manner while pretending to agree with everything she said and did. He then said that she was cheated of her wage and was refused the payment she had sought. When they who acknowledged the quality of his life became outraged at the woman, their anger neither troubled him nor did he claim that this humiliation had slandered his reputation. [Gregory] neither summoned witnesses on his behalf, nor did he repudiate the disgrace by swearing an oath nor respond to the evils brought against him; rather, in a calm, subdued voice he replied as to a friend, "He who paid money to this woman should no longer be distressed at having caused such trouble." When they learned of the harlot's accusation who had sought money from him and he readily accounted for everything, the plot to smear his self-control by accusations of licentious conduct came to an end. Now that this attempt to dishonor him fell back upon them, with God's help the youth's control and the reproach of his comrades became evident. Having received the money, an evil spirit at once tormented her, and she bellowed out a loud animal sound. This woman presented a dreadful sight in the midst of the assembly by taring out her hair, rolling her eyes and emitting foam from her mouth. But before the demon suffocated her, she earnestly besought God almighty.

These events are worthy of that great youth and were confirmed right from the beginning of his life. If no further words were added to this miracle, it would alone attribute no small praise with regard to those persons who excel in virtue. For example, a wealthy youth living abroad in a densely populated city freely indulges in pleasures, and his purity turns into disgrace from associating with his peers who lack chastity through self-control. He has no solicitous mother and father to correct his life through mastery of passions and to make him strive for virtue that he may provide an example of strength for eluding a slanderous woman's evil attack. Can anyone offer a greater reason for praise? How does this commendable instance offer tribute? Why should we be astonished at a person who has subjugated his youthful nature to reason as a tame animal, has mastered all natural passions, rejects jealousy which clings closely to anything beautiful and has transformed himself for the better? He was not moved by his friends' plot for vengeance; although his good deeds were reduced to ridicule, he chose prayer to liberate himself from demonic affliction.

We know about Joseph and the inappropriate conduct of his master's wife who passionately desired his beauty when no witness was present to see her advances [cf. Gen 39:7]. But his eye which was fixed upon God saw appearances as evil and submitted to it rather than by allowing himself to be seduced. But this story boasts of something greater. While the rejection of defilement cannot equal that disgrace associated with adulterous actions, what appears as a lesser offense is equally disgraceful. Therefore when no danger from the law is present, Joseph judged pleasure resulting from sin to be more frightening than vengeance. He overcame this danger either by a miraculous occurrence or realized that other persons were indeed not responsible for it. What, then is the essence of such an outstanding life?