Wednesday, November 18, 2020

How a Plague Led to a Miracle That Converted an Entire City to the Christian Faith


St. Basil the Great says that when St. Gregory the Wonderworker became Bishop of Neocaesarea in the third century, there were only 17 Christians to be found in the city, but by the time he died, there were only 17 pagans left. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his Life of Gregory the Wonderworker, explains one reason the city converted en masse to Christ during St. Gregory the Wonderworker's time, with a narration of the following miracle below. It basically explains that during a pagan festival, such a large crowd entered the theater that they prayed to Zeus to grant them some room. Zeus, who was really a demon, heard their prayer and sent a plague against the people to empty the theater. The plague caused sufferers great thirst, to the point they felt like they were going to die. For those who came down with this plague, a phantom appeared beforehand in the temple as a sign their prayers to the demon were being answered. When the people asked St. Gregory the Wonderworker to enter the temple and expel the phantom, he did so and they were delivered from the plague.

By St. Gregory of Nyssa

The city in the demons' grip held a celebration in accord with certain paternal rites, and everyone flocked to it. Those who assembled filled the theater, and the throng overflowed all the seats desiring to see the orchestra playing instruments. The stage was full with a tumult, and the wonderworkers could not perform due to the confusion of the pressing mass which not only impeded enjoyment of the music but gave no chance for men to perform their wonders. Then the crowd cried out together in the name of that demon for whom they celebrated the feast, imploring that he grant them some open space. When their voice reached on high and the entire city were as one mouth by which their prayers reached the demon--their prayer was "Zeus, make a place for us"--that great man [Gregory] heard them invoking the demon in whose name the city begged for a place and said that their request for a place would soon be granted. The judgement of his angry voice was a plague which halted that religious celebration, and suddenly wailing permeated the chorus which turned their singing into mourning and their pleasures into misfortunes; instead of flutes and applause, laments filled the city. At once ill fortune inflicted the people, and like fire consumed their houses so that the temples to which they fled in hope of being cured of pestilence were utterly destroyed. Fountains, springs and aqueducts were useless for those consumed by the thirst of the plague since water could not quench their burning thirst. Both before and after drinking water they all were gripped by distress, and many fled to tombs since the living could no longer grant them mercy. Evil did not unexpectedly afflict people; instead, a phantom drew near to the temple which was about to bring certain ruin. The cause of their plight was clear because invocation of the demon had a wicked intent to fulfill their vain prayers, namely, to have an open space for the city. However, the great man stopped evil's advance by his entreaties through whom God was revealed and proclaimed, for he alone must be truly revered as God who has power over all things.

When that phantom's appearance at the temple suddenly caused despair, those in danger had one defense, namely, that the great Gregory enter the temple and ward off by prayer this evil which had penetrated the building. Those who were first saved quickly spread word of his fame because their previous vain practices were completely ineffectual. The great priest considered such behavior as oracles, purifications, and devotion to idols and led every member of his flock to salvation. The salvation of souls was the payment received from those who had been rescued. Because this incident revealed the priest's piety, there was no further delay in establishing the mystery for those instructed through works with regard to faith's power. Thus for such persons their cure from illness was all the more stronger. By accepting the mystery, their reason's health was restored, and they became strengthened in faith through corporeal afflictions . Thus all who had been seized by the idols' deception converted to the name of Christ; some were lead to the truth by illness and others held faith in Christ as a protection against the plague.