Lent Day 11 – Gregory of Nyssa

Today is the commemoration of St. Gregory of Nyssa. He was one of the Cappodician Fathers and was a great teacher of the early church having lived and taught in the fourth century. Gregory of Nyssa celebrated the created order and felt that God took delight in creation and so should humanity. He was the first to use ‘universalist’ language in his writings, positing that God’s redemptive power is alive and moving and would eventually reconcile all things to good.

"What is then the scope of St. Paul’s argument in this place? That the nature of evil shall one day be wholly exterminated, and divine, immortal goodness embrace within itself all intelligent natures; so that of all who were made by God, not one shall be exiled from his kingdom; when all the mixtures of evil that like a corrupt matter is mingled in things, shall be dissolved, and consumed in the furnace of purifying fire, and everything that had its origin from God shall be restored to its pristine state of purity."

There is so much hope in that theology. The very idea that all things can be redeemed by God is hopeful. In this day we often give up on others. We consume large amounts of time judging the other. We see some as holy, redeemed, good, worthy, etc and others we see as less than complete, less than holy, less than us. In doing so, we write people off. We fail to remember the call of the Nazarene as found in Matthew’s Gospel. "Do not judge and you will not be judged" We forget that we too may have at some point or another (perhaps even now) have felt judged, ignored, ridiculed or forgotten. My daily reflection from Henri Nouwen today included this pearl of wisdom, "Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom. Once we are free from judging, we will be also free for mercy."

Gregory of Nyssa was able to lay hold of that free mercy. Can we? Can we take hold of the promise that God is working at all times; even when we cannot discern God’s presence? When we look into the face of what seems so dark and so irredeemable, do we have the faith to know that God can redeem anything? It seems to me that we are all feeling a little shaken nowadays. The uncertainty of our time has left us all feeling a little weak in the knees. As the stock markets continue to fall and we hear each day about the next multi-billion dollar bailout we all cringe. We have put our trust and our faith into consumerism and capitalism and it has failed us. Now we need to ask if we have the courage to be set free.

In Isaiah 61 we find these words;

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
   heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
   pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
   a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—
   and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
   give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
   a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

This is a message of great hope to a people who are feeling very hopeless. The people of Israel were more than just a little weak in the knees when this message was proclaimed. The prophet produced a word of hope. Thos word is a promise that God is about to redeem all things. That God IS redeeming at all times. There is even a promise or praise and celebration for those who have languished in mourning. I think in many ways today we are captives and we need to be set free. The Israelites wanted freedom from their oppressive and slave-ridden reality. We have been held hostage for a long time by consumerist thinking. We need to be set free from this state of bondage. Perhaps now in this day when it is no longer accepted that trust in the free market is a good thing, we need to rethink the promise that God made to the people Israel and the same promise that God makes to us. We need to be reminded of what Gregory, that great teacher of the faith proclaimed that all things can be redeemed. We need to pray to be freed from being held captive by Wall Street, Bay Street, the NASDAQ, the TSX, the and Dow Jones. Perhaps instead of checking our stock portfolio daily we need to have the courage to take stock of our spiritual portfolio on a daily basis and not just once and a while when we get to church.

I believe that indeed it can all be redeemed. I believe that God redeems me and if that is possible I believe it is possible for all persons to be redeemed. Universal redemption…Great thought Greg!

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