Gregory of Nazianzus
My father was every inch a gentleman, an old man, simple in style, an example in his life, truly a second patriarch Abraham.’ He did not just seem noble, like people nowadays: he really was.” Once indeed he had been astray; but latterly he had become a friend of Christ, then afterwards a pastor, the best of all pastors. My mother, to describe her in a word, was a fit mate for a man of such quality, and her worth was comparable. Of pious lineage, she was herself still more pious, a woman in body, yes; but in character she eclipsed any man. For the virtue of their lives both parents were equally a byword. Can I demonstrate that, provide evidence? As witness of the claim I shall adduce my mother herself, the very mouth of truth. She was the kind who would sooner conceal something quite public than boast about private matters for vainglory. Fear was her guide: it is a good teacher. She was anxious to see a male child in her house: that is indeed a wish common to many people. She turned to God and prayed for the fulfillment of her wish,” for when her mind was set on something she was not easily restrained. God granted the favor, and in her great desire, failing not in loving prayer, she
actually anticipated it. There came to her a gracious foretaste, a vision containing the shadow of her request. My likeness and my name appeared clearly to her, the work of a dream by night. Then I was born to them, the gift of God the giver if worthy of the prayer: if not, it was because of my own shortcomings.
So I came into this life formed, poor wretch, of clay and compound elements, the elements which control us, or which we with difficulty control. Yet I take this very birth as pledge of all that’s fairest, ingratitude is wrong. As soon as I made my appearance, straightway in the noblest of contracts I became Another’s. Like some lamb, some pleasing calf, but a victim of high quality endowed with reason I was offered to God (I hesitate to say it) like a young Samuel? But I am considering chiefly the sentiments of those who offered me. Because from earliest infancy I was nurtured in all virtue, having as I had the best example in my home. Already I was taking on some of the dignity of age, and little by little, like a cloud from out a cloud, desire for better things led me on. As reason developed I forged onwards. Of books I enjoyed those that led to God: of men I associated with those excellent in character. When the first down grew on my cheeks a keen passion for letters took possession of me. Moreover I sought to turn bastard letters into the service of those that are genuine; because I did not want people who have learned absolutely nothing but vain and empty dexterity of tongue, which consists of lungs and loudness, to preen themselves. And I did not wish to get tied up in the intricacies of sophisms. Allowing anything to take precedence over my Christian studies never entered my mind.

The usual tendency of youthful spirits however, a readiness to be swayed by chaotic impulses, this I did experience, just like a spirited colt who plunges for the race. I had been getting some smattering of letters at Alexandria, and the moment I chose to leave was altogether outside the sailing season, before the sea had settled down. People skilled in such matters point out that there is a dangerous tail of Taurus at this time and that seafaring is a matter of hardihood not good sense. I put off and was making straight for Greece in the lee of Cyprus, when the ship was struck by a squall. Everything became a great blackness: land, sea, air, the sky all darkened. Thunderclaps resounded amid flashes of lightning, and the sheets quivered as the sails were filled. The mainmast bent: the rudder had no effect as the blasts tore it forcibly from one’s hands. Mountainous seas swamped the vessel. A confused clamor arose, cries of sailors, helmsmen, officers, passengers, all calling with one voice upon Christ, even the people who formerly knew not God. Fear is an opportune teacher. The most pitiable of all our misfortunes, however, was that the boat was without water. The moment she began to roll, the cistern which carried the precious treasure of water was smashed and scattered to the depths. The question then was whether thirst, or the sea, or the winds should make an end of us. But God sent speedy deliverance from it all. Phoenician merchants suddenly made their appearance. They were in fear themselves; but when they realized from our entreaties how desperate our plight was, they made our craft fast by using grappling hooks and main strength, for they were very strong. They rescued us indeed from a state of practical shipwreck, like fish gasping out of native element, or a lamp flickering out when all the oil is gone.

The sea continued angry, however, and we were harassed for several days. Driven hither and thither we had no notion of where we were sailing, and we could see no hope of safety from God. All of us feared a common death, but more terrifying for me was the hidden death. Those murderous waters were keeping me away from the purifying waters which divinize us. That was my lament and my misfortune. For this I kept sending up cries and stretching out my hands, and my cries overcame the pounding of the waves. Stretched miserable and prone I lay with garments rent. It seems unbelievable, but it is perfectly true, that all forgot their own particular woes and joined their prayerful entreaties to mine. The way in which they shared my agonies proclaimed them pious fellows, voyagers on a common sea of woe.

However thou, my Christ, wert even then a mighty saviour, just as now thou art my deliverer from the storms of life. There was no shred of solid hope, no island, no mainland, no mountain top, no beacon light, no guiding star for sailors: nothing large or small that one could see.

What was I to do? Was there any way out of the hazards? Despairing of all hope here below, I turned to thee, my life, my breath, my light, my strength, my salvation, the source of terror and affliction, but the benign healer too, ever weaving good into the dark pattern. I reminded thee of all the miracles of time past when we had experience of thy mighty hand: of the sea sundered and the passage of Israel; of enemies defeated by hands raised in prayer; of the affliction by scourges of the Egyptians with their leaders of the reduction to servitude of creation; of walls collapsing at the sound of the trumpet and the people’s onset. My entreaties were added to all the famous pleas of old.

Thine, I said, I have been formerly, thine am I now. Please accept me for a second time, the possession of thy honored servants, the gift of land and sea, dedicated by the prayers of my mother and by this unparalleled crisis. If I escape a double danger I shall live for thee, if I am abandoned, thou wilt lose a worshipper. At this moment thy disciple is tossed upon the wave. For my sake dispel slumber, wake to me and let the fear be stilled.

These were my words. The clash of winds abated, the sea grew calm. the ship sailed straight on course-all the result of my prayer. The whole ship’s company went their way praising the great Christ. for they had received a double salvation at the hands of God. We passed Rhodes and a little later struck sail in the harbor of Aegina, for it was an Aeginetan craft.

Subsequently came Athens and letters. I leave to others the account of what transpired there, how, realizing that first things are first, I walked in the fear of God. Even though in the bloom of youth and on the wave of adventure students find themselves sucked headlong into one gang or another, I kept a quiet tenor. I dare say, as the belief goes, a spring in the sea is sweet by contrast with the brackish waters.” I was not attracted by people who fell on deleterious paths: on the contrary, I myself led friends towards better things. Here, too, God favored me. He associated with me the very wisest person, one towering above all others in learning and in life. You will very easily identify the man I mean.

Basil, of course, it was, the great ornament of our generation. In studies, in lodgings, in discussions I had him as companion. We made a team, if I may boast a little, that was celebrated throughout Greece. We had all things in common, and a single soul, as it were, bound together our two distinct bodies. But above all it was God, of course, and a mutual desire for higher things, that drew us to each other. As a result we reached such a pitch of confidence that we revealed the depths of our hearts, becoming ever more united in our yearning. There is no such solid bond of union as thinking the same thoughts.

Reference: Fathers of the Church Series, Volume 75, Gregory Nazianzus, Three Poems, CUA Press.(The icon is the Precious Skull of St. Gregory the Theologian, treasured by the Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos)