Sainted Gregory, Bishop of Acragantum

Commemorated on November 23

      Sainted Gregory, Bishop of Acragantum, was born on the island of Sicily, in the village of Pretorium, not far from the city of Acragantum, of the pious parents Chariton and Theodotia. The infant Gregory was baptised by the bishop of Acragantum, Pataimonus. At ten years of age the lad, ardent in study, mastered writing and was able to read, and to sing church-song. At 12 years of age Saint Gregory was entrusted to the clergy, and he was put under the spiritual guidance of the archdeacon Donatus. Saint Gregory spent the next 10 years in the Acragantum church. Then however an Angel of the Lord appeared to the holy youth, who had a fervent desire to visit Jerusalem, and said that God had blessed his intention.
      At Jerusalem Saint Gregory was presented to Patriarch Makarios (563-574), who retained the pious youth for service in his own cathedral church, ordaining him deacon. The soul of Saint Gregory thirsted for monastic striving, and the Patriarch gave his blessing, letting him go to a monastery on the Mount of Olives. After a year Saint Gregory departed this monastery for a wilderness-elder, who over the course of four years taught him spiritual wisdom, humility and the principles of monastic life. The ascetic, foreseeing in Saint Gregory a future great luminary of the Church, gave him blessing to forsake the solitary life.
      Having left the elder, Saint Gregory dwelt for a certain time at Jerusalem, and then set off to Constantinople, where he was received with love by the brethren of the monastery of the holy Martyrs Sergios and Bakkhos. The ascetic efforts of the Monk Gregory, his spiritual experience and theological knowledge brought him to the attention of the Patriarch of Constantinople Eutykhios (552-565), at the insistence of whom the saint participated in the acts of the Fifth OEcumenical Council (553). At the completion of the Council Saint Gregory set off for Rome, so as to make veneration there at the graves of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul.
      During this while the bishop of Acragantum died. The elder clergy and illustrious citizens of Acragantum journeyed to Rome with a request for the Pope to determine a successor for their cathedra-chair from among a list of candidates they were presenting. The Pope however declined their proposal through an inspiration from above, and instead summoned Saint Gregory to serve them as bishop.
      For a few years Saint Gregory peacefully guided the flock entrusted to him by God. He was a defender of the down-trodden, a wise preacher, and miraculous-healer. And in the dignity of archbishop Saint Gregory led the life of an ascetic monk, fervently observing monastic vows. The flock loved their hierarch and trusted in him. But there were also malicious people, who had resolved to slander him. These vicious people in secret, while Saint Gregory was in church, led a bribed harlot into his chambers, and then in front of the crowd which accompanied the vladyka (bishop) after Divine-services to the doors of his house, they then led her out and accused Saint Gregory of the deadly sin of fornication. They put the holy bishop there under guard. The people attempted to defend their vladyka, but were unsuccessful. At the trial the harlot gave false testimony against Saint Gregory. And just as she pronounced the words of slander, she went into a fit of frenzied raging. The judges accused the saint of sorcery. Saint Gregory was sent for judgement to the Roman bishop together with a report about his "crimes". The Pope, having read through the report of charges, did not want to see the accused and gave orders to remand him in prison. The saint endured his humiliation humbly, dwelling in constant prayer. His prayerful effort and wonderworking gift quickly became known through the city and the surrounding region. Pious Romans began to gather at the prison, whom the imprisoned saint taught about the righteous life, and for the sick he implored of the Lord their healing.
      After two years there came to the Pope a perspicacious elder by the name of Mark, who had known Saint Gregory since youth. The elder did not believe the report of charges and he persuaded the Pope to convene a Council to decide the matter of Gregory. At the invitation of the Pope, many clergy from the city of Acragantum came to the Council, together with all those making accusation against the saint, including the harlot. From Constantinople to Rome came three bishops and the imperial dignitary Marcian. Along the way Marcian had fallen grievously ill. At the advice of many a person who had received healing through the prayers of Saint Gregory, servants carried the dying man to the prison, where the wonderworking saint languished. Through the prayers of Saint Gregory the Lord granted healing to Marcian.
      At the Council the slanderers attempted to uphold their accusations, and as their chief proof they presented to the judge the deranged harlot, declaring that Gregory had bewitched her. But the saint in making prayer over her cast out the devil. The woman came to her senses and told the Council the whole truth. The slanderers were brought to shame and judged. Marcian even wanted to execute them, but Saint Gregory implored forgiveness for them.
      Saint Gregory returned in honour to his own cathedral, and surrounded by the love of his flock, he guided the Church until his own peaceful end.

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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