On Friendship – St Gregory the Theologian

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
They who find one find a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
those who fear God will find them.”
Wisdom of Sirach 6:14-16

Three Saintly Friends: Dmitry Shkolnik
Three Saintly Friends: Dmitry Shkolnik

St Gregory the Theologian wrote the most beautiful words of praise on friendship. These can be found in different speeches dedicated to his two dear friends, St. Basil the Great and his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa.

“Nothing at all in the world  can compare to a faithful friend, and his beauty knows know bounds. A faithful friends is a strong protection, and a fortified kingdom. A faithful friend is a living treasure. A faithful friend is more precious than gold and many precious stones. A faithful friend is a enclosed garden and a sealed spring, that open from time to time to be visited and enjoyed. A faithful friend is a refreshing harbour.

If he is more sensible than you, how much more so? If he is also highly educated, and widely so, of our own education and that which was once ours, how much more brilliant is that? . If he is also a son of Light (Jn 12: 36; Eph. 5:8), or a man of God ( IV Kings 1:9) or who approaches God (Ezekiel 43:9) or a person who desires the best (Dan 8:23) or possess what is recognized as worthy , such as used by Scripture to honour those who are full of God, are high up, and belong to the upper part, this is already a gift from God and is clearly higher than our own worth. ” (Oration 11)

What are the characteristics of a deep and lasting friendship such as the one St. Gregory the Theologian enjoyed with St. Basil the Great? St Gregory echoes Aristotle when he says “We seemed to have one soul,  inhabiting two bodies. ” He continues, “After that we were all in all to one another, living together, eating together, of one mind, looking towards the same goal, each one encouraging the others  aspirations, so that they would become more fervent and permanent. ” (Oration 43)

True friendship should be a “godly and wise love” free of all sin. St Gregory write, “Bodily love, since its objects are fleeting, is as fleeting as the flowers of spring. Neither does a flame survive, when the fuel is spent, but is lost with what fuels it is gone, nor does desire exist when the kindle is gone. However, since divine and prudent love has a steady basis, for that very reason  not only is more lasting, but, the fuller its vision of beauty grows the more it binds the lovers to it between themselves, That is the law of our own love.” (Oration 43)

A strong friendship is born when the friends fight a common cause and compete to gain the heights of virtue. St. Gregory talks about this common cause with St. Basil when he says, “The common ambition of us both was virtue and living for the hopes to come…Having this ambition before we directed all our life and actions, we were led by the commandment and we sharpened our virtue upon each other and we became,  if this is not a great thing for me to say, being a rule and standard to each other, for the distinction between what was right and what was not.”

True friendship is founded upon the words of the apostle “Love does not seek its own” (1 Cor, 13:5) and “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Roms 12:10) The holy fathers put this into practice, “We both struggled, not each to gain the first place for himself, but to yield it to the other; for we considered each other’s good reputation to be our very own… you must be convinced that we lived in each other and with each other. And the best of all is that we formed a fraternity that he (Basil) guided and instructed by him as the leader with common pleasure, except that I ran along on foot  beside that Lydian chariot (i.e. the fastest Chariot), following wherever he took us”

True friendship is united in common principles and views. St Gregory writes, “I think nothing is of value unless it leads to virtue and improves a person. Others bear different names either from their father, or from their family, or from their occupation or actions. However, we have the great honour and reknown to be and to be called Christians. This is our boast.”

Great friendship is shown through tenderness, sensitivity, care and brotherly love. This is shown by St. Gregory calling his friend, “my very own Basil”. This denotes selfless friendship, pure and bathed in the light of Christian love and virtue.

Think about the example of  St Gregory towards his friends Basil and Gregory. Is it something we can put into practice in our own lives? If we try maybe we can form stronger and longer lasting friendships.
Holy Father Gregory, pray to God for us.

Sources used

Oration 11 “To Gregory of Nyssa on his Ordination”
Oration 43  “Funeral Oration on Basil the Great” 
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2 thoughts on “On Friendship – St Gregory the Theologian

  1. I think humility is a large part of developing deep friendships. It seems society today equates disagreeing with someone’s choices with a rejection of the person. There’s a lot of pride there, but pride is a front for self-consciousness and shame. Having a real humility allows you to open up with each other, allows you to know the real person beneath the mask. I don’t think you can have a deep relationship without it.

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