January 10 – Gregory of Nyssa; Peter Urseolus

Icon of Gregory of Nyssa. Provenance, date, etc. unknownGregory of Nyssa (ca. 335–ca. 395) was bishop of Nyssa and brother of Basil the Great (Jan 1) and Macrina the Younger (Jul 19). This family clearly had the saint gene, producing two other sibling saints, one grandmother saint, and perhaps a dad saint, although here our sources are at odds. The sources also disagree about the total number of siblings in the family, where Gregory studied, and whether St. Theosebia the Deaconess was his wife or his sister. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was his sister, since it seems unlikely that there could be two families with that much sanctity in the same town.

It is known, however, that his wife died young, freeing Gregory to get thrown out of town by the Arians on false charges of embezzlement, which after a brief stint as bishop he proceeded to do (get thrown out, not embezzle). The bishop thing came as quite a shock, actually, as he had traveled to Sebaste to stump for a candidate for the post, and got elected to it himself. Truth be told (and that’s what we’re here for) he didn’t care for Sebaste, and was homesick for Hellenist society. (Dolmas recipes in Armenia were perhaps subpar.) He returned to Nyssa and wrote polemics against the Arians.

Greg went on to attend the First Annual Council of Constantinople, where he may have given a famous sermon and may have helped write part of the Creed. Sadly the council failed to live up to its “Annual” billing, and that word was expunged from the record and all the brochures were destroyed.

After the Council he was made gadfly with portfolio[1], and sent to settle disputes in Arabia and Jerusalem. Unlike sanctity, however, conflict resolution was not in the family genome, and he struck out in both places. Upon his return home he was harried by his Metropolitan (Helladius), although if the reason for it has come down to us, it came down into other sources than the ones I used. Ultimately like everyone else in his family had or eventually would, he died. Gregory got the last laugh on his pesky Metropolitan, though, when he was made a saint and Helladius was not. One is forced to conclude they weren’t related.

Lithograph of Peter Orseolus, details unknownPeter Urseolus, Doge of Venice (928–987) (aka Pietro I Orseolo), perhaps should be known as Peter the Dodgy, for his alleged role in the death of his predecessor. On this we have the testimony of St. Peter Damian, a man of such piety that Dante placed him in one of the highest circles of his Paridisio[2], and in some unpublished manuscripts even licensed him to sell “blessed by the Pope” souvenirs[3].

Before the uprising that killed his predecessor (unless it was poisoning), Peter was a pretty decent sailor, becoming admiral of the Venetian fleet at 20. (I met an admiral when I was 18. The parallels here are astounding.) During his time at the helm of the fleet, Peter successfully stamped out piracy in the Adriatic (which admittedly I did not).

Upon ascending the throne, or whatever it is the Doge sits on, Urseolus set about at once to rebuild the war-torn city, care for its widows, orphans, and pilgrims, and in general make himself popular and useful, a nice combination for anybody to have, murderer or no.

After two years of this he disappeared without warning[4], eventually turning up at a monastery in western France, where he lived a life of extreme asceticism. His wife was apparently okay with this, saying, “Well, he’s been talking about becoming a monk for the last ten years[2].” After faxing his son and successor a fatherly admonition to live a Christian life and avoid poisoning people, he wandered off again, this time into a nearby forest, where he lived as a hermit for the last seven years of his life. In 1965 he went wandering one last time, sort of, when his feast day was moved from January 14 to January 10.

[1] The actual title may be slightly different.
[2] This is true.
[3] This isn’t.
[4] My sources agree that this was on the night of 1 September 978. That must be important.