August 8 Saints of the Day – Gregory of Sinai and Dominic de Guzman

On this day in 1969, photographer Iain Macmillan took the photo that became one of the most famous (and most parodied) album covers in history, at the Abbey Road zebra crossing. There was no walrus.

Gregory of SinaiGregory of Sinai (ca. 1268 – 1346), son of rich Asia Minorites (Asians Minor?), was kidnapped by either the Hagarenes or Seljuk Turks and politely escorted to Laodicea. He was ransomed, and ended up on Cyprus (you could do worse, at least before 1974, which this was). He then went to St. Catherine’s on Sinai, where he worked as cook and baker and copyist, and thence to Crete, where he learned hesychastic prayer from a monk named Arsenios (did you think of Arsenio Hall just now? me too). His itchy feet then led him to Athos, and then, when the Muslim raids got to be irksome, he and his disciples removed to, and founded a monastery in, the mountains of southeastern Bulgaria. He ended his days on either Mount Paroria or Mount Katakryomenos, although neither name seems to exist outside his hagiographies (when mountains change names, somebody should make a note in the margin).

While avoiding public embroilment in the debate over hesychasm, Gregory is famed for his writings on that subject. Hesychasm, the prayer of the heart, involves certain physical and spiritual practices centered on the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Repetitions of the prayer are often accompanied by the telling of beads (or knots). Five of Greg’s works can be found in the Philokalia, the collection of Hesychastic writings compiled in the eighteenth century. He was also an accomplished writer of hymns, including the Marian hymn, “It Is Truly Meet.”

Dominic de GuzmanDominic de Guzman (1170 – 1221) is the son of a quondam inconceivable mother, Blessed Joan of Aza. She sought help at the shrine of Dominic of Silos, where she had a dream in which a dog bearing a torch leapt from her womb. Sure enough she (some months later) gave birth to a (human) son, but when the child was baptized, his mother saw a star shining from his chest, indicating, um, something.

Dominic studied the arts (or philosophy) and theology at a school that became a university after he left. When famine struck Spain in 1191, the young scholar gave away his money, clothes, furniture, and precious manuscripts to feed the hungry. After a stint as a cathedral canon, he went as part of a mission to Denmark to secure a bride for the Infant (crown prince of Spain). She was secured, but (sadly) died on the return trip.

In 1215 Dominic and companions set up shop in Toulouse as the Order of Preachers (O.P.), but everybody who’s anybody calls them the Dominicans, after their leader, the Domini canis (“hound of the Lord”) (I didn’t make that up). The Dominicans worked especially among the Albagensian Cathars, a group of heretics who believed — well, what they believed depends a good deal on whom you ask. Their Christology was (perhaps) Sabellian, their theology was (perhaps) Dualist, their sacraments were — sorry, sacrament was — (definitely) irregular, and their ecclesiology was (assuredly) insular. But this is not their story.

Dominic became discouraged at the order’s failure to make inroads with the Cathari, but the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a dream, showing him a wreath of roses, and imploring him to pray the rosary and teach the practice “to all who would listen.” Dominic is sometimes mistakenly believed to be the inventor of the rosary, but it predates him by — well, the sources say a lot about prayer beads, which predate Dominic by centuries, and the telling of “decades,” which predates him by a decade (heh) or two, and of the name “rosary,” which postdates him (at least in print) by a decade or three. Heck, maybe he did invent (or receive) what we today call the rosary.

The cheerful Dominic, a strict ascetic and vegetarian, spoke little, but sought ever to draw closer to God. He finally died in Bologna, worn out with his many worries and travels. He is the patron saint of astronomers.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

August 8 (Wikipedia)
Venerable Gregory of Sinai, MtAthos (OCA) – Main source
Gregory of Sinai (Wikipedia)
Philokalia (Wikipedia)
Jesus Prayer (Wikipedia)
The Philokalia, Volume 4 (book on paper)
Image from Copyright unknown.
Saint Dominic de Guzman (SQPN) – Main source
Saint Dominic (Wikipedia)
Dominican Order (Wikipedia)
Catharism (Wikipedia)
Cathari (Catholic Encyclopedia)
History of the Rosary (Wikipedia)
Image from Wikimedia. Public Domain.