Posted in DOCTORS of the Church, ON the SAINTS, Papa FRANCIS, Pope BENEDICT XVI, SAINT of the DAY

Saint of Day – 27 February – St Gregory of Narek (950-1003) – Doctor of the Church

Saint of Day – 27 February – St Gregory of Narek (950-1003) – Doctor of the Church – Armenian monk, poet, mystical philosopher, theologian, writer and saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Catholic Church, born into a family of writers.   Based in the monastery of Narek (Narekavank), he was “Armenia’s first great poet”and as “the watchful angel in human form”.header - st gregory of narek

Born circa 950 to a family of scholarly churchmen, St Gregory entered Narek Monastery on the south-east shore of Lake Van at a young age.   Shortly before the first millennium of Christianity, Narek Monastery was a thriving centre of learning.   These were the relatively quiet, creative times before the Turkic and Mongol invasions that changed Armenian life forever.   Armenia was experiencing a renaissance in literature, painting, architecture and theology, of which St Gregory was a leading figure.   The Prayer Book is the work of his mature years.  He called it his last testament:  “its letters like my body, its message like my soul.”    His best-known writings include a commentary on the Song of Songs and his “Book of Lamentations,” more commonly known as “Narek.”   St Gregory left this world in 1003 but his voice continues to speak to us for all earthly time.

st gregory of narek portrait

Pope Francis named the tenth century Armenian monk, St Gregory Narek, the 36th Doctor of the Church on 21 Feb 2015.   I love the writing of St Gregory!   He’s a poet to the core and demonstrated amply, like the Hebrew prophets, that beauty is the truest form of divine discourse.  Many of his theological and mystical-ascetical works are written as a colloquy — a dialogue with God — as was St Augustine’s autobiography, the Confessions. Theological colloquy offers such a deep insight into the nature of theological discourse which must always be, in the first instance, a dialogue with the revealing God Himself. God reveals to us not mere data for speculative consideration but Himself for consummating union.

And, true to Pope Francis’ pastoral style, this doctor is chosen from the “margins” of the suffering church. (Incidentally, in 2012 Pope Benedict named a “marginal” medieval woman as Doctor of the Church, the twelfth century Abbess Saint Hildegard of Bingen.  A genius.   Sadly, so little fuss was made subsequently.

The Armenian Apostolic Church (great documentary here), that traces its origins back to the first century, has a rich monastic, liturgical and theological tradition and a rich history of saints and culture.   But Armenian Christians also have a long history of oppression, climaxing in the horrors of the “Armenian Holocaust” genocide of 1915, carried out by the Ottoman Turks who slaughtered more than one million Armenian Christians.

The Armenian Divine Liturgy is magnificent in its poetry, sense of mystery, and theological depth. One of the most cherished hymns of the Liturgy is called Khorhoort Khoreen, “O Mystery Deep.” (Dr Tom Neal)

O Mystery deep, inscrutable, without beginning.   Thou hast decked Thy supernatural realm as a chamber unto the light unapproachable and hast adorned with splendid glory the ranks of Thy fiery spirits.

lovely - st gregory of narek artwork

St Gregory has shown up a couple of times in Magisterial writings.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, contains a reference to him:

Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St Ephrem or St Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same. (§2678)

St Pope John Paul II also referred to him in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater:

In his panegyric of the Theotokos, Saint Gregory of Narek, one of the outstanding glories of Armenia, with powerful poetic inspiration ponders the different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation, and each of them is for him an occasion to sing and extol the extraordinary dignity and magnificent beauty of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh.

st gregory of narek mosaic

With the formation of the Armenian Catholic Church St Gregory received his first liturgical veneration within the Catholic Church.   He has not been officially canonised by the pope.   Some have speculated that the declaration of Gregory as a Doctor of the Church might have served as an equipollent canonization (see more on this below). Others have simply stated that the recognition of the Armenian liturgy and liturgical calendar by the Catholic Church served as a confirmation of the cultus of saints in that rite.   Though it appears that he was placed in the Roman Martyrology, prior to the declaration on 12 April 2015.

St. Gregory’s proclamation as a Doctor of the Church was commemorated by the Vatican City state with a postage stamp issued 2 September 2015.Minifoglio

Equipollent or equivalent canonisation

It should be noted that when Pope Benedict XVI declared St. Hildegard von Bingen as a Doctor of Church he used the process of equipollent or equivalent canonisation, as she also had not been formally canonised.   Even St Albert the Great was canonised in this fashion when he was declared a doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI.   Pope Benedict used this process of canonisation a few other times and Pope Francis has also done so.

‘When there is strong devotion among the faithful toward holy men and women who have not been canonised, the Pope can choose to authorise their veneration as saints without going through that whole process. … This is often done when the saints lived so long ago that fulfilling all the requirements of canonisation would be exceedingly difficult.’

Author:

Passionate Catholic. Being Catholic is a way of life - a love affair "Religion must be like the air we breathe..."- St John Bosco Prayer is what the world needs combined with the example of our lives which testify to the Light of Christ. This site will mainly concentrate on Daily Prayers, Novenas and the Memorials and Feast Days of our friends in Heaven, the Saints who went before us and the great blessings the Church provides in our Catholic Monthly Devotions. "For the saints are sent to us by God as so many sermons. We do not use them, it is they who move us and lead us, to where we had not expected to go.” Charles Cardinal Journet (1891-1975) This site adheres to the Catholic Church and all her teachings.

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