Gregory of Nazianzus vs. Elizabeth the New Martyr

In the penultimate battle of the Round of 32, Gregory of Nazianzus squares off against Elizabeth the New Martyr. This marks the appearance of the fourth and final Elizabeth of Lent Madness 2020. How have the Elizabeths fared so far? Elizabeth of Hungary went down in flames, losing to Herman of Alaska, but the Biblical Elizabeth and Elizabeth Fry both emerged victorious and punched their respective tickets to the Saintly Sixteen.

Yesterday, Joanna the Myrrhbearer made it past Junia 62% to 38% and will face Bartimaeus in the next round.

In case you missed Monday Madness, in which Tim and Scott previewed the Saintly Sixteen while practicing Xtreme social distancing, you can watch it here. Also, get your priorities in order!

Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus desired nothing more than a solitary monastic life steeped in contemplation. Yet by responding to the needs of the church and the call of God, he came to be counted among the influential figures in Christianity, helping restore and establish Nicene Christianity in Constantinople.

Gregory was born around 329 ce in Nazianzus, in the Cappadocia region of present-day Turkey. He was the son of a bishop. Gregory received an excellent education in Athens, where he became a close friend of Basil of Caesarea. Leaving Athens in 351, Gregory sought the solitary monastic life, but after two years, he was called home to assist his father in the management of his diocese and affairs, and—against his will—was ordained priest.

Basil became the bishop of Caesarea, and when a rival who espoused Arian Christianity gained standing, Basil consecrated his old friend Gregory as bishop of Sasima, a hostile border town. The move strained Basil and Gregory’s friendship; Gregory had no desire to live in a difficult place or to become a pawn in church politics. They later reconciled, but the friendship was never the same. In time, Gregory again returned to his father in Nazianzus. But Gregory desired a solitary, contemplative life, and he withdrew to a monastery.

By 379, Constantinople was desperately in need of a strong and able bishop after years of Arian domination. Neighboring bishops sent for Gregory to restore the community; again, he tried to demur but ultimately consented. While Constantinople presented exactly the opposite of Gregory’s desired solitude, his time there proved pivotal for Christianity. He made his house into a church and preached a famous series of sermons on the Trinity that convinced all around him of his faith and understanding of the divinity of Christ and the nature of the Godhead. During the Ecumenical Council of 381, Gregory was installed as bishop of Constantinople and helped restore Christian orthodoxy to the crossroads of East and West.

Yet position and privilege were never Gregory’s desire. After the Council, he returned to Nazianzus, where at long last, he had the simple, contemplative life he craved. He died in Nazianzus in 390.

Collect for Gregory
Almighty God, who has revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

David Sibley


Elizabeth the New Martyr
Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna of Russia was born February 24, 1864. She was the second daughter of Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom. Her younger sister, Alexandra Fyodorovna, was the last empress of Russia. When Elizabeth was fourteen years old, her mother and youngest sister died of diphtheria. Elizabeth avoided the same fate because she was not living at home at the time. For a time, she was raised by her grandmother, Queen Victoria. Although she was pursued by her cousin, William II, Elizabeth ultimately chose to marry Grand Duke Sergei of Russia in 1884. After her marriage, Elizabeth embraced Orthodox Christianity.

In 1905 Elizabeth again was forced to confront tragedy when her husband was assassinated with a bomb. In the midst of the assassination Elizabeth is said to have comforted her husband’s coachman as he lay dying. She also later approached her husband’s killer in prison, offering him scriptures and inviting him to the faith.

After her husband’s death, Elizabeth divested her considerable wealth. With the funds she established the Martha and Mary Home in Moscow, a place for women to demonstrate both their devotion to Christ and their commitment to service. In 1909 she and other members of the home were dedicated as Sisters of Love and Mercy. She was engaged in a variety philanthropic ventures for nearly a decade.

In 1918, the Communist government exiled her, along with others from royal families, first to Yekaterinburg and then to Alapayevsk. On July 18, 1918, while still in Alapayevsk, she and others were murdered by local Bolsheviks. They were cast into an abandoned mine shaft and grenades were thrown in after them. Witnesses reported hearing them sing hymns as they died. One of Elizabeth’s last acts was to use her handkerchief to bandage the wounds of one of the princes murdered with her.

Elizabeth was proclaimed as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1981 and by the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole in 1992.

Collect for Elizabeth
O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Elizabeth, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

David Creech


Gregory of Nazianzus vs. Elizabeth the New Martyr

  • Elizabeth the New Martyr (58%, 4,019 Votes)
  • Gregory of Nazianzus (42%, 2,942 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,961

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Gregory of Nazianzus: Anonymous Russian icon painter (before 1917) Public domain image (according to PD-RusEmpire) [Public domain]
Elizabeth the New Martyr: Charles Bergamasco [Public domain]


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149 comments on “Gregory of Nazianzus vs. Elizabeth the New Martyr”

  1. St. Gregory the great Trinitarian
    Took exception to doctrines more Arian
    When he preached up a storm
    Then a mob did him swarm;
    Such an outcome I find most unfairian.

    1. Fiona, your quote from Basil about the pursuit of learning "...[the contest] was not about who should have first place, but about how one could yield it to the other. For each of us regarded the achievement of the other as his own." tipped the scales for me. I voted for Gregory.

      If more leaders could have that outlook, this world would be a much better place!

  2. Elizabeth has my vote today,in honor of my mother in law Elizabeth in heaven,a beautiful loving and Christian woman!

  3. In this time of self isolation, I vote for Gregory. I also vote for him because the Creed of St. Athanasius is impossible. I'm glad we use the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed instead in our services.

      1. Ooh. There's a thought.
        If the meeting ends ahead of schedule, finish with the Apostle's Creed.
        If it ends on time, finish with the Nicene Creed.
        If the meeting runs long, threaten those assembled with having to recite the Creed of St. Athanasius.

    1. Yes me too! I have always enjoyed contemplation but the demands of our highly extrinsic world pulls me away. This is a time I hope to actually use to become closer to God and myself. Bless you in this time! Bless Gregory and Elizabeth both!

  4. I wish the wealthy of today would share their riches like Elizabeth and help those who are without work due to the Coronavirus shutdown.

    1. They are!! Bill Gates has contributed $100,000,000. Other extremely wealthy folks are helping generously also. We should be thankful for them. Jesus said "To those who have, more will be given." Perhaps because they will then be able to help out when a crisis arises.

    2. One way to help (if your finances permit) is to call your favorite restaurants and order gift cards. Most can't survive long just on takeout orders, especially if they have a liquor license. Many of them let you order gift cards online, too.

      The same goes for barbers, hair and nail salons. I'm sure there are other businesses; feel free to add them in a reply.

      The worst that happens is that they fold anyway, in which case you're out the gift card — but you've helped a small business owner feed their family.

      And, if you're at a coffee shop or other small business today, leave a $10 or $20 in the jar if there's one there. Employees at these places are likely to be let go soon if business is slow (which it is).

      It will make their day.

      1. Thank you for putting my thoughts which I almost won't admit to even to myself, into words! And thanks too for the shout out to journalists especially Yamiche Alcindor. I admire her work.

      2. Yes, John -- and, if you are a member of a amall, non-corporate gym that has to close for a while, maybe let them continue to bill you for membership fees for a couple of months, if you still have sufficient income. My gym is owned by a sole proprietor who has no idea how he will make rent at his place of business in the near future.

      3. You can also give someone a pack of toilet paper if they need it. I read on Facebook where a friend's husband went to buy TP & Depends for his elderly mother who has cancer. He went to a store where he saw someone who loaded a shopping cart with TP; he was buying all the TP in the store. The friend's husband asked the man if he would give him a pack for his mother. I couldn't believe it when the man said no. What kind of person would do that? We need to share our resources during this crisis. I know both saints today would have shared.

  5. Hmmm. Orthodoxy and contemplation vs actually giving away your own wealth and helping people directly. It’s Elizabeth for me.

    1. Well, Greg went to places he didn't want to go and do stuff he really didn't want to do, for years.
      One might say that one person walked the walk and the other just tossed money around, but then one could also say, aw, he's a man; vote for the woman. Everybody has the right to vote as they wish to.

      1. I'd say that Elizabeth did more than "toss money around," and even that in itself is important and valuable. I'd also say that this "only women are winning" complaint has been disproved many times. You will survive.

  6. As much as I sympathize with an introvert who serves in leadership for the good of his people, I have to go with Elizabeth because of the horror she endured. Plus, I'm a bit of a fangirl of the Romanovs and Queen Victoria.

  7. What a dilemma! My name is Gregory and my wife's name is Elizabeth. You don't need to call me a smart man - I'm going with Elizabeth on this round.

  8. Gregory’s write up made him seem a bit of a recalcitrant for my taste. Remember Gloria Swanson? “I vant to be uh-lone!” Meh.
    Elizabeth, by far has the best complexion of any saint in this year’s bracket. And, what a great story!

  9. Interesting. I'm not quite sure what to do with this set-up today. Over the years we have faced a dismal imaginarium of martyrs' deaths: drowning, iron pincers, beheadings, being thrown to lions. I trust we do not face being thrown down mine shafts and having grenades lobbed after us. Victoria would not have been pleased with this treatment of her grand-daughter. Today's martyrdom takes the form of being lied to while the plague rages around us. Being publicly called "nasty" when you perform your journalist's duty of confronting power with requests for answers and accountability. I voted for Gregory because I felt the poignant need of a country "desperately in need of a strong and able [leader]." I must confess to great skepticism about the victory of trinitarianism over arianism. I really cannot see how a triune god separates us from polytheism. It's worth remembering that the Council of Nicea was called and presided over by an emperor. Constantine took part in the discussions and influenced decisions. I think it's fair to say that we live in a world in which we are more familiar with a Constantine controlling our lives than one in which Paul exhorts us to live in amity because it was for freedom that Christ set us free. Nevertheless, I am moved by the collect to "remain steadfast in the confession of our faith," regardless of the brain-cracking contortions of the creeds. I will consult Mister Death for a cocktail called "Homoousion." I dedicate my vote today to Yamiche Alcindor. Dear brothers and sisters, I must confess to you I am not a good Christian. In the prayers of the people for our leaders, my own private petition is: may COVID-45's bowels burst in a privy.

    1. Loved your essay-answer, but confess to voting for Elizabeth, loving her selfless ways

    2. As long as COVID-45 is never considered to be a martyr, I will join you in your petition!! Made me laugh out loud!

    3. Couldn't have said it better and would never have attempted to say it at all. What a mental image! Thank you.

    4. As I have been taught, I pray for the President. However, in my prayers I always include the petition "Please may our country and the world survive his presidency." My earnest wish (which I recognize would require a miracle)(and there are miracles) is that he would undergo a conversion on the scale of Saul's on the road to Damascus.

      1. My go-to prayer, when I'm not feeling very charitable, I must admit, is "O dear God, will you knock some SENSE into those people!"

      2. A wise priest once told me that the proper prayer for people such as our President (and my awful boss at the time) is that they become the person God wants them to be, so that's my prayer. I do, however, add something similar to Kathy's plea!

      3. Kathy, I echo your prayer for our country and our world: may we all survive our "leaders"! In today's vote, I gratefully vote for Gregory, the introvert who accepted his call to service. In retirement, my introvert nature has largely overcome my extrovert tendencies...especially now when it is so dangerous to mingle. Was this the Gregory who invented Gregorian chant? My music studies were so looooooooong ago...

      4. My prayer for our president of the United States is that he would have a Pauline conversion experience: be knocked off of his high horse of arrogance and meet the Christ of love, light, and humility.

    5. st. celia, thank you so much for making your confession public - it is comforting to know that there are others in the same camp.

    6. Part of our Trinitarian difficulty is The Church's (universal, not just Episcopal) use of the word "Person" when describing the Trinity. We think of "Person" as an individual, usually human, being. But, if I remember correctly, it comes ultimately from a Greek word (which I don't remember) meaning a mask. I find it easier to think of "personae", as in "dramatis personae", a character in a play rather than the human being playing the part.
      I find it easier to accept the Three-in-One by thinking of the different ways God relates to us. And many years ago I heard a sermon--on Trinity Sunday--in which the preacher referred to "God beyond us", "God beside us", and "God within us." It's all the same God, just experienced or viewed in different ways.

      1. Thank you that explanation of the Trinity. It's new to me and explains it very well!

      2. I like to collect different images of Trinity. I like this "God beyond us, God beside us, God within us" I will save it and savor it.

      3. I always think of the Trinity as facets of a diamond: one gem, turning different faces to us.

      4. I also thank you. I have always believed in the Holy Trinity as God being with us in differing aspects. I live in an area of the country that really believes in polytheism, so I have to vote for Gregory.

      5. For people wrestling with the nature of the Trinity on this St. Patrick's Day, I offer this entertaining piece on YouTube from Lutheran Satire (a Missouri Synod pastor named Hans Fiene). He ultimately concludes that the Trinity is a mystery which no human can completely articulate:

      6. St. Celia, your concluding sentence graphic nature distresses me. Perhaps you might consider other people’s sensibilities. We’re all in this together, you know.

      7. Thank you, Verdery! I wonder if I heard the same sermon. A difficult concept, the trinity.

    7. This is a fun and lighthearted place for me to come each morning. I am learning about many people that I have never heard of, and enjoying the lightheartedness during a time of uncertainty. My wish is that politics could be left out of the comments, as increased division among the people of this country is not what we need at this time. Please consider keeping your political comments to yourself. Jesus taught us to get along with and accept EVERY one. Thank you.

      1. Thank you for saying posting this. That is my wish and my prayer, as well. Would be lovely if at least Lent Madness could be a place where we can all come together.

      2. Yes! Thank you for saying this. There's enough of this type of commentary bombarding us on the airwaves 24/7, I'd rather not see it here. My heart is heavy enough as it is.

        1. So many other things to discuss. I've been enjoying and learning from conversations of saints, Arians, Trinitarians, and books! Thank you for those!

    8. As always, thank you St. Celia!

      I’m going to go with with Gregory for my names sake, but I’m sure Elizabeth will move on, so I’ll have another chance. (All the women in my family have Elizabeth in their names...)

      I’m on for that cocktail you mentioned, as long as the spirit is Rum!

    9. Me too, Laura B! I feel a kinship with Gregory’s introversion, but his fixation on the doctrine of the Trinity seems to me to be a diversion from the message of love and peace Jesus preached. And Elizabeth—what a woman! To be binding someone else’s wounds after being thrown in a mine shaft. Amazing! And confession, I too am a fan girl!

    10. Your concluding sentence graphic nature distresses me. Perhaps you might consider other people’s sensibilities. We’re all in this together, you know.

  10. I chose Gregory of Nazianus, because his desire to lead a monastic life, yet being "forced" into public life, reminds me of our own son, Gregory, who, being a "5" on the Enneagram (if you're into that) refers to himself as the "Mystical Hermit." I imagine Gregory of Nazanius had similar ideas of being a hermit.

    This was tough, because our daughter is named Elizabeth (but I voted in her favor when I chose the biblical Elizabeth). These choices are close to home!

  11. In memory of all the workers and peasants murdered by the tsar and his family over the decades leading up to the revolution, I voted for Gregory.

    1. Yes. Although it doesn't mean that folks can't so well in their own context, there is the context of the timing of her beatification by the Ruaaian Orthodox Church. I wonder if any people who opposed the tsar yet showed moral behavior under stress were beatified by them.

  12. Laura, I am struck by your sympathy for the tragedy of Elizabeth's murder. The Romanovs and the Victorian Imperialists didn't care one bit about the suffering they unleashed on their serfs and colonial subjects. All well and good for Elizabeth to shun her tiaras.
    I vote for Gregory who walked towards all the strife that he wished to avoid in order to resolve conflicts and create a greater good.

    1. I’m having awful trouble choosing this year; but this morning, with ample time for reflection, I resolved to make my choice right after Morning Prayer. Again it was hard; but I eventually chose Elizabeth because, going against the gangster culture of the family into which she had married, she chose to renounce riches and to comfort and sustain the afflicted. Her Wikipedia article adds to David Creech’s estimable biography the facts that during her marriage she was known for her good works among the poor, and that she not only publicly forgave her husband’s murderer but campaigned for his pardon.

      So I see Elizabeth as one who swam boldly against the current, whereas Gregory was repeatedly dragged kicking and screaming into his vocation. We may owe him more than we owe her; but she shone in the darkness until it consumed her, and shines still.

      1. Amen, Evelyn - we are blessed by amazing generosity, from the rich and the not so rich - people are sharing their
        goods, their time, and their spirit, hoping to make this difficult time of our lives better . .
        I chose Elizabeth because I’d not heard her story before - nothing against Gregory, but he’s well known.
        Much of the sweetness of Lent Madness is meeting new saints.

      2. I think it’s interesting that folks find fault for Gregory for trying to pursue his desire for contemplation - it’s very American to see that as an irresponsible path to follow. As Christians we should know better.
        He is also modeling the opposite of the Will to Power - again, a very Christian approach - he did not want power, but he served well when he was given authority, and then - wait for it - he laid down the scepter and went back to seeking the Presence of God. Wouldn’t it be lovely if our leaders took that tack, instead of seeking power over all else?

  13. I had to vote for Gregory because, although he was by nature a solitary, he provided his leadership when called to do so; and his influence continues to this day in our liturgy.

  14. "Witnesses reported hearing them sing hymns as they died. One of Elizabeth’s last acts was to use her handkerchief to bandage the wounds of one of the princes murdered with her." These claims have been accepted as truth for well over 50 years, but are credibly disputed in "Ella: Princess, Saint, and Martyr" (Christopher Warwick, 2006). Having read the book, though, I vote for Elizabeth - she transitioned from privileged aristocrat to someone who worked directly with the poor and infirm, often taking on the very worst cases of nursing in order to spare her staff and fellow nuns. In this day and time I can see her opening a center to care for patients with COVID-19 at the risk of her own health.

  15. “ Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world” ... an appropriate prayer during this time of seclusion from the world.

  16. I voted for Gregory because he gave up the life he wanted to do the will of God, although I have to admit this was a hard one for me.

  17. I voted for Elizabeth. Then when I was reading the comments remembered her younger sister was unhinged by the Tsarovitch's hemophilia and became enamoured by Rasputin. Now I wonder if I should recant.

    1. Elizabeth repeatedly opposed her sister's alliance with Rasputin, which led to their estrangement.

  18. yesterday I was working on a small group study I will be leading this summer on heresies and working on Arianism. That must be a sign that I need to vote for Gregory

  19. An particularly difficult decision today. I just recently read a fairly in depth study of Gregory and Basil, and I have always been in favor of people who are martyred in recent times, where interesting, but doubtful legends have grown up, and I also favored people who give up their wealth to help others. Don't see much of that today. However, I finally voted for Gregory because his work turning Constantinople away from Arianism was very, very necessary to the future. Still a tough decision.

  20. The words "Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world" in the collect for Elizabeth really stood out to me.
    To slightly adapt a line from The Hobbit, "If more of us valued [giving and sharing] food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." (Wikipedia's long article on this Elizabeth tells me she did all of those things, even singing at the end.)

  21. Such a tough choice today! I admire both for their humility, generosity, perseverance through difficulties, self-sacrifice, and courage. In the end I voted for Gregory, but am tremendously grateful for both of their lives and legacies. They both inspire me to love and serve God, neighbors, and nations.

  22. My group has been reading excerpts from Gregory Nazianzen. He was rooted in the spirit and joy of God, and was articulate and poetic in his copious writings. An example: "I have hardly begun to think of the Unity before the Trinity bathes me in its splendor: I have hardly begun to think of the Trinity before the Unity seizes hold of me again. When one of the three presents himself to me, I think it is the whole, so full to overflowing is my vision, so far beyond me does he reach. There is no room left in my mind, it is too limited to understand even one. When I combine the three in one single thought, I see only one great flame without being able to subdivide or analyse the single light." His prayers/poems are ecstatic. His heart was in contemplation, and he reluctantly agreed to serve the people in what he saw was a greater need than his own needs. Reading him has helped me better understand why Christianity worships the Trinity as opposed to the Arianic way. While Elizabeth the New Martyr led an exemplary life and is also worthy of my vote, I'm going with Gregory because of my new found understanding of God and the Triune theology.

    1. You’re inspiring me to read Gregory! I voted for him out of a contemplative bent of my own and a long-standing affection for the story of the Cappadocian Fathers, but I don’t think I knew how truly gorgeous Gregory’s writing was. Thanks for this snippet, Susan C.

    2. You’re inspiring me to read Gregory! I voted for him out of a contemplative bent of my own and a long-standing affection for the story of the Cappadocian Fathers, but I don’t think I knew how truly gorgeous Gregory’s writing was. Thanks for this snippet, Susan C.

      Hey, SEC! How come your bots keep telling me I have submitted a duplicate comment when I have only written one? Happened yesterday, too, and when I submitted a revised edition, they both showed up! What gives??

    3. Thanks. Susan C, for your quotes from Gregory himself! I read of his sermons in a chapter of "The Cruelty of Heresy" book by C.S.Allison, but that book focused more on Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and their sister Macrina (remember her from a couple years ago?)
      Anyway, I voted for Gregory of Nazianzus before reading the comments, and am doubly glad to have done so.

  23. Elizabeth gets my vote today. What an unusual martyrdom, and she comforted someone else in the midst of torture and death.