When Gregory became bishop of Neocaesarea in the region of Pontus (modern Turkey) in the year 239, there were only seventeen Christians. When he died (which tradition says happened on this day, November 17, 270), there were only seventeen pagans. That transformation was owing largely to his faithful efforts.
But before Gregory could lead people to Christ, he needed to know Him himself. Gregory was born into a prosperous pagan home and named Theodore (Gift of God). His parents expected him to become a lawyer. It was to fulfill that expectation that he and his brother planned to attend the famous law school at Beirut (in modern Lebanon). Their brother-in-law became an official in the government of Palestine, and before they headed off to law school, they escorted their sister to Caesarea so that she could rejoin her husband.
At that time, the famous Origen, a Christian theologian and scholar taught in Caesarea. Out of curiosity, the boys went to hear him. Immediately they were hooked. Origen's charm, his virtuous life, his sincerity, and tactical skill with arguments, his cleverly timed bursts of temper and sharp arguments persuaded them that Christianity was the truth. Both converted to the young faith. Law was forgotten for the next seven years as they immersed themselves in Christian theology and philosophy.
At some point Theodore changed his name to Gregory. Although devoted to Christ, he still planned to practice law when he returned home. All the same, Origen urged him to turn the reasoning of the Greeks to account for Christianity and Gregory did hope to write a definitive work proving Christianity the one true religion. He never accomplished this.
Instead, the few Christians of his hometown persuaded him to became their bishop. Neocaesarea was prosperous, idolatrous, and wicked. But with incurable optimism, Gregory exerted all of his talents in the task of converting pagans. To attract them within reach of the Christian message, he arranged games on martyrs' days. God granted him such gifts of healing that many people came to him to be cured and heard the gospel. If the legends are to be believed, he performed many astonishing miracles. There must be some truth in these, because he was known from the earliest times as Thaumaturgus, "Wonder Worker."
Gregory's one driving goal was evangelism which he saw as a joyful antidote to heathen despair. "And if any one does not believe that death is abolished, that Hades is trodden under foot, that its chains are broken, that the tyrant is bound, let him look on the martyrs deporting themselves in the presence of death, and taking up the jubilant strain of the victory of Christ. O the marvel! Since the hour when Christ despoiled Hades, men have danced in triumph over death. 'O death, were is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory'?"
- Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints. Various editions.
- "Gregory Thaumaturgus." http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/saintg40.htm
- Leclercq, H. "St. Gregory of Neocaesarea." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, Co. 1910.
- Slusser, Michael, translator. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus; life and works. The Fathers of the Church, Volume 98. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press.
- "St. Gregory the Wonder worker." Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. http://home.it.net.au/~jgrapsas/pages/gregory.htm
- "St Gregory The Wonder Worker, Bishop Of Neocaesarea." John Mark Ministries. http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm/afam/afam0079.htm
- UCLA Coptic Club. "Sayings from the Bible, Saints, and Church Fathers."