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E01304: Gregory of Nyssa, in his Letter 1 of the 380s or 390s, mentions festivals of a certain *Petros (bishop of Sebasteia, S01124 or S01125) and unnamed martyrs (perhaps *Athenogenes of Pedachthoe, S00065) at Sebasteia/Sebaste (eastern Asia Minor), and a festival of martyrs in the village of Andaëmona in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor). Probably written in Greek at Nyssa (central Asia Minor).

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posted on 2016-04-22, 00:00 authored by naleksidze
Gregory of Nyssa, Letters (CPG 3167), Letter 1

Letter 1, 'to Bishop Flavianos'

Gregory deplores an unexpected conflict between him and the bishop of Caesarea, Helladios. He received surprising news that the latter was angry with him, which he first did not believe, but later were confirmed by many. There follows an account of their meeting.

καὶ τέλος, τὴν μνήμην τοῦ μακαριωτάτου Πέτρου παρὰ Σεβαστηνοῖς πρώτως ἀγομένην ἐπιτελέσας, καὶ τὰς συνήθως παρ᾽ αὐτῶν ἐπιτελουμένας τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων μνήμας κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν χρόνον συνδιαγαγὼν ἐκείνοις, ἐπὶ τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ πάλιν ἐκκλησίαν ὑπέστρεφον. καί τινος μηνύσαντος κατὰ τὴν ὀρεινὴν αὐτὸν ἐνορίαν διάγειν μαρτύρων ἐπιτελοῦντα μνήμας, τὰ μὲν πρῶτα τῆς ὁδοῦ εἰχόμην, εὐπρεπέστερον εἶναι κρίνων ἐπὶ τῆς μητροπόλεως γενέσθαι τὴν συντυχίαν· ὡς δέ τις τῶν γνησίων κατὰ σπουδήν μοι συντετυχηκὼς ἀρρωστεῖν αὐτὸν διεβεβαιώσατο, καταλιπὼν ἐν τῷ τόπῳ τὸ ὄχημα, ἐν ᾧ παρὰ τῆς τοιαύτης κατελήφθην φήμης, ἵππῳ τὸ μεταξὺ διῆλθον διάστημα, κρημνῶδες καὶ ὀλίγου ἀπόρευτον ταῖς τραχυτάταις ἀνόδοις. ἦν δὲ πεντεκαίδεκα σημεῖα, ὡς παρὰ τῶν ἐγχωρίων ἠκούσαμεν, οἷς τὸ ἐν τῷ μέσῳ διεμετρεῖτο διάστημα. τούτων τὰ μὲν ἐκ ποδὸς τὰ δὲ διὰ τοῦ ἵππου μόλις διελθών, ὄρθριος, μέρει τινὶ καὶ τῆς νυκτὸς συγχρησάμενος, κατὰ τὴν πρώτην τῆς ἡμέρας ὥραν ἐφίσταμαι τοῖς Ἀνδαημονοῖς· οὕτω γὰρ ὀνομάζεται τὸ χωρίον, ἐν ᾧ ἦν ἐκκλησιάζων ἐκεῖνος μετὰ ἄλλων ἐπισκόπων δύο. ἄποθεν δὲ κατιδόντες ἐξ αὐχένος τινὸς ὑπερκειμένου τῆς κώμης τὴν ἐν τῷ ὑπαίθρῳ τῆς ἐκκλησίας συνδρομήν, βάδην τὸν μεταξὺ διήλθομεν τόπον, ἐκ ποδός τε προϊόντες αὐτός τε καὶ ἡ μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ συνοδία καὶ τοὺς ἵππους διὰ χειρὸς ἐφελκόμενοι· ὥστε φθάσαι ὁμοῦ τὰ δύο γενέσθαι, ἐκεῖνόν τε ἐκ τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἐπὶ τὴν οἰκίαν ὑποστρέψαι καὶ ἡμᾶς πλησιάσαι τῷ μαρτυρίῳ. μηδεμιᾶς δὲ γενομένης ἀναβολῆς ἐπέμφθη παρ’ ἡμῶν ὁ μηνύσων αὐτῷ τὴν παρουσίαν· καὶ μικροῦ διαγεγονότος διαστήματος ὁ ὑπηρετούμενος αὐτῷ διάκονος συνέτυχεν ἡμῖν, ὃν παρεκαλέσαμεν διὰ τάχους μηνῦσαι, ὥστε ἐπὶ πλεῖον αὐτῷ συνδιαγαγεῖν, ἐφ’ ᾧ τε καιρὸν εὑρεῖν πρὸς τὸ μηδὲν περιοφθῆναι τῶν ἐν ἡμῖν ἀθεράπευτον. μετὰ τοῦτο ἐγὼ μὲν ἐκαθήμην κατὰ τὸ ὕπαιθρον ἀναμένων τὸν εἰσκαλοῦντα καὶ προεκείμην ἄκαιρον θέαμα τοῖς ἐπιδημοῦσι κατὰ τὴν σύνοδον. (……)

‘So, finally, having celebrated the memory of the most blessed Petros, which was held for the first time in Sebasteia, and, in the same period, having spent with the Sebasteians the feasts of the holy martyrs, held by them according to custom, I was on my way back to my own church. When someone informed me that he [Helladios] was visiting the mountain district, celebrating the feasts of the martyrs, at first, I continued my journey, deeming it more appropriate that a meeting should take place at the metropolis [i.e. at Caesarea]. But when one of his associates met me urgently and assured me that he was unwell, I left my carriage at the spot where this news overtook me, and covered on horseback the remaining distance which was steep and almost impassable, with the roughest of ascents. It was fifteen milestones that measured the intervening distance from the point when we heard from the locals. I covered them with difficulty, partly on foot, partly on horseback, and early in the morning, having travelled even during some of the night, I arrived in the first hour of the day at Andaëmona – that is the name of the place where he was holding church with two other bishops. At a distance, from a height overlooking the village, we saw the congregation gathered outside, and we walked through the intervening area, proceeding on foot, both I and my company, and leading our horses by hand. It thus happened that two things took place simultaneously, namely he retired from the church to the house, while we were approaching the shrine of the martyrs [martyrion]. Without delay we sent a messenger to inform him of our coming. After a little while, the deacon who attended him came to meet us. We asked him to inform him [Helladius] quickly, so that we might spend as much time as possible with him, and take the opportunity in order to leave nothing between us unresolved. After that, I sat down in the open air, waiting to be invited in, and providing a bizarre spectacle for the people attending the festival [synodos]. (……)

After being left to wait for several hours outside in the heat of noon, Gregory is granted a very unfriendly reception by Helladios who refuses to listen to Gregory’s apology and explanations. He dismisses him, refusing to admit him and his company to the festal meal prepared for the day:

(24-25.) Ὥρα ἦν πλείων ἢ κατὰ τὴν ἕκτην, καὶ τὸ λουτρὸν εὐτρεπὲς καὶ ἐν παρασκευῇ ἡ ἑστίασις καὶ σάββατον ἡ ἡμέρα καὶ μαρτύρων τιμή· καὶ πάλιν ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ εὐαγγελίου πῶς μιμεῖται τὸν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου δεσπότην; ὁ μὲν μετὰ τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων ἀπελογεῖτο τοῖς ὀνειδίζουσιν ὡς κατὰ φιλανθρωπίαν τοῦτο ποιῶν, ὁ δὲ ἄγος κρίνει καὶ μίασμα τὴν ἐπὶ τραπέζης κοινωνίαν.

‘It was now long past the sixth hour, the bath was well primed, the banquet was in preparation, and the day was a Sabbath and a feast of martyrs. Again how did the disciple of the Gospel [Helladios] imitate the Master of the Gospel? The latter, when eating and drinking with publicans and sinners, defended Himself against those who reproached Him, by saying that He did so out of love for man [cf. Mt 9.10– 12]; the former regarded our company at the table as a disgrace and defilement.’

Gregory and his company leave the village, and, on their way back, they are caught by a thunderstorm.

Text: Maraval 1990.
Translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103 Athenogenes, Bishop and martyr of Pedachthoe, ob. 305 : S00065 Anonymous martyrs : S00060 Petros, bishop of Sebasteia in Armenia, ob. early 4th c. : S01124 Petros, bishop of Sebasteia in Armenia

Saint Name in Source

Πέτρος Πέτρος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Nȳsa Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nyssa

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Other lay individuals/ people


Gregory of Nyssa was born in the late 330s as one of the youngest of a leading Christian family of Cappadocia. His siblings included important figures of church life, namely Basil of Caesarea, the ascetic Makrina the Younger, and Peter of Sebaste. Gregory was trained in philosophy and rhetoric mainly by his brother Basil, who, in 371 or 372 ordained him bishop of the Cappadocian township of Nyssa. In 376, Gregory was deposed from his see, to which he was able to return in 378, and, from then onwards, he was one of the protagonists of church politics in the East Roman Empire. He played an important role during the Council of Constantinople (381) and was very close to the imperial family of Theodosius I. He was sent on missions to Armenia and Arabia in order settle problems in local churches. Gregory died after 394. He left a large literary heritage on philosophical, theological, ascetical, catechetical and homiletic works. The authorship of this letter by Gregory of Nyssa has been doubted in the past, but the attribution is now firmly established in his favour. On the debate, see: Silvas 2007, 105-107. Manuscripts:


The context of the letter is the tension between the author and Helladios, the metropolitan of Caesarea, which culminated in the tragi-comic meeting recounted by Gregory here. The precise reasons and date of the conflict are unknown. Gregory is on his way back home from Sebasteia/Sebaste, when he breaks off his journey to visit Helladios who was officiating at a festival in a village. He soon regrets his decision, as he is granted a very hostile reception by the metropolitan, who is portrayed as a difficult man by other sources as well. The account provides a few references to the feast of the unnamed martyrs held at the mountainous village of Andaëmona, which included a service held outdoors very early in the morning, and presided over by the metropolitan of Cappadocia and two attending bishops. Gregory says that it was at the first hour (i.e. at c. 6 am) that he arrived at the upland environs of the village and saw the congregation. The time of the year must have been summer, as suggested by the author’s repeated complaints about the hot weather and the unexpected storm that caught him during his return journey. The swift journey through the mountains of Cappadocia he describes would have been hardly possible in winter. Gregory arrives when the church service has finished and the clergy are retiring to a house nearby. He is left to wait for a humiliatingly long period of time, before being admitted to an even more humiliating meeting with Helladios. Interestingly, Gregory does not report if he visited the shrine, or venerated anything during his stay. The meeting with Helladios lasts till after the sixth hour (i.e. after 12 noon), by which time a bath and banquet for the clergy and perhaps other attendants of the festival have been prepared. Helladios refuses to admit his unwelcome guest to the feast, and Gregory leaves. Gregory states that, prior to his unhappy meeting with Helladios, he had been at Sebasteia, attending two memorial celebrations: one in honour of a certain Petros, then being celebrated for the first time, and one in honour of local martyrs, celebrated according to established custom. The two festivals were apparently celebrated at roughly the same time, but their identification is uncertain. Most of the festivals associated with Sebasteia in the martyrologies are in winter (Eustratios and his companions on 13 December; Blasios and Companions on 11 February; Dionysios, Aimilianos, and Sebastianos on 8 February; the Forty Martyrs on 9 March; a bishop Peter on 26 March). This time of the year does not fit well with the summer festival where Gregory met Helladios. Thus the identification of the local martyrs as the Forty, whose number has been interpolated into the text by the modern editors (here removed by us), is unlikely. A possible candidate for the subject of this festival is *Athenogenes of Pedachthoe and his companions, celebrated on 17 July (E02993). According to his martyrdom account, Athenogenes was burned at the city of Sebasteia, near a site called Agalma (‘statue’). The same text reports that, at the same place, a certain bishop Petros of Sebasteia had been martyred, and there was a church on the site. The Martyrdom of Athenogenes also informs us that neither of these saints was buried there: Athenogenes’ body was buried at martyrium he had built for other martyrs in the village of Pedachthoe, where he had lived as a bishop, while Petros’ body was laid to rest at a place called Bizaza. The identification of the memorial celebration of Petros with the martyred bishop Petros I of Sebasteia would seem logical, but it is less than certain. The latter's feast is recorded on 26 March in the Hieronymian Martyrology. Gregory states that the memory of Petros was held for the first time, as opposed to the feast of the other martyrs which was an established regular celebration. Paul Devos suggested that the martyred bishop Petros I of Sebasteia was recalled from obscurity and given a prominent cult and feast under his namesake, Peter II (380-391), who was the younger brother of Gregory of Nyssa. Another possible solution would be Peter II himself. Given the fact that his memorial celebration was reportedly held for the first time, the first anniversary of his death (a depositio episcopi) would be a fitting explanation. It is plausible to assume that the people of Sebasteia would have invited Gregory of Nyssa for the the memorial celebration of his brother. The precise date of Peter’s death and the name of his successor are unknown. The Roman martyrology places him on 9 January, but this is suspiciously close to the feast date of Gregory of Nyssa himself (10 January) and is unlikely to preserve a memory of the historic date.


Text and French Translation: Maraval, P., Grégoire de Nysse, Lettres ; introduction, texte critique, traduction, notes et index. Sources chrétiennes 363. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1990, 288-301. English Translation: Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007. German translation: Teske, D., Gregor von Nyssa, Briefe. Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur 43. Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1997. Further reading: Delehaye, H., Les origines du culte des martyrs (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1912), 207-208. Devos, P. "Saint Pierre 1er, Évêque De Sébastée, Dans Une Lettre De Grégoire De Nazianze." Analecta Bollandiana 79 (1961): 346-60. Leemans, J. (2001), ‘On the Date of Gregory of Nyssa’s First Homilies on the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (Mart Ia and Ib)’, Journal of Theological Studies 53: 93–8. Limberis, V., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Maraval, P., ‘Les premiers développements du culte des XL Martyrs de Sébastée dans l’Orient byzantin et en Occident’, Vetera Christianorum 36, 1999, 193–211. On Gregory of Nyssa: Dörrie, H., “Gregor III,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 12 (1983), 863-895. Maraval, P., ‘Grégoire, évêque de Nysse’, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 22 (1988): 20–4. Radde-Gallwitz, A. "The Letter Collection of Gregory of Nyssa." In Late Antique Letter Collections. A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide, edited by Cristiana Sogno, Bradley K. Storin and Edward Watts, 102-112. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 1-57.

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