The Saint’s Death: St. Gorgonia

Her maddened mules ran away with her carriage, overturned it, and dragged her along. Gorgonia was seriously injured, her brother writes. She was a wife and mother of five, and daughter and sister to other saints. Known not only for her virtue, but for her wisdom and hard work, she made her home a haven for the poor. Some called her “the audacious.” Gorgonia died about AD 372, at the age of thirty-nine. St. Gregory of Nazianzen continues:

Unbelievers were scandalized that such things could happen to the righteous. All crushed and bruised as she was, she would have none of any physician, except Him Who had permitted it because she wanted to owe her life only to Him.

She miraculously recovered, after showing a high degree faith and of patience in the midst of her suffering, and showing to others the kindness of God. For to the beautiful promise to the righteous, “though he fall, he shall not be utterly broken,” has been added one more recent, “though he be utterly broken, he shall speedily be raised up and glorified.” The cure became more celebrated than the blow.

Later, she was dangerously ill of a malignant disease,  fevered, sometimes in a coma, paralyzed. The doctors could do nothing. All the people joined in prayer for her. Her safety was the safety of all. Her suffering and sickness was a common misfortune.

Despairing of all other aid, Gorgonia went to the Physician of all. Feeling a little better in the silent hours of night, she approached the altar with faith, and, she called upon Him Who is honored thereon, speaking of all His former works of power. She imitated the woman whose fountain of blood was dried up by the hem of Christ’s garment.

Resting her head upon the altar, crying, she declared that she would not loose her hold until she was made whole. She went away feeling she was saved, having gained bodily by means of spiritual strength.

She Longed for Death

Gorgonia longed for death. She preferred to be with Christ more than anything on earth. According to the decision of God, she had been made aware of the day she would die, so she might be prepared and yet not disturbed.

She had recently obtained the blessing of cleansing and perfection. Or rather, her whole life was a cleansing and perfecting. While she received regeneration from the Holy Spirit, its security was hers by virtue of her former life. Her life almost over, I will venture to say that the mystery was a seal rather than a gift of grace.

Her husband’s perfection was her one remaining desire. in order that she might be consecrated to God in her whole body, and not depart half-perfected, or leave behind imperfect anything that was hers. sThis petition was granted by Him Who fulfils the desire of them that fear Him,.

When she had all things to her mind, and nothing was lacking of her desires, the appointed time of her death drew near. Being prepared for death, she took to her bed. After many injunctions to her husband, her children, and her friends, as was to be expected from one who was full of conjugal, maternal, and brotherly love, and after making her last day a day of solemn festival with brilliant discourse upon the things above, she fell asleep.

She died full not of the days of man, for which she had no desire, knowing them to be evil for her. She died more exceedingly full of the days of God, than I imagine any one even of those who have departed in a wealth of hoary hairs, and have numbered many terms of years. Thus she was set free, or, it is better to say, taken to God, or flew away, or changed her abode, or anticipated by a little the departure of her body.

Her Last Testimony

Gorgonia was just passing away, and at her last breath, surrounded by a group of relatives and friends performing the last offices of kindness, while her aged mother bent over her. There she lay motionless and speechless; seeming to be paralyzed. Her pastor, carefully watching her, noticed that her lips were gently moving, and placed his ear to them.

Under her breath she was repeating a psalm — the last words of a psalm —a testimony to the boldness with which she was departing. Blessed is he who can fall asleep with these words, “I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest.”

 

The story is taken from St. Gregory Nazianzen’s funeral oration for his sister, his Oration VIII, which can be found here. It has been shortened and the writing simplified.

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