The thing is, the English speaking world knows nothing about him. Yes, I have consulted the index to the 12 volumes of Butler's Lives of the Saints. No mention of St Gregory of Narek. But looking up his Wikipedia page revealed that the Catholic Church honours him on 27 February, so I grabbed the February volume and there he is, 'St Gregory, monk in Armenia (c.1005)'.
I even did a search for 'Narek' in my Kindle, thinking that he might have had a mention in the 1749 Roman Martyrology, but that search came up zero as well. Searching for 'Gregory' in that document also yielded nothing.
Knowing the first thing about St Gregory of Narek – that he lived in Armenia – made me inclined to like him even before seeking his story. One of my treasured memories from visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was seeking the myriad of Armenian crosses carved into walls of walkways; each one proclaiming to all who see them 'I came here as a pilgrim from Armenia, and I believe in the Resurrection, and so should you'.
Biographical details in English are rather scarce for St Gregory of Narek, and I trust that over the next year or two more details will become available as the hard work of translation gets done. What we do know is that his father was a bishop, that his mother died at a young age, and that Gregory became a monk at a place in what is now north eastern Turkey. Towards the end of his life, his fellow monks pleaded with Gregory to write down his prayers. This he did, completing the work shortly before going to his eternal reward. It says a lot that his Book of Prayer has been preserved and acknowledged as a treasure for over a thousand years. Just imagine how many people thought so much of the Book of Prayer that they copied the text by hand in order to pass it on to the next generation in the centuries prior to the printing press.
Currently the best sources of information about St Gregory of Narek are two books available on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com.au/The-Armenian-Prayerbook-Gregory-Narek-ebook/dp/B003KRP1MW translated by Thomas Samuelian and http://www.amazon.com/Narek-A-Path-Salvation-Teaching-Armenian-ebook/dp/B00TKMVKO4 by Anna Paitian. Getting both will set you back less than $20.
I was thrilled to find this blog-post from Catholic Cravings which contained excerpts from Gregory's prayers. http://www.lauramcalister.com/2015/02/23/beautiful-prayers-st-gregory-narek-new-doctor-church/. In reading them I was immediately reminded of St Therese of Lisieux. Her poetry sprang from the depths of a suffering united to Jesus and is powerful even when translated from her native French into English. Even today we find those treading the paths of long term physical suffering have an affinity for poetry that the rest of us don't possess. So it would make sense that Gregory's poetry sprang from a similar well.
The first inkling that I was on the right track came from the Anna Paitian's book description which said that Gregory was persecuted and exiled and lived hidden in the mountains because he stayed true to the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon. That Council defined the person of Jesus as both true God and true man and also had a lot of new rules for monks and bishops to promote good order and ease in settling disputes about jurisdiction.
The second inkling was found in the meditations on Gregory's work prior to the actual prayers in Samuelian's translation, 'Gregory, although only in his fifties; was suffering from a life-threatening, debilitating illness', and the evidence for that was in Prayer 18k:
'I lie here on a cot, struck down by evil, sinking in a mattress of disease and torment, like the living dead yet able to speak. O kind Son of God, have compassion upon my misery.'
Here are some more gems, that will hopefully give you an appetite for more of Gregory's work:
'You, the potter, and I, the clay. Show me, hesitating at the threshold of these contrite prayers, the sweetness of Your will.' Prayer 2b
'What is impossible for me is easy for You. What is beyond my reach is grasped by You. What is hidden for me in my fallen state is within view for Your supreme goodness. What is undoable for me is done by You.' Prayer 57a
'I am a poor man with no defense, with broken heart, with troubled soul, always errant, always fallen-gambling with my heart.' Prayer 26b
The online sources about St Gregory say that he is well known for obtaining miracles for those who seek his intercession. Actual stories of those miracles I have yet to find, but I am sure that there are many inspiring stories waiting to be translated for us.
Some may ask 'Why now?' I think I have the answer to that. For decades the visitations of Our Lady have been asking us to pray with the heart. Gregory's prayers teach us how to do exactly that. He had the sense that these prayers were never just for him, nor for his era and culture alone, but for all times and the peoples of all nations. To me it is as though God were saying to us, 'In these most difficult times, turn to prayer, use these prayers, they are My gift to you, part of My arsenal against evil that I have preserved especially for these times. They are the 'big guns'. Use them.'
Thank you Lord for the gift of this new Doctor of the Church.
Thank you for this new arsenal of prayer.
May St Gregory of Narek pray for us, and intercede before You for world peace. Amen.