Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios on the Feast of the Three Hierarchs - January 30, 2006
Jan 24, 2006
The Feast of the Three Hierarchs
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It is in following the beautiful and blessed tradition of our Holy Orthodox Church that we gather once again to commemorate the Three Hierarchs and ecumenical teachers, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint John Chrysostom. Through their legacy of faith, piety, and divine wisdom, these holy Fathers have guided Christians down through the centuries toward the true source of love and salvation, Jesus Christ.
It was their love for God, their experience of the presence of Christ, their lives of prayer, and their deep theological reflection that showed these great leaders of the Church to be living images of Christ, abiding in Him as branches joined to the “true vine” (John 15:1). Drawing from this omniscient and eternal source of life and wisdom, the Three Hierarchs bore “fruit that remains” (John 15:16). Their witness of Christ and their service to Him and His Church continue to this day through the record of their saintly lives, their sermons, orations, and great theological treatises, and through this annual commemoration by which we honor these three great luminaries.
As bearers of divine fruit, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint John Chrysostom knew the significance of this metaphor offered by our Lord Jesus Christ, and they each addressed this in their sermons and writings as they called the faithful to be joined to Christ and to bear the fruit of witness and service. In his homily on John 15, Saint John Chrysostom emphasized the continual presence of Christ with us, the true vine that is always connected to the branches giving them life. Saint John states that Christ has shown his love to us in many ways: He has made known to us what He has heard from the Father (v. 15); He calls us His friends and has chosen us for His divine work (vv. 14-16); and He has granted us the greatest of blessings by suffering for us. Further, Christ shows His great love for us by “remaining continually with those who shall bring forth fruit; for it is needful to enjoy His aid, and so to bear fruit” (Homily 77 on the Gospel of Saint John). Saint John affirms that Christ in His great love for us has joined Himself to us and is offering us all that we need to bear good fruit that will lead us to salvation.
In his great treatise, the Hexaemeron, Saint Basil the Great refers to the vine, focusing on the importance of the Church, as the community of believers, in bearing good fruit. He states that in establishing the Church, Christ “has planted for us…apostles, prophets, and teachers…. He wishes that the claspings of love, like the branches of the vine, should attach us to our neighbors and make us rest on them, so that, in our continual aspirations towards heaven, we may imitate these vines, which raise themselves to the tops of the tallest trees” (Homily 6). Here, Saint Basil affirms the necessity of our life in the Church. To grow spiritually and bear good fruit in our journey toward eternal salvation, we need the community of faith and the guidance of our divine services, teachings and traditions. These offer us a witness of the lives of many who have attained the heights of glory, and in our trust and imitation of those who have gone before us we will experience an abiding communion with Christ that will transform our lives and the lives of those around us.
It is the witness of our faith to others that is addressed by Saint Gregory the Theologian in his Oration on the Holy Lights. Speaking on the presence of Christ in our lives as a source of strength and protection against evil, he states that “having guarded our soul with every care, and having appointed goings up in our heart, and broken up our fallow ground, and sown unto righteousness…let us speak of the Wisdom of God that has been hid in a mystery, and enlighten others. Meanwhile, let us purify ourselves, and receive the elementary initiation of the Word, that we may do ourselves the utmost good, making ourselves godlike, and receiving the Word at His coming; and not only so, but holding Him fast and showing Him to others.” While Saint Gregory affirms the necessity of spiritual growth, he acknowledges that our lives should direct others to Christ. If our souls are initiated in Christ and secured to the true vine, then our lives will offer a witness to the world by revealing His saving presence and enlightening others with His truth.
These words of the Three Hierarchs offer deep insight into our spiritual lives and the divine task we are called to do. To bear fruit and offer a ministry of witness and service in this world we must be joined to Christ, and we must be assured of His guiding presence. This assurance and experience of His divine presence comes through our lives of prayer and our full participation in His Holy Church. Through daily communion with Him and our spiritual growth through the sacramental and didactic life of the Church, we will bear enduring fruit in our own souls that will lead us to salvation and eternal fellowship with our Lord. We will also bear fruit in the lives of others as we cultivate our souls in holiness and divine truth. Following the example of the Three Hierarchs, “who have illumined all of the world and with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams,” may we strive to bear fruit that will remain for our families, our parishes, and for generations to come as a witness to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America