Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for the Feast of the Three Hierarchs
Jan 25, 2005
The Feast of the Three Hierarchs
“Concern for spiritual things will unite the family.”
(Saint John Chrysostom, Homily XXI on Ephesians)
“What children hear is impressed as a seal on the wax of their minds.”
(Saint John Chrysostom, Homily III on John)
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,
On this day we celebrate once again the feast of the illustrious Three Hierarchs and ecumenical teachers of the Church, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint John Chrysostom. In our hymns and prayers we honor them for having illumined all the world with the divine and true teachings of our faith. Through their great wisdom and Godly knowledge they have enlightened our hearts and minds and guided us toward salvation in Jesus Christ.
These three great luminaries of the faith stand before us not only as examples of divine wisdom, but also as examples of great piety and holiness. Certainly, their brilliance of thought and word was the result of extensive study in theology, philosophy, the sciences, and language. For the Three Hierarchs, however, the pursuit of knowledge was inseparable from the pursuit of piety and holiness. The wisdom found in this world through intellectual endeavors was to be tempered by worship, prayer, the study of the Holy Scriptures, and obedience to the will of God. These acts and attitudes of true Christian piety characterized the lives of the Three Hierarchs, not only during their sacred labors as theologians and bishops of the Church, but from a very young age as they were nurtured in faith, love, and holiness within the unique bonds and relationships of family.
As children, each of the Three Hierarchs was blessed by God to live in homes filled with the love and presence of Christ, and the cultivation of genuine piety. Basil the Great was guided by the saintly lives of his parents and grandparents, who were well-known for their witness of the faith under persecution, their virtues, and their care for the poor. As a result of this heritage of piety and the cultivation of the soul in the home, six of Saint Basil’s immediate family members were declared saints by the Church. Gregory the Theologian was also the son of saints, who fostered faith and virtue within him so that he was known from a young age to have great wisdom and a strong yearning for contemplation and prayer. Further, Saint Gregory’s brother and sister became saints of the Church, showing the influence and importance of a home and a family that is nourished and sustained by the presence and grace of God. John Chrysostom was also nurtured in a life of holiness by his mother, who though widowed at a young age, devoted her life to his education and spiritual growth. Through her guidance and by her example, Saint John Chrysostom developed a love for chastity and righteousness, as well as an unquenchable zeal for divine truth. The firm foundation of faith that was laid by their families gave the Three Hierarchs the wisdom, strength, and courage necessary to offer their lives to God for the work of His kingdom, and to pursue the heights of knowledge as they synthesized the great intellectual achievements of humankind with divine revelation.
What we see in the lives of the Three Hierarchs is the power of faith in the home and in the life of the family. A family that devotes time to worship and prayer lives each day in the presence of God, cultivating the strength to address the needs and challenges of the day, and receiving the assurances of hope and peace. Families that nurture their children in love and holiness and guide them in the life of faith are enabling their sons and daughters to navigate the experiences of this world toward the attainment of the ultimate experience, namely union with God.
In studying the lives of the Three Hierarchs and their families, we are strongly impressed also by the importance that Hellenic paideia had for them. Thus, it is fitting that our commemoration on this day includes a celebration of Greek Letters. The significance of this recognition of our spiritual and intellectual heritage rests not only in the preservation of a way of life and thought that offers a true and beautiful synergy of mind and soul, but also in the emphasis that a wide breadth of education, a true paideia, is needed to cultivate young lives and guide them in the path of a fulfilled life. As families and parents, and as Greek Orthodox parishes, our focus should be on fully educating our children and youth by guiding them both in the Orthodox faith and in a universal and centuries old tradition of learning like the Hellenic one, that will help them mature as good and productive members of society as well as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
As we celebrate this Feast of the Three Hierarchs, I kindly ask you to follow the examples of their lives and strive to make your homes and families places of true learning and of illumination in the faith. In your homes and parishes may you labor for the spiritual well-being of your children by providing them quality education, instructing them in their cultural and spiritual heritage, and "bringing them up in the paideia and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America