Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios of America for the Feast of the Three Hierarchs
Jan 25, 2007
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 Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 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,
Upon our joyful celebration of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs and the commemoration of these great luminaries and champions of our Orthodox Christian faith, we are called to consider what made these men outstanding examples of communion with God, firmness of faith, and holiness of life. Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint John Chrysostom are known, admired, and loved as persons of great faith and wisdom who offered their lives, their unselfish services, and their talents for the glory of God, the advancement of the Church, and the salvation of the people.
This offering of life and service of each of the Three Hierarchs was enhanced by their spiritual and intellectual abilities, which were nurtured from a very young age. In addition to their upbringing and training, the record of their lives and their great theological works revealed their tremendous gifts. They used these gifts in the service of our Lord. They did not seek self-aggrandizement, but rather they labored to strengthen the faith of others, to further the evangelical and philanthropic mission of the Church, and to prepare themselves and others for eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. They knew that their intellectual abilities were gifts from God. They also knew that these gifts would accomplish much more in the service of the Church and humanity if they were accompanied by a strong spiritual life and by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
This knowledge and experience of the Holy Spirit that is evident in the writings of the Three Hierarchs was first and foremost rooted in the teachings of Christ and the Holy Scriptures. In his great treatise On the Holy Spirit, Saint Basil quotes extensively from the Gospels and the letters of the Apostle Paul in affirming the role of the Spirit in bringing us to perfection, not by means of great intellectual endeavors, but through the purification of the soul. By turning from sin, we are made “spiritual by fellowship with the Spirit,” he says. As the image of God is restored within us, the Holy Spirit reveals to us even more of the mystery and beauty of God. It is then through our souls that others know grace. Saint Basil states, “Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, … so souls wherein the Spirit dwells…become spiritual and send forth their grace to others.” (On the Holy Spirit, 9)
Saint Gregory the Theologian also knew and affirmed the role of the Holy Spirit in using his gifts for the glory of God and in the service of the Church. This is evident in the inspired nature of his theological orations. He also made this very clear in his twelfth Oration which was delivered upon his installation as Bishop of Nazianzus. He states, “I opened my mouth, and drew in the Spirit, and I give myself and my all to the Spirit, my action and my speech, my inaction and my silence, only let Him hold me and guide me, and move both hand and mind and tongue as it is right and He wills…. I am an instrument of God…an instrument tuned and struck by that skillful artist, the Spirit.” (Oration 12) These words reflect a deep awareness of the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
The presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit was also emphasized by Saint John Chrysostom in the opening words of his first Homily on Matthew. He states, “It were indeed meet for us not at all to require the aid of the written Word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be instead of books to our souls, and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit.” Here, Chrysostom affirms a very dynamic element of our faith. Assuredly, God reveals himself through the text of Holy Scriptures; but in addition, His presence and guidance is available to us at every moment and in every circumstance of life through the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, our souls, hearts and minds can be illumined with truth, and we can find guidance in using our gifts and abilities for the glory of God and for the salvation of others.
In our contemporary world, a tremendous amount of attention is given to personal abilities. From a young age children are engaged in a variety of activities and examined closely for signs of intellectual, athletic or artistic skills. This can be very beneficial when balanced with the familial and spiritual needs of a child. It can also be very beneficial when the quest for achievement is strongly connected with assistance from God. Our faith and the examples of the Three Hierarchs offer a balance that help us to understand how our personal abilities are related to our relationship with God. The key to understanding this relationship is the Holy Spirit. Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in the will of God? Is the presence of God inscribed upon our lives by the Holy Spirit so that others may see our faith and join us in the journey to eternal life?
These are pivotal questions for our growth as Orthodox Christians and for our ability to confront the daily challenges of life in our contemporary society. They are not questions designed to have simple and closed answers, but are rather open and continuous questions that deserve our consideration throughout our earthly lives, much in the same manner that great figures of our Church such as Sts. Basil, Gregory, and Chrysostom accorded to them. It is accordingly proper that we keep these questions and challenges at the forefront of our hearts and minds on this great day, the Feast of the Three Hierarchs. It is my prayer that God may imbue us all with the power and wisdom of His all-Holy good and Life-giving Spirit, as expounded upon by these illustrious Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers of our Church. May the Lord, through their intercessions, grant illumination to our minds and souls and peace to our lives.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America