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 and Afternoon Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On the occasion of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs and the Day of Greek Letters, we have an opportunity to reflect on the unparalleled legacy of learning that is ours as Greek Orthodox Christians. Borrowing an expression from Homer's Odyssey, Saint Basil the Great once wrote that it is important as a proof of education to have seen the cities of many men and to have learned their minds (Epistle 74).
Méga pròs martyrían paidéfseos tò pollôn anthrópon ideîn ástea kaì nóon gnônai . . .
In these few words Saint Basil captures a particular understanding of the nature of education that is at once thoroughly Hellenic and truly Patristic.
For in the Hellenic understanding there is first of all an appreciation for the immensity of knowledge. To be a literate person, a person of understanding, is not the achievement of a few years; it is rather the work of a lifetime of study in a spirit of continual interest and curiosity, humility, and patience. Education is like a vast and varied pilgrimage. Both the ancient Greek philosophers and the Fathers of the Church had an absorbing interest in all fields of inquiry: cosmology, anthropology, philology, literature, music and the arts, medicine, zoology, to name but a few. Of course, in the case of the Three Hierarchs, the immensity of knowledge is ultimately referred to the truly fathomless, limitless, and ineffable knowledge of God.
In the face of the immensity of knowledge, whether of things seen or unseen, our intellectual and spiritual forebears also approached their inquiries with a second characteristic, namely, a sense of real joy: the joy of thinking, discovering, creating, and comprehending. Whether one reads the works of Plato or Aristotle, or even more, the works of Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Gregory the Theologian, one readily detects a constant spirit of delight bound up with the seriousness of their writing. At times this intellectual joy in the writings of the Fathers rises even to the level of amazement at the wonders of God and His world. This is a quality that is basic to the Hellenic outlook on learning: in order to have real progress in knowledge, a person must be able to admire, to be surprised and, on occasion, to be thrilled by the vastness of the world of thought.
The quotation above from Saint Basil also expresses another aspect of learning that is fundamental to the Hellenic and especially the Patristic mind: an appreciation for knowledge as a matter of human concern. Paideia is intimately related to philanthropia. We study so that we may better understand both ourselves and our fellow human beings and thereby improve the condition of all people. As Hellenes and Philhellenes, and as inheritors of the Orthodox ethos, we value learning as a means of drawing ourselves closer in love to the rest of humanity, and not as a tool for asserting ourselves over and against our fellow man. We value the achievements of scholarship and erudition, but we prize equally the virtue of love and concern for others.
For this reason both the Fathers and the philosophers of old spoke of goodness by means of the same set phrasekalòs k'agathósan expression that combines the ideas of goodness and beauty into a single notion. Learning is a matter of the greatest moral relevance. This is a third characteristic that is basic to the Hellenic outlook on learning: true knowledge is that which advances us morally as well as intellectually.
How then do we fulfill Saint Basil's criterion of education for ourselves? Though we all cannot travel the world like Odysseus or make pilgrimages throughout the Near East like Saint Basil, we are all able to glean the wealth of knowledge that awaits us in the world of Greek Letters. This literary legacy is our birthright, and we honor the Feast of the Three Hierarchs best by entering into the joyful and humane spirit of inquiry that they exhibited. We do this by reading their works for ourselves, by striving to grow in knowledge and goodness as they did, and by applying ourselves with zeal and perseverance to learning and teaching the marvelous Greek language which embodies some of the finest ideas ever conceived by the mind of man.
We also honor this feast by strongly supporting the work of our daytime and afternoon Greek schools. These schools are the primary means by which our Greek-American community passes on the gift of Greek Letters to the next generation. As we appreciate the value of our intellectual heritage this day, we cannot but recognize that our Greek Schools are worthy of our highest support.
Through the intercessions of the Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, may the Lord our God grant us to grow in the knowledge that is full of joy and wonder and virtue, to the praise of His glorious wisdom and grace. And may God bless the students, the teachers, and the supporters and benefactors of Greek Letters in our communities and around the world this day.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America