January 30, 2016
Feast of the Three Hierarchs
and Greek Letters Day
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,
In our annual commemoration of the Feast of our three Holy Fathers, the Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, we affirm the power of their witness and guidance down through the centuries. As during the days of their pastoral ministry, their faith in God, their wisdom, and their holiness continue to lead us to Christ and deepen our understanding and experience of our relationship with Him.
The blessed hymns of this Feast guide us in honoring the Three Hierarchs, and they also direct us to their teachings to explore the power and potential of our faith. In the service of Great Vespers we proclaim the Holy Fathers and Teachers as “instruments of the grace of God” and “stewards of the grace and words of Christ.” As instruments of God’s grace, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom offered divine compassion through their unwavering service to the people of God, their constant effort to help those in need, and their willingness to sacrifice their own health and security for the salvation of others.
Their stewardship of the grace and words of Christ are evident in the breadth and depth of their teaching and preaching. They were gifted and inspired expositors of the Holy Scriptures. They were willing messengers of God, seeking to communicate the truth in clarity and guide hearts and minds to the Source of grace and life. As they dedicated their minds and abilities to God, He consecrated their intellectual and oratorical abilities and their spiritual acumen for the sharing of the Gospel.
The Three Holy Hierarchs were able to be witnesses of God’s grace because they knew firsthand the transformative power of grace. Saint Gregory the Theologian describes this power in his Oration on Holy Baptism: “Just as God gave existence to what did not exist, so too He gave new creation to what did exist, creation more divine and lofty than that which existed before, a seal for those only just entering life, and for those of more mature age a gift and a restoration to the image obliterated through wickedness.”
In his commentary on Ephesians, Saint John Chrysostom also describes the impact of God’s grace, which He freely bestowed on us(Ephesians 1:6). Comparing the transformation of the soul to “a leper, wasted by distemper and disease, age and poverty” and turning “him all at once into a graceful youth, surpassing all mankind in beauty…arraying him in purple and diadem and all the attire of royalty,” he states: “It is thus that God has arrayed and adorned this soul of ours, and clothed it with beauty, and rendered it an object of His delight and love.”
This wisdom and truth concerning divine grace combined with their experience of it throughout their lives, gave the Three Hierarchs insight into the potential of grace. In his theological treatise On the Spirit, Saint Basil affirms that the Spirit “sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind.” In his commentary on Thessalonians, John Chrysostom explains how God gives us eternal comfort and good hope through grace (II Thessalonians 2:17). He states, “For if God has given so many things by grace, much more will come in the future.” Chrysostom asks his hearers to see the potential of grace through the hope and comfort they have found in Christ.
This understanding of grace and its role in our lives is important in view of what happens today in our society. In our contemporary world we see ideologies, some even claiming divine origin, that combine hatred, violence, sin, and death with twisted views of human nature and destiny. It is evident that these movements and ideas are ignorant of or contrary to the reality of God’s grace and its transforming power. They are radical distortions of the purpose and potential of human life because they are completely void of the grace and power of God.
Our celebration of this Feast and our annual commemoration of Greek Letters Day confronts these false ideologies with a vision of human life as it is intended to be transformed by the grace of God. The Three Hierarchs, Basil, Gregory, and John Chrysostom, combined their experience of God’s grace with learning, language, and some of the highest forms of human expression. They offer a witness to us of how the presence of grace accentuates and transforms our abilities, creativity, and understanding of our existence by restoring our fellowship with God, destroying the power of sin, and giving us life, abundant and eternal.
As we commemorate these great champions of our faith, may we also celebrate the unique gift of the presence and grace of God. May His abundant grace be upon you and with you as you share His love through your faith, worship and service in His name.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America