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,
Today we commemorate the sacred memory of the Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. We celebrate not only their holy words and deeds, but also the great intellectual legacy that these three profound thinkers forged for the Church, the legacy of a humanism that is both genuinely Christian and deeply Hellenistic in its substance and expression.
One cannot study the writings of the Three Hierarchs without being impressed by their deep sense of honor that belongs to humankind as a race of rational creatures. For though we are flesh and blood, we are nonetheless endowed, through the gift of reason, with so many of the divine graces of our Creator. The Fathers, therefore, speak so often in voices of awe and wonder when considering the unique place of man in the dispensation of God. Despite our finiteness and fallenness, the Three Hierarchs do break out into poetic flights of doxology when they extol our intellectual endowments which make us "a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:5).
St. Basil declares that "the mind is good, and in it we have that which is according to the image of the Creator" (Epistle 233). In this opinion he no doubt recalls the statement of the ancient philosopher Aristotle, who held that happiness is action in accordance with our greatest human virtue, Reason, which is also perhaps "divine, or at least the most divine element within us" (Nicomachean Ethics, 1177 a15). Man is formed of earth, says St. Basil, but is nevertheless the work of God’s hands; weaker than animals and inferior in terms of natural advantages, but ordained to command them and, "thanks to the privilege of reason, capable of raising [himself] to heaven" (Hexaemeron, Homily 6).
St. John Chrysostom in turn takes up the idea of the mind as a means to holiness. From consideration of human abilities compared to the greater speed and strength of animals, we may appreciate "the wisdom of God and the honor He has bestowed upon us"; for reason and art afford to man far more advantages than the specialized skills of the
animals. Though human beings have not feathers and pinions like the eagle, they by reason can soar even higher, "as high as heaven, and above heaven itself, and above the heaven of heavens, even to where Christ sits at the right hand of God" (Homily 11, On the Statues).
St. Gregory the Theologian speaks even more expressively on the honor accorded to each human being as a rational being, as a citizen of the realm of thought and a partaker of the intellectual natures which are akin to Deity Itself. Humankind is a combination of the things of heaven and earth, of the visible and invisible, a microcosm, a recapitulation of the entire universe in miniature, "halfway between greatness and lowliness; in one person combining spirit and flesh; spirit because of the favor bestowed on him, flesh on account of the height to which he had been raised." Humankind is a composite creation displaying "the whole riches of goodness" of the Creating Logos (Oration 45, On Pascha).
It is with these thoughts in mind, inspired by the Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, that we as the Greek Orthodox Church in America look forward to our 2002 Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress this summer, where we shall consider the theme Offering our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America. One of the chief offerings we bring to this world is our uniquely Orthodox Christian understanding of the value of human reason in the spiritual life. Religion and reason are not in contradiction; rather, true faith and sound reason are complimentary. Reading and study, scholarship and science, are gifts of God that draw us to Himself; for, as St. Basil says, "we cannot become like God unless we have knowledge of Him, and there is no knowledge without learning" (On the Holy Spirit 1.2).
In a world where irrational and even anti-rational forces seem sometimes so strong, let our Orthodox Christian voice ring out clear and true in harmony with the Three Hierarchs and our Hellenic heritage: as Euripides somewhere says, "Reason can wrestle and overthrow terror." This is the Orthodox Tradition that we offer to our world: a reasonable worship (cf. Romans 12:2) that overthrows superstition, an intelligible faith that overcomes the temptations of worldliness (cf. 1 John 5:4), and a perfect love that casts out fear (cf. 1 John 4:18), along with hatred and irrationality.
I pray that the privilege of our legacy of learning may be conveyed through all our parishes, Greek schools, and Archdiocesan institutions to the students, teachers, and supporters of Greek Letters everywhere, through the intercessions of these Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers of the Church of Christ.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America