January 30, 2008

The Feast of the Three Hierarchs

"Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge."
II Peter 1:5

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 commemoration of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs we are called by our Holy Orthodox Church to contemplate the lives of three great Saints and Teachers who served God faithfully and offered the totality of their lives in His service. Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint John Chrysostom were blessed with tremendous intellectual and spiritual gifts. They carried the mantle of episcopal service with holiness, love, and sacrifice; and they were shining examples of people who took very seriously the concepts in the above referenced passage of the second Epistle of Saint Peter, in that throughout their lives they sought to add virtue to their faith, and to complement this virtue with the knowledge of God.

Of course, for any human being to acquire the knowledge of God in and of itself is not an easy discipline. The Three Hierarchs knew this, and indeed they wrote extensively about the phenomenon of the sheer incomprehensibility of God by human beings. At the same time, perhaps paradoxically, we also know from many of their writings that there does exist a possibility for acquiring a genuine degree of knowledge of God, but this presupposes purity of heart in the human being. In the magnificent Beatitudes of the Gospel, we see in the words of the Lord Himself the above mentioned idea, formulated in a phrase with a deep meaning, impressive elegance, and stunning simplicity: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).

It is precisely this purity of heart that is the epitome of virtue. This too was well known by the Three Hierarchs, who expanded upon many of the ideas of early Greek philosophers regarding the idea of virtue (arete). In ancient Greek philosophy for example, virtue rested in the fulfillment of one’s function to behave morally and rationally. Achieving this function would result in genuine happiness. The Three Hierarchs took this understanding a step further, for they knew that while virtue and knowledge were related to the well-being of the person, they also knew that the ultimate fulfillment of the human being was salvation, the realization of an everlasting peace and joy beyond the confines of this world, the "entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 1:11). In this sense we see the interrelationship of faith, virtue, and knowledge to each other as thoroughly integrated concepts fundamental to eternal life with God. 

It is for these reasons enumerated above that this day of our celebration of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs tidily coincides with our annual celebration of Greek Letters, a day when we acknowledge the fundamental importance of education in our lives as Greek Orthodox Christians, the vital role of education for our children, and the critical value of growing in the knowledge of God as the ultimate goal of life for us as adults. May this January 30, 2008, the Feast of the Three Hierarchs and the Day of Greek Letters, be for us all a day of resolve to deepen our faith with virtue, to add to it knowledge, and, through our worship of God and our sincere commitment, to know the One who has "given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness and who has called us by glory and virtue" (II Peter 1:3). 

With paternal love in Christ,

Archbishop of America