January 30, 2013
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,
This feast of the Three Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, offers us a special opportunity each year to examine closely the lives and teachings of these holy men and to recognize how they spoke in unison concerning truth, holiness and love based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their accord in matters of faith, theology, and the mission of the Church was unquestionably influenced by their upbringing, education, and the relationships they shared with each other. Of particular importance are their teachings and their actions related to offering care and love to those in need, something absolutely relevant to our contemporary situations.
Let us examine some of the most beautiful points of their teachings. First, they emphasized the priority of charity in the Christian life. Saint John Chrysostom states, “For nothing can so make a man an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors. Indeed, even though you fast, or sleep on hard ground, or even suffer unto death, but should you take no thought for your neighbor, you have done nothing great….” (Homily 25 – On First Corinthians) Saint Gregory affirms that charity and mercy are essential to our relationship with God. “I suggest that the main part of charity is the love for the poor and mercy and compassion for our fellow brethren. There is no better sacrifice that can be offered to God than mercy…. And God, who measures justly and puts mercy in the balance, will with kindness repay kindness.” (On the Love for the Poor)
Second, the Three Hierarchs acknowledged the divine truth that showing mercy and sharing with those in need is related to our identity as being created in the image and likeness of God. Commenting on the exhortation of Christ to give to the person who asks of you (Matthew 5:42), Saint Basil states, “This saying of our Lord invites us to adopt the spirit of sharing, mutual love, and what is proper to our nature.” (Homily on Psalm 14) Saint Gregory exhorts us to look to the example of Christ and ask ourselves what we should do for those in affliction around us. “Are we going to look down upon them, pass them by, abandon them as dead, as abominable…? No way, my brethren! We who are the flock of Christ will not be allowed to do so by the Good Shepherd, who looks for those who have gone astray, goes in search of those who are lost and strengthens the weak.” (On the Love for the Poor)
Third, these wise shepherds guide us to see the spiritual consequences of what we do for others. This concerns not only the blessings of generosity, but also our salvation. Saint John Chrysostom states simply and directly, “Almsgiving is an art and better than all arts…. It procures life everlasting….” (Homily 49 – On the Gospel of Matthew) Saint Gregory uses the
teachings of Christ on the Great Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) to emphasize: “Let us welcome Christ, let us honor Christ…. Offer to Him through the poor and those who are spread throughout the earth, so that, when we leave this world, we will be welcomed by them into the eternal dwelling with the same Christ.” (On the Love for the Poor)
When we contemplate these great teachings on Christian charity in connection with our commemoration of Greek Letters Day, we see the significance of the superb and beautiful way in which these three Holy Fathers offer us guidance in caring for those in need. The elegance and depth of their use of language stands as a witness of the power of human expression in affirming truth and in helping us to understand what is authentic and enduring in terms of life and relationships. In their teachings on love and philanthropy, they also gave to language a richness that is practical. They connected ideas and linguistic expression with action. Through the artful use of language, they called every person into the service of others. In this manner and on many subjects, the Three Hierarchs affirmed the significance of language in the relationship of faith and learning, of faith and the highest forms of human expression. Their witness, gifts, faith, and literary legacy are also why we connect their feast with Greek Letters Day and why they should be honored and included in any celebration of high quality literature.
As we find spiritual guidance in the teachings of Saints Basil, Gregory, and John Chrysostom, may we also honor their intellectual and linguistic abilities in the service of Christ and His Church. We are truly inspired by their words and examples to offer comfort, healing, care, and love to others. May we also show through their witness the truth of the Gospel, the power and beauty of language, and the blessings of eternal communion with God.
With paternal love in Christ,
† D E M E T R I O S
Archbishop of America