January 30, 2015
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,
On this blessed Feast of the Three Hierarchs, we give thanks to God for the beautiful and faithful witness of Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. Venerated on this day as great Teachers and Theologians, we also recognize them as representative of many great Saints of the Church who have conveyed truth, communicated divine wisdom, and offered an inspiring witness of the Gospel of love. For the depth of their teaching and their ardent defense of the faith, our hymns call all people to a universal celebration on this day. For their lives of healing in the name of Christ as “living streams of the Spirit,” we give them praise. For their constant intercessions for us before the Holy Trinity, we are immensely thankful for these “preachers of grace and guides to paradise.” (Hymns of Vespers)
Our commemoration of these great Champions of our Faith is connected to the recognition of another significant event, the celebration of Greek Letters Day. On this day we affirm as Greek Orthodox Christians our spiritual heritage in connection with a rich heritage of learning, thought, language, and some of the greatest expressions and discoveries in human existence. We do this on the Feast of the Three Hierarchs because these Holy Fathers of the Church are paragons in understanding and communicating the highest abilities and potential of our humanity in relation to our identity as persons created in the image and likeness of God.
In their teaching, preaching, and ministries, Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom offered the proper relationship of faith and reason, affirming that the pursuit of knowledge is inherent to our being. Following divine revelation with awareness of the great philosophical traditions, they recognized that inner reflection combined with our ability to think and believe provided the foundation for a proper manner of life in relationship with God, others, and all of the created order. For the Three Hierarchs, this represented a true philosophy, a living wisdom, and the life for which we have been created.
In understanding the relationship of faith and reason, these men of great learning affirmed in the words of Saint Basil, “the mind is good, and in it we have that which is according to the image of the Creator” (Epistle 233). This honor accorded to each person as a rational being is a recognition of the ability to use the mind to acquire and use knowledge, especially in relation to faith. Chrysostom stated that the mind and our human abilities help us appreciate “the wisdom of God and the honor He has bestowed upon us” (Homily 11, On the Statues). Saint Basil recognized that our ability to reason and gain knowledge leads us to embrace the idea of God, to perceive “His wisdom, His goodness,” thus a “knowledge followed by faith, and this faith by worship” (Letter 235).
Our celebration on this day, centered on the theme of the relationship between faith and reason engenders gratitude to the Three Hierarchs because of their wisdom and faith. The very same celebration also shows the relationship between our Orthodox faith and our Hellenic heritage, emphasizing our unique witness and vital offering to the world. This theme also affirms in addition, the importance of related programs in our communities, programs that guide the acquaintance of our youth with the resources of our faith and our Hellenic legacy and identity, teaching that helps us examine and explore our abilities and potential for a life of virtue, wisdom, and grace.
As we celebrate this blessed Feast and honor our heritage of Greek Letters, we are called to give thanks to God for His abundant gifts that lead us to Him and to the purpose of our creation. We are also called to praise Him in word and song chanting the hymn of the Three Hierarchs’ Vespers, “O Holy Trinity, You have given to the people these three great luminaries to enlighten us with the light of Your knowledge.”
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America