January 30, 2011
Feast of the Three Hierarchs and Greek Letters Day
For this reason we also…do not cease to pray for you,
and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will
in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk
worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every
good work and increasing in the knowledge of God….
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 commemoration of the Three Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, it is fitting as Orthodox Christians that we gather in our churches in thanksgiving to God for the blessings we receive through the witness and guidance of these Saints. It is also fitting that we join with this commemoration our annual observance of Greek Letters Day.
These Holy Fathers were men of great learning, admirers of the beauty and purpose of language, and artisans of the written and spoken word. They also knew the value and role of education and knowledge in the development of human potential and the cultivation of the soul.
For the Three Hierarchs the acquisition of knowledge was not an end in itself. Certainly, they affirmed that careful study, discipline of the mind, and intellectual engagement with ideas and phenomena were essential uses of human ability. But they also, as men of God, emphasized the relationship of knowledge to faith. In addressing the question of which comes first, Saint Basil wrote, “I reply that in the case of disciples, faith precedes knowledge. But in our teaching, if any one asserts knowledge to come before faith, I make no objection.” (Letter 235) For Saint Basil, knowledge that precedes faith leads to God. Knowledge that embraces the idea of God, which perceives “His wisdom, His goodness,” leads to an acceptance of God as our Creator. He states, “This knowledge is followed by faith, and this faith by worship.”
For Saint Gregory the relationship of knowledge and faith is also related to our knowledge of God, or more specifically, to what we know and what we cannot know about Him. Saint Gregory states that God is “limitless and unbounded, transcending all conception of time and nature,” and only “dimly and scantily” grasped by the mind. However, he states that this limited knowledge of the incomprehensible leads to wonder, “and as an object of wonder to become more an object of desire; and being desired, to purify; and purifying to make us like God; so that, when we have become like Himself, God may, to use a bold expression, hold converse with us as God, being united to us and known by us. (Second Oration on Pascha) Thus, the knowledge that much about God is beyond our comprehension leads us to greater faith in Him and to a deeper communion with Him.
Saint John Chrysostom addresses knowledge in a similar way in his homily on Colossians 1:9-10. In his exposition of this letter of Saint Paul, Chrysostom states that “to be in error” is “not to know God as one ought.” (Homily II on Colossians) Thus, true knowledge is knowing the will of God and living in a manner which increases the knowledge of God. He also affirms that to know God, a person must know and believe in Christ, the Son of God who has revealed the Father and His love for us.
The relationship of knowledge and faith is essential to the meaning and purpose of our lives in our contemporary world. While we live in a world filled with information and means for acquiring and storing more and more knowledge, we can also say that we live in a world where many are spiritually illiterate, having no or very limited knowledge of God. This reality accentuates the uniqueness of our celebration. On this day of the Three Hierarchs and Greek Letters, we combine an emphasis upon learning, intellectual growth, language, music, art, and many other areas of knowledge with the truth of our faith. We affirm that knowledge and faith are not exclusive, but, as seen in the lives and teachings of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil and Saint Gregory, are very interrelated in both our abilities and existence, and ultimately in our relationship with God. We also recognize that knowledge of God is the foundation, standard, and goal of all knowledge. When we know God we understand the value of the knowledge we have about all that He has made. In our relationship with God we find the wisdom and discernment to use knowledge in ways that sustain life and well-being. We also realize that knowledge both leads us to faith and strengthens our faith in Him.
This understanding of the relationship of faith and knowledge is a truth that we are called to experience and offer to others. It is an understanding of life and being that should characterize our engagement with our world and those around us. It is a truth that should guide our efforts to nurture our children and youth so that they are spiritually and intellectually prepared for a successful life firmly rooted in the knowledge of God. It is an understanding that should lead each of us to seek His will and a greater knowledge of His truth through prayer, worship, and study of our Orthodox faith.
On this day may we give thanks to God for the beautiful and rich witness of faith offered to us by the Three Hierarchs. May we also affirm our commitment to continue this witness through our cherished Greek heritage of learning and knowledge which ultimately leads us to the knowledge of communion with Him.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America