His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Homily at the Divine Liturgy for the Three Hierarchs
January 30, 2020
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral
New York, NY
Beloved Children of our Church,
What a joy it is to see all of you gathered in our beloved Cathedral to celebrate your faith and your culture! Today is the Feast of the Three Hierarchs, as you all know so well. I am sure that your teachers have been telling you about these three great Saints of our Church: Basil the Great, John the Golden-Mouth, or Chrysostom – and Gregory the Theologian. Each one has his own special feast: Basil on January 1st, John on November 13th, and Gregory on January 25th.
But today is the 30th of the month, so why do we give to these three this special day? It is because around one thousand years ago, the Christians of that time wanted to celebrate all these three Saints together, because they considered each one to be the best Hierarch ever! So, the Church decided to honor them together, like a little trinity of Saints, to honor the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Church created this wonderful celebration of their wisdom, their learning, and their culture. For their wisdom, we need look no further than how each one interpreted the Bible – both the Old and New Testaments, and how they defended the Orthodox Faith when it came under attack. For their learning, we possess a vast library of books that each one wrote, filling the world with ideas and a truthful understanding of God. For their culture, we are the heirs of their great legacy of Classical and Greek civilization.
I should like to ask you all a question: How many of you have ever heard of Plato?
I see quite a few – you know that Plato was the student of Socrates and later he became the teacher of Aristotle … and Aristotle was a teacher of Alexander the Great. So you see there is a lot of brain power in these men! They are some of the greatest minds who have ever walked the earth.
Now Plato founded a school in a sacred grove named after a hero, “Academus” – and so we have the name “Academy” – and this place was sacred to Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom.
This school was founded three hundred years before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it lasted for more than eight hundred years! Both Basil and Gregory attended this school, the Academy, and were trained in many disciplines of ancient science, art, and literature. John did not study in Athens, but in Antioch, where the name “Christian” was first used (Acts 11:26). He studied with one of the greatest public speakers of his day, a pagan named Libanius, and that is why we call him the “Chrysostom” – the Golden-Mouth, because he became the greatest preacher of his day and maybe the greatest preacher of all time!
Whether in Athens or in Antioch, the Three Hierarchs dedicated themselves to the truth of the Gospel, even as they learned the sciences of the world. And what is more, they left to all of us an example of how to educate yourselves both in the things of God and the things of the world. You should know that the word “disciple” in Greek, μαθητής, means a student or a pupil, just as you all are at your various schools.
Therefore, to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ is to be His student, his pupil, and to learn from Him as a Teacher. This is why the Three Hierarchs studied the Holy Bible so extensively and so thoroughly, because they were disciples of the Lord. The were dedicated to His teaching, what today we call the Gospel.
But they also learned the things of the world, just as you study science, and math, and grammar, and – I hope! – Greek. As Orthodox Christians, we know that if something is really true – meaning that it partakes of the Truth, then it partakes of God. As students, you never have to be afraid that you will learn something that is contrary to our Holy Orthodox Faith. If something is true, then it must be Orthodox, even if we can’t quite see how at any particular moment.
This is what St. Basil the Great meant when he advised young people, in his Exhortation to them, to be like the bees of the natural world. Go from flower to flower, from book to book, from science to science, and gather the pollen and nectar like the bee, for this nectar will nourish you and it creates your place in the world.
When bees take the nectar, they do not do so as thieves. They give back to each flower and plant by spreading the pollen which allows the plants to grow and thrive. We all know what honey is, and the bees make the honey to feed their young and create the honeycomb in which they live. And we also know that is the beeswax which, from the earliest days in our Church, formed the candles that glorify God with their light.
So the Three Hierarchs teach us to do these three things. One: to gather knowledge, culture, and wisdom from everywhere, and to be generous with these gifts in return. Two: to build our lives with these precious gifts, as if we were building our own house to share with others, just as bees share the hive. And three: to use the things of this world to glorify God, just as we make candles out of the beeswax to brighten our Churches and homes.
These are the three Hierarchs … and three lessons to learn. I pray that all of you may always be blessed to enjoy your studies, to learn many new things, to read many books, and to write and speak Greek – which is the language of the New Testament! Thus you may offer through your lives the good things of the world to the worship of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen!