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 Day and Afternoon Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The ancient Greek historian Diodoros, reflecting on the blessing of life, concludes somewhere that the good life is the gift of education that comes from literacy. So great was this scholars love of letters that he commends for us the inscription over the door of the library in Thebes, which read, Medicine for the soul.
It is precisely in this spirit that the Church greets once again the return of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs as the Day of Greek Letters. For Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint John Chrysostom were themselves preeminently learned men who imbibed and sanctified the age-old legacy of Hellenistic philologia, of love for words. Indeed, these three saints distinguished themselves as hierarchs precisely because of their skill as ones who were rightly teaching-orthotomountes-the word of [Gods] truth, as exegetes and expositors of the divine Scriptures. Each one in his own unique and characteristic way exhibited a love and a respect for words and a facility of expression on such a high level that the Church has accorded each with a special title indicative of their achievements as scholarly pastors of the flock of Christ.
Seriousness and sensitivity for language mark the mind of the Three Hierarchs and of the leading figures in the intellectual history of Hellenism. In this regard our sacred legacy of Greek letters contrasts sharply with the modern world. We are told nowadays that talk is cheap, and a favorite way to trivialize the ideas of another is to characterize them as mere semantics.
For the three great exponents of Christianized Hellenism, however, no such casual attitude towards words is possible. Saint John extols the words of the Scriptures as divine charms which amend the passions of the human soul; he even goes so far as to chastise his congregation for paucity of books in their homes (Homily 32 on John 4:14). For the Golden-mouthed Father, every syllable and letter of divine revelation is meaningful, and much profit is to be derived from consideration of even the slightest detail, since nothing is placed in the Holy Scriptures without a reason (Homily 50 on John 7:25).
In this loving attention to words, Saint John has a close companion in Saint Basil. In his philological inquiries, Saint Basil is a student not only of matters divine, but also of the hidden things in the hearts of men. In one place he declares that words are truly icons of the soul (Epistle 9), and elsewhere he tells Saint Ambrose of Milan that we have become acquainted with you, not by having your bodily characteristics imprinted upon our memory, but by coming to know the beauty of the inner man through the variety of his words (Epistle 197). Saint Basil has a great love for the well-turned phrase and a deep appreciation for the careful use of language as a window to wisdom, wherever it be found. His writings drip with quotations from the ancient Greek poets and philosophers, and he is comfortable quoting Sophocles alongside Solomon in support of his arguments (cf. Epistle 8).
Above all, Saint Basil admires Saint Gregory the Theologian, whom he hails as the mouthpiece of Christ (Epistle 8). So great is Saint Gregorys facility with words that in his Theological Orations he moves freely between linguistic arguments of profound complexity and poetical flights of praise that rival the finest hymnody of the Church in beauty. Indeed, excerpts of the Theologians sermons have been taken over almost verbatim into the Churchs liturgical life.
The writings of these three extraordinary men form a small library that is truly medicine for the soul. Their lives and writings attest to the deeply held conviction expressed by Saint Gregory, that the first of our advantages is education and even that external culture which many Christians ill-judgingly abhor (Oration 43, On Saint Basil). Immersed as they were in the treasures of Greek Letters, the Three Hierarchs strove to fulfill the Apostolic command, to bring every thought into captivity in the service of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5), demonstrating by their love for words their surpassing love for the Pre-eternal Word, the Son of God.
Throughout all our parishes and Archdiocesan institutions, may the students, the teachers, and the supporters of Greek Letters be blessed with the good life through the gift of education, the gift of literacy in our Hellenic and Patristic heritage, through the intercessions of these Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers of the Church of Christ.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America