January 30, 2009
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,
The Feast of the Three Holy Fathers, Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom is an annual commemoration of our Holy Orthodox Church on which we honor the unwavering faith and spiritual brilliance of three Saints who offered the entirety of their lives and abilities in the service of God and humankind. As selfless archbishops and pastors they led the faithful in worship and ministry. As loving teachers they offered guidance in the path of holiness. As divinely-inspired theologians they used their intellectual skills to confront error and defend truth. As holy men they lived in a manner that exemplified to all the grace and blessings of communion with God.
The life and work of the Three Hierarchs accentuated the essential relationship of each and every person to God through faith in Christ. They affirmed that this relationship was nurtured unto salvation and eternal life within the community of believers, the Church. The Church was first and foremost a spiritual home where the needs and yearnings of the soul could be met. It was also a place of renewal, where the people of God received a new covenant through the offering and victory of Christ. In addition, the Three Hierarchs each taught that life experienced in the Church was a means of completion, leading the faithful toward the perfection of their faith, and the fulfillment of all things in the heavenly kingdom of God.
First, the Three Hierarchs acknowledge the spiritual nature of the Church, often calling her the “Church of God” or the “Church of Christ” and seeing the Church as a spiritual society consisting of spiritual beings. (Gregory Nanzianzen, Basil the Great). The origin of the Church is divine and heavenly, reflecting the wisdom and design of God. Further, the Church is united to God through Christ, who became incarnate to renew, sanctify, and perfect the people of God within a fallen world. It is also within the Church that the heavenly and earthly are united. The gathering of the faithful in worship and for the work of ministry is joined in a spiritual manner with the “myriads of angels and thousands of martyrs, and the legions of apostles and the assemblies of the just and the various groups of all those who have pleased God.” (John Chrysostom). Together we offer worship, intercession, and ministry; and together we await the coming of the New Jerusalem when this unity will be complete.
Second, the Three Hierarchs taught that the Church is a place of healing and renewal. “For the Church is a spiritual bath, which wipes away not filth of body, but stains of soul by its many methods of repentance,” preached Saint Chrysostom. Through the Holy Sacraments and the grace of God, and through teaching and pastoral guidance, the soul could be cured of the sickness of sin, healed of the effects of unholy passions and desires, and restored to the image and likeness of God. Further, these holy fathers taught that this spiritual healing and transformation was made possible in the Church through Jesus Christ. Just as Christ has joined the divine and human through His Incarnation; so also does the Church, the Body of Christ, now join humankind to the healing power and presence of God.
Third, these great teachers and theologians directed the faithful to the Church as the means of preparation for completion and perfection in the Kingdom of God. Through life and growth in the earthly Church the faithful receive a foretaste of the Kingdom of God to come. There, the will of God is completely and perfectly fulfilled. Here, the earthly Church directs our hearts and minds to the “image of Jerusalem above” in preparation for that day when all things will be made new.
Finally, we recognize the theological dimensions and reasons for associating this Feast as a Celebration of Greek Letters. This long association of Greek Letters with the Three Hierarchs accentuates the emphasis these holy fathers gave to learning, intellectual ability and discipline, and to their use of the Greek language and thought for the message and mission of the Church and the Gospel of Christ. Combining their love of language and knowledge with faithful and sacrificial service to others and the Church, they provided an example of the beautiful ministry the Church must offer at all times in all places. Spiritual renewal and formation are accomplished through the cultivation of both the mind and the soul. It is also enhanced through the knowledge of language, the arts, science and any elements of culture and our world that are beneficial to our life and our relationship with God. Within the Greek Orthodox Church we have this unique opportunity to follow the example of the Three Hierarchs, synthesizing and sharing language, thought, faith, and the calling to lead others to God and to greater levels of understanding and being.
In our commemoration of the Three Holy Fathers, Hierarchs, and Ecumenical Teachers of our Church, Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, I pray that we may affirm their divine wisdom through a deeper commitment to our life in the Church, the Body of Christ. May we also emulate their love of learning and use every means to strengthen education in our parishes and to give our younger generations a faith and heritage that will prepare them for fulfilled life on earth and a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America