January 30, 2014
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 and the celebration of Greek Letters, we honor the lives and witness of three great shepherds, theologians, and Saints of our Holy Orthodox Church, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. In the hymns of this day, we sing of these holy men as the “three-towered stronghold of the Church of Christ,” and as “firm defenders of the Faith and pillars of the Church.” (Hymns of Vespers and Orthros) These ascriptions of veneration recognize that the Three Hierarchs were completely dedicated to the Church, the Body of Christ, the people of God who were gathered in communities for worship, for guidance in the faith, and in the witness of God’s grace through service to those in need.
We also sing of Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom as ones who gave their lives and abilities in “support of the faith” and as a “strength of believers,” a “consolation for every sinner, and refreshing springs to refresh our souls.” Blessed with grace and wisdom from above, they were committed to teaching and preaching the Gospel of Truth and the Word of the Lord, guiding people to Christ. The Three Hierarchs sought to follow the Apostolic commission to go, teach, and baptize so that all might hear, believe, and begin a journey of faith filled with hope in the promises of God.
The words of the hymns dedicated to the Three Hierarchs represent their very significant teaching and witness--the priority of the life of faith for each and every person and the importance of the Church and participation in the fellowship of believers for spiritual growth and maturity. First, it is very evident throughout the writings and sermons of the Three Hierarchs that they were concerned about the condition and needs of the soul and the necessity of each person living in communion with God. With a deep faith, a love of Holy Scripture and theological acumen, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom examined the human condition, offering tremendous insight in understanding our relationship with God. They showed why this relationship was essential in overcoming the power of sin and death and restoring the divine image within us.
Second, as bishops and pastors, they also knew that the life and mission of the Church is vital to the life of faith. Each of these great Saints engaged in intense theological debates as defenders of truth, willing to sacrifice their positions of leadership and even their lives to protect the Body of Christ. They labored day and night to help communities of believers fulfill their sacred calling to be places of worship, service, and most importantly, fellowships of faith united in Christ, offering love, healing, and salvation.
The teaching and witness of the Three Hierarchs presents to us an authentic synergy between person and community. Each of us is called individually through the Gospel to meet the Risen Christ, to believe in Him and receive the forgiveness and grace of God. We are offered the opportunity to be renewed through communion with Him, to live daily according to His will, to strive toward our created potential as human beings, and to receive the gift of eternal life. We are also called to live, worship, and serve in community. We gather together to worship the One who gives us life and purpose. Through our worship, the Holy Sacraments, and through the preaching and teaching ministries of the Church we receive strength and guidance in the life of faith. As the family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, we join together in service to one another and to any in need.
This focus on person and community is also appropriate for our celebration of Greek Letters Day. As we find wisdom and edification from Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, we are also able to emphasize the value of essential qualities of human life and relationship that have been vital to our Greek heritage. Throughout our history, both in times of great achievement and in times of intense struggle, we can see the importance of both person and community to our identity. We can affirm a heritage that inspired many to strive for the heights of human ability in thought, language, literature, art, architecture, science, music and physical skill, emphasizing the tremendous and varied potential of the person. We also have a heritage that shows an engagement with these endeavors within community--in social, political, economic, intellectual, and spiritual bonds with others. The pursuit of knowledge and understanding, the questioning and exploration of the unknown, the achievement of unprecedented skill and insight, most often occurred within a social environment that encouraged and honored vision, potential, and achievement.
We are blessed as Greek Orthodox Christians to be able to offer this beautiful and cherished inheritance as a witness of the true and beneficial relationship of person and community. Too often we see the abuses and destructive results on individual lives, communities, and nations when human life and potential is devalued or self-interest, greed or a lust for greater power diminishes communal bonds and identity. We are able to stand firmly on our faith and our heritage in affirming the love of God for each and every person. We are equipped to strengthen our parishes, work within our Greek American community, and serve in the places we live so that we are creating and nurturing a communal culture that encourages personal growth and excellence, character, and faith in God.
On this Feast of the Three Hierarchs and Greek Letters Day, may we give thanks to God for this witness. May we prayerfully seek His strength and grace as we offer to all a manner of life and being that will lead us as persons and as communities to an abundant and eternal life.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America