“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
St. Paul, To the Philippians 4:8
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,
Characteristic of the Hellenic mind are these words of Aristotle (Metaphysics 1.1): “All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness, they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight.” For from sight and the other senses, says Aristotle, memories are formed; and from memory derives experience, and from experience the ability to form judgments of universal truths, leading to true knowledge.
The contemplation of the beautiful and the good, therefore, is an integral task of the lover of wisdom. One views things of beauty, not for the mere pleasure they give to the senses, nor even primarily for aesthetic satisfaction of the mind, but because of their power to educate the soul, to shape the inner man according to the ideals of excellence. It was this yearning for the higher life that gave impetus to the manifold achievements of ancient Greek art and architecture.
We find precisely this idea of substantive education of the soul and of growing in inner excellence through the vision expressed by the Fathers of our Orthodox Church, and preeminently in the thought of the Three Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. Time and again, these Holy Fathers repeat the invitation to observation, to close attention, and to contemplation of the things and the world that surround us, as a means for ascending the ladder of virtues in the journey to godliness. The careful viewing of particulars, the Three Hierarchs insist, is repaid handsomely in the coin of spiritual advancement.
In praise of the power of perception and the spiritual potential of sight, Saint John Chrysostom surpasses even Aristotle in exuberance: "For all indeed that is in us is a manifestation of the wisdom of God, but much more the eye. When [the eyes] are disabled, even knowledge is gone, since by means of these we know God. ‘For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.’ [Rom. 1:20.] Wherefore the eye is not only a light to the body, but beyond the body to the soul also. On which account it is established as in a royal fortress, obtaining the higher condition, and presiding over the other senses" (Homily on John 9: 1-5).
Saint Gregory the Theologian writes in concurrence in his theological orations, when he speaks of the longing of our rational natures for God, which is frustrated by the weakness of our bodily nature. “Faint therefore with the desire,” our minds strive to know God by another means, which is to scrutinize the created order, and so “through the beauty and order of visible things to attain to that which is above sight; but not to suffer the loss of God through the magnificence of visible things” (Oration 28.13).
In this same spirit does Saint Basil offer a prayerful wish: “May God grant you the knowledge of His truth, so that you may raise yourselves from visible things to the invisible Being, and that the grandeur and beauty of creatures may give you a just idea of the Creator” (Hexaemeron 2.10). Such joyous delight in the sight of God’s Creation permeates the works of the Three Hierarchs.
We, their spiritual children, should be all the more zealous for the contemplation of "Ton kalon kagathon", “the beautiful and the good", in our time and circumstance, immersed as we often are in a culture of tastelessness and tawdriness. Our homes, our schools, our holy churches and our institutions of Greek culture and learning, must be places of manifest beauty—through works of art and nature, through balance and order in arrangement, and through the dignity of moderation and holiness. Our Hellenic forebears made great sacrifices of talent and treasure in order to surround themselves with models of the best, as inspirations to a life of virtue. As heirs of the rich legacy of Greek Letters and culture, we should strive likewise to keep before our eyes at all times those things of excellence, such as will inspire us to truth, wisdom, and the knowledge of God. Above all, we must educate our children, in the tradition of the Orthodox Faith and Hellenic wisdom, to learn to appreciate and focus on things of beauty, which lift hearts and minds to God. “For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisdom of Solomon 13:5).
May this January 30, 2003, the Feast of the Three Hierarchs and the Day of Greek Letters, be for all the faithful of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America a day of resolve, to invest our God-given resources in the perpetuation of this rich inheritance of beauty and goodness, for the benefit of the souls of our own selves, our children, and our world.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America