Sei sulla pagina 1di 1

20/38

TO BHMA

The Greek Australian VEMA

JANUARY 2008

8 T O B H M A The Greek Australian VEMA JANUARY 2008 THE THREE HIERARCHS
8 T O B H M A The Greek Australian VEMA JANUARY 2008 THE THREE HIERARCHS
8 T O B H M A The Greek Australian VEMA JANUARY 2008 THE THREE HIERARCHS
8 T O B H M A The Greek Australian VEMA JANUARY 2008 THE THREE HIERARCHS

THE THREE HIERARCHS – PATRONS OF EDUCATION

By Mario Baghos

It seems that in the Orthodox Church there is an inter-relation of unity and diversity which is manifested not only in its elaborate rituals and other external expressions, but in the very life of the Church, feeding and nourishing its won- derful tradition throughout the centuries. This unity and diversity which is so char- acteristic of the Orthodox faith exists in a perfect, archetypal way in the life of the Holy Trinity: three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are con- substantial in their essence, so that we praise them as the one and only Lord and God of all creation. God’s revelation to this world, which is fulfilled in the Church, pertinently manifests this unity and diversity: the faithful are united to Christ and to each other in their struggle for virtue, in their participation in the Divine Liturgy, and in their partaking of the sacraments – especially the sacrament of Holy Commu-nion. The faithful in the Church thereby truly constitute members of Christ’s body. Yet this powerful unity does not compromise or annihilate their individuality, but paradoxically fulfils it. The members of the body of Christ are extremely diverse, with their own unique personalities and gifts bestowed on them by God freely and out of his boundless love.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with the feast of the Three Hierarchs - St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian, and St John Chrysostom - three of the Church’s greatest exponents. In the 11th century, there arose in Constantinople a vehement dispute over which of the three

was greatest. According to tradition, the three of them appeared to St John Mauropous, Bishop of Euchaita, in a vision, exclaiming that “There are no divisions among us and no opposition to one another”. The Bishop of Euchaita proceeded to create a shared feast day for the three which is celebrated on 30th January, thus ending the controversy and emphasising the unity of these renowned Church figures. Indeed, this unity has sever- al dimensions:

• all three are Saints of our Church;

• all three are theologians, though only St

Gregory has had that sacred epithet perma- nently attached to his name, and • all three are considered Patrons of Orthodox education and literacy.

Yet despite their profound similarities, each one of them contributed to the life of the Church in his own unique and special way.

St Basil (329/333 -379 A.D.) was thoroughly educated in the curriculum of late antiquity and prided himself on being a ‘philosopher’. This meaningful term, however, came to mean much more to him than a love of wis- dom in any general or abstract sense. Although he appreciated and even extolled the positive features of classical philosophy, he frequently related the term to a life of total obedience to God, to monasticism. His

to a life of total obedience to God, to monasticism. His ardent dedication to the monastic

ardent dedication to the monastic life is expressed in his writings, such as his Moralia and Asketika, which outline the ethical and spiritual guidelines to be observed by those in monastic communities. A Bishop of the Church of Caesarea, Basil was also commit-

ted to the temporal and spiritual needs of his congregation. This is not only manifested in his sermons, such as the renowned On the Six Days of Creation, but in his ceaseless chari- table works. He set up countless philanthrop-

ic institutions and provided for the poor and

underprivileged; his prodigious charity hav-

ing been described to me once as facilitating

a sort of ‘cultural revolution’ in the ancient

world. But he was also an insightful ecclesi- astic. Basil did not compromise on matters of Church doctrine, such as those established at the First Ecumenical Council in 325 A.D. Despite the theological controversies which raged in his day, he maintained the divinity of

the Holy Spirit against those who would dis- parage the Spirit’s importance in relation to the Father and the Son, leading him to affirm that “It is impossible to worship the Son

except in the Holy Spirit; it is impossible to call upon the Father except in the Spirit of adoption”.

Modern scholarship usually distinguishes St Gregory (329-389 A.D.) from other Saints of the same name by the appellation ‘Nazianzen’, which is the name of the town

in Cappadocia where he sojourned, studied,

and preached. The Orthodox Church, how- ever, has applied to him the solemn title of ‘Theologian’, thus demonstrating not only his importance with reference to his ‘lan- guage about God’, but also the difference in perception between the Church and the world, the former preferring to emphasise his ability, as much as humanly possible, to express the divine mystery as opposed to his mere geographical associations.

A contemporary of St Basil, St Gregory col-

laborated with his ‘brother of the spirit’ to compose a collection of extracts from the writings of the ill-fated Christian writer Origen entitled the Philokalia. The work

illustrates the didactic importance of these two Fathers, with Gregory maintaining that the work would be of great use to serious stu- dents of theology. Later in life he became the Bishop (Patriarch) of Constantinople, but he spent his final years writing in relative soli- tude. St Gregory’s work is distinguished by a mature rhetorical style that undoubtedly reflects his great erudition, which, like Basil, he put to use in his defence of the Holy Spirit and his remarkable contributions to Trinitarian theology. Indeed, he was both a theologian and a skilled poet, the latter being linked to the former due to the fact that a poet endeavours to say something about the reali- ty which exists behind or beyond the visible. It can be said that a theologian struggles to do the same thing without attempting to circum- scribe the mystery of this reality, the source of which is our ineffable God. St Gregory’s poetry and theology therefore reflect his pro-

found sensitivity to the divine reality, a sensi- tivity which is vividly expressed when he says of his poetic gift: “I am an organ of the

Lord, and sweetly

do I glorify the King”.

It is true that throughout his life St John Chrysostom (347-407A.D) was engaged in many bitter conflicts resulting in exiles, the last of which he did not survive. Yet it is par- adoxically in light of these tragedies that he emerges as the Church’s ‘golden mouthed’ preacher. As a young man, St John dedicated himself to rigid forms of asceticism, which, although permanently damaging his health, endowed him with the necessary disposition to shepherd the inhabitants of the city where he would become Bishop – Constantinople. Here, St John exercised his eloquent speak- ing skills, delivering his sermons with bril- liance and solidifying his reputation of one of the greatest orators of Christian antiquity. His knowledge of the Bible was vast; his inter- pretation of it was directly relevant to con- temporary situations and highly praised. The primary worship of the Orthodox Church is the Liturgy which bears his name. His reform of the clergy and his vehement criticism of the excesses of the imperial authorities are a testament to his unyielding commitment to the Church, and the Church reciprocates by honouring him as our Father amongst the Saints.

On 30th January each year, therefore, we venerate the three great Hierarchs. Three diverse personalities, each one of them hav- ing their own respective feast day; each one of them edifying the people of God and con- tributing to the life of the Church in his own unique way. Yet there is also much signifi- cance in the fact that we venerate them together on a single day, for despite their varying talents, theological expressions and emphases, they are all witnesses of a single truth: the reality of the Trinity and of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. They are a testa- ment to the unity and diversity inherent with- in Orthodoxy and, as confirmed by the vision of St John Mauropous in the 11th century, they forever remain ‘without opposition and division’ in terms of the faith they espoused, the faith revealed to humanity by God through grace and embodied in the Church.