Monday, January 31, 2011

The Three Great Torchbearers of the Triune Godhead

Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

Yesterday, January 30, we commemorated the Three Hierarchs – Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom – in order to honor and glorify these three great pastors and theologians as they stand before the undivided and consubstantial Trinity and thus enjoy the glory of God in equal measure. A pious tradition relates that there had been a dispute as to who was the “greatest” of the three, with each of these saints being championed by his respective followers: Basilians, Gregorians, and Johanites. However, a certain 11th c. bishop in a city of Asia Minor – John Mauropos - was granted a vision of the three hierarchs who made it clear to him that the glory that they experienced in the presence of God was equal. A feast day in honor of all three hierarchs was meant to make this clear, as well as provide the opportunity to glorify them with equal honor. In the wonderful service composed in honor of the Three Hierarchs, we extol their collective virtue in the following manner:

Let us who love their words come together with hymns
and honor the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead:
Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom.
These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines.
They are flowing rivers of wisdom
and they have filled all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge.
They ceaselessly intercede for us before the Holy Trinity.

Perhaps a good way to begin our Monday morning and its routines, would be to read and meditate on a “gem” of wisdom from each of these great universal teachers.

St. Basil defended the divinity of the Holy Spirit in his now classical work, On the Holy Spirit. Since it is our goal as Christians to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit, and to
walk in the newness of life granted by the Holy Spirit, this eloquent passage from St, Basil may further awaken our minds to the divine activity of the Spirit in our lives:

“He is simple in being; His powers are manifold: they are wholly present everywhere and in everything. He is distributed but does not change. He is shared yet remains whole. Consider the analogy of the sunbeam: each person upon whom its kindly light falls rejoices as if the sun existed for him alone, yet it illumines land and sea, and is master of the atmosphere. In the same way, the Spirit is given to each one who receives Him as if He were the possession of that person alone, yet He sends forth sufficient grace to fill all the universe. Everything that partakes of His grace is filled with joy according to its capacity – the capacity of its nature, not of His power…”

“When a sunbeam falls on a transparent substance, the substance itself becomes brilliant, and radiates light from itself. So too Spirit-bearing souls, illumined by Him, finally become spiritual themselves, and their grace is sent forth to others.”

On the Holy Spirit, ch. 22 & 23

In a famous passage from his great Theological Orations, (the composition and deliverance of which attained for St. Gregory his title “the Theologian”), he reminds us that we should not casually speak about God in a light-minded and frivolous manner. To speak about God is a serious matter and only helpful at appropriate times:

“Not to everyone, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to everyone – the subject is not so cheap and low – and, I will add, not before every audience, not at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.
Not to all persons, because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are past masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified. For the impure to touch the pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix weak eyes upon the sun’s rays… And who are the permitted persons? They to whom the subject is of real concern, and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the theatre, or a concert, or a dinner,o r still the lower employments.”

Theological Oration 1,3.

St. John the “Golden-Mouthed” always exhorted his flock to the imitation of Christ; and always sought to lift up our minds to God in praise and thanksgiving. St. John’s theology was “practical” but also fiery and uplifting:

“Let us depart from the Divine Liturgy like lions who are producing fire, having become fearsome even to the devil, because the Holy Blood of the Lord that we commune waters our souls and gives us great strength. When we commune of it worthily, it chases the demons far away and brings the angels and the Lord near us…”

“Teach whoever doesn’t attend church that you chanted with the Seraphim, that you belong to the heavenly lifestyle, that you met with Christ and spoke with Him. If we live the Divine Liturgy thus, we will not have to say anything to those who were absent. But seeing our benefit, they will feel their own harm and quickly run to church to enjoy the same goods, with the grace and philanthropy or our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, belong eternal glory. Amen.”

And we can add our own “Amen!” to the lives and teaching of the Three Hierarchs who to this day fill “all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge!”

Fr. Steven

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