Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the Synaxis of the Three Holy Ecumenical Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. They are, if you will, the crème de la crème of hierarchs, representatives of the best of the best. Each is great in his own right and together they present a formidable bastion of Orthodoxy in both faith and practice, doctrine and morals. Truly, they bear witness to the truth of the Apostle, St. Paul:
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God Who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all . . . . (1 Cr. 12:4-7).
Each in his own right and with his own unique spiritual gifts and graces have blessed the Church insofar as the grace of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon them: Basil, called the Great for his keen intellect; Gregory, called the Theologian for his mystical theology like that of St. John the Theologian; and John, called Chrysostom, meaning “the golden mouth” for his eloquent tongue and penetrating Biblical exegesis.
Because of these three voices speaking in unity, the Church – you and I – are far richer today for their lives of self-less love and self-less service, for their faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. None of them willingly nor ambitiously sought out the episcopal office. (No one in his right mind ever does!). The episcopacy found them, as it were, foisted upon them which they reluctantly accepted and sought to execute in utmost humility as the will of God for their lives and His Church. All three labored diligently for their Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ Who had called each to his own task for the sake of the Church. Each was keenly aware of the great weight of pastoral care for the souls entrusted to them and each shepherd of the Flock of Christ God ministered, ever cognizant, that they must one day render an account of their ministry to the Great Shepherd and Bishop of all souls (Hb. 13:17; 1 Pe. 2:25). These three holy hierarchs are a trinity of luminaries for us and the world which they served in the love of their Master. They are icons of the Good Shepherd Himself Who has come to lay down His life for the sheep, by Whose Death and Resurrection all are granted Life more abundantly (Jn. 10:10-11). We all would do well to heed the apostolic counsel heard this morning:
Remember those who rule over you [and who watch out for your souls], who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hb. 13:7-16).
The Faith of these three blessed holy ones is our Faith 16 or so centuries later! In the 2000-plus years of the Church the Faith of Sts. Peter and Paul is the Faith of Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. Nothing has changed regarding the Truth “once for all delivered to the saints” in the intervening years despite the ever-changing world with its passing fads and fancies and, at times, insanities (Ju. 1:3). Each in his own right contended vigorously for this Faith with heretics and pompous rulers. What this triumvirate of apostolic holiness and faith received, they likewise handed on to us, intact and unsullied, the incorruptible Faith that saves all who yearn for salvation in Jesus Christ. Each was willing to suffer and to die, if need be, for the sake of the Gospel and their Lord Who is, as He Himself has declared, “’the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (Mk. 8:35; Jn. 14:6). They did not teach nor did they encourage anyone to add to the Faith or subtract from it. And, because of this, they are truly those of whom our Lord speaks today in the Gospel:
‘Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.’
Indeed, these three would be horrified if their respective personalities or demeanor ever promoted a partisan spirit in the Church they loved. But, in fact, that’s why we have this commemoration of The Three Holy Hierarchs. Because of their exceptional souls, various parties indeed began to form around the person and memory of Basil, the person and memory of Gregory, and the person and memory of John. And, each party argued the superiority of one over the inferiority of the others, reminiscent of St. Paul’s own warning to his beloved Corinthians who had formed parties around Paul and Apollos, causing division in the ranks of the baptized, thus sullying their witness to the Gospel with the passions of the flesh that divide and spoil (1 Cr. 1:10-16; 3:1-23). These Three Holy Hierarchs came to a certain Bishop in a dream one night, saying to him individually, at first, and then with one voice,
“’As you see, the three of us are with God and no discord of rivalry divides us. Each of us, according to the circumstances and according to the inspiration he received from the Holy Spirit, wrote and taught what befits the salvation of mankind. There is not among us a first, a second, or a third, and if you invoke one of us the other two are immediately present with him. Therefore, tell those who are quarreling not to create divisions in the Church because of us, for when we were on earth we spared no effort to re-establish unity and concord in the world’” (Synaxarion).
The good Bishop was then instructed by these three to conjoin their separate commemorations into one feast and to compose a service to that effect, thus restoring peace and unity in the Church of Jesus Christ Who is, in fact, the only true and sure foundation laid (1 Cr. 3:11).
Jesus Christ, dear brethren, is “the Light of the world,” the Light no darkness has overcome (Jn. 1:4-5; 8:12; 12:35-36). And, these Three Holy Hierarchs are torches of that Light, “’sons of Light’” in whom and by whom and through whom we see the Light of Jesus Christ Himself! Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ says, “’Ye are the light of the world.’” If we are living in Him, walking in His light, and abiding by the word of His commandments, we share in His light, in Him Who is “Light of Light” (Nicene Creed). We are icons of this Christ Who is the Light of the world insofar as we reflect His light. This light, beloved, is not our light. It does not come from us, as though we can produce such glory or are the origin of such brilliance! But, rather, Jesus Christ Who is divine Light, Light not of this world, the Father’s Light, shines in us to heal our darkness and through us to enlighten the world with His own Life and love. We would be grossly in error if we supposed this eternal Light that heals and saves and sanctifies is totally for ourselves! We would be rebuked immediately by the words of our Lord, “’A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house,’” that is, to all the world.
Thus, our Lord concludes, “’Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works [works of light], and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven.’” To glorify God is the sole vision of this trinity of torchbearers we know as The Three Holy Hierarchs. It was, especially, St. John Chrysostom, whose last words were as he died in exile because he had rebuked the rulers one too many times, “’Glory to God for all things!’” By our works full of Jesus Christ and our words, equally full of Him, is our God and Father glorified, praised, worshipped, and adored in the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not do our good works or speak our good words for the sake and benefit of ourselves, that is, for self-glorification or self-promotion, but solely for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God Almighty – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“’Assuredly,’” says St. John Chrysostom, “’there would be no heathen if we Christians took care to be what we ought to be; if we obeyed God’s precepts, if we bore injuries without retaliation, if when cursed we blessed, if we rendered good for evil. For no man is so savage,’” he says, “’as a wild beast that he would not run forthwith to the worship of the true religion, if he saw all Christians acting as I have said.’”
Through the prayers of the Three Holy Hierarchs, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
Dt. 1:8-11, 15-17 Co. 1:12-18
Dt. 10:14-21 Lk. 18:18-27