January 30, 2018

The Christian Humanism of the Three Hierarchs

By Fr. George Dion Dragas

The Three Hierarchs, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, are the Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church par excellence, the patron saints of Christian, Hellenic education and culture. Our Church has praised them and continues to do so by using the richest vocabulary and literary devices, which she can produce. She praises them as "those, who have the manner of the Apostles," "the teachers of the ecumene," "the instruments of grace," "the depths of wisdom," "the oceanic sources of the Spirit," "the living water, which produces the brightest diamonds," "the trees that bear the fruit of joy and gladness," "the coals that burn with an unquenchable fire," "the castles of faith," "the expert healers of the sickness of soul and body," "the theologians," "the foundations," "the golden mouths of God," "the glory of wisdom," "the three greatest luminaries of the three Suns of the Godhead."

The Fathers of the Church and particularly the Three Hierarchs, whose memory we celebrate today, gave the solution to the problem articulated by the philosophers. With this solution, the Greek, Christian Fathers gave us a new Hellenism, which takes its starting-point and inspiration from Christ, a Hellenism that, like the old one, has given the world a new, ecumenical dimension. The solution to the problem of human existence, which the Fathers of the Church gave, is summed up in the word regeneration, or restoration of man in the image of God, which is imbued with the life of immortality. The Three Hierarchs taught that man was created for a high purpose: his participation in the divine and eternal life of God, all of it expressed in the word deification (θέωσις).

Man was and is essentially good, because he was so created by God. His body is no prison, and the solution to its delivery from corruption is the resurrection from the grave. Similarly, his soul is not in opposition to his body, but is rather created for it. The soul cannot remain naked, as it were, without a bodily garment, because man is a psychosomatic whole. The destruction or dissolution of this wholeness means the loss of man, and the loss of man means the loss of the world. When we lose one of our intimate persons, we feel that the whole world is lost for us, because man is the key to the world. This is what the traditional, Greek lament (μοιρολόγι) affirms in striking language. And there is a great depth to this lament - a depth that answers to man's anxiety caused by the drama of human existence. This lament demands nothing else as a solution to the problem of existence created by death, than the return of the dead to life: the restoration of the psychosomatic wholeness and integrity of the human being. And, yet, we cannot see how this can be achieved. The daily experiences of change, corruption and death do not allow us to look to the possibility of resurrection. But this is where the holy icon of the Three Hierarchs emerges. They appear to us as the witness to immortality. They are the luminaries of the faith in Christ, which gives us the assurance of the resurrection. If the tragedy of human life is rooted in the experience of pain, evil and death, the solution to that tragedy is rooted in faith, love and hope in Christ.

The ancient, Greek philosophers articulated the basic problems of man's life and existence. The holy Fathers and Hierarchs of Hellenism gave the answers to these problems. They expanded the ancient wisdom of παίδευσις (education) and αρετή (virtue) by diverting its abstract, ideological perspective and turning it towards the Triune God and the grace of the saving Economy in Christ. Thus, they saved the ancient world from the anxiety and utopianism of fatalism and vanity. Today, our world is led to similar cul-de-sacs. It becomes introvert in its interests and abstract in its ideals. It loses the vision of truth and virtue. The soul becomes materialistic in a way that it seeks to gain more and more, or when it does attain to material richness, it becomes imprisoned in apathy, alienation and loneliness. It is in this context that we find once more the great legacy of the three holy luminaries or the Three Suns of the Godhead as the greatest blessing. These Fathers hold the key to our contemporary life. It is the key to Christ, to the grace of God that purifies, enlightens and deifies our humanity, leading it into God's eternal kingdom of life, truth and glory.

From Ecclesiasticus I: Introducing Eastern Orthodoxy.