January 30, 2021

The Answer of the Three Hierarchs to Western European Education

By Archimandrite Kyrillos Kostopoulos
Greek and foreign scholars often hear that the European Renaissance and the European Enlightenment are the most brilliant continuation of Ancient Greek Education.

But is this claim true? With the voice of Stentor we answer: No!

Our negative answer is based on the fact that none of the European philosophers were able to contribute with their humanistic teachings to the spiritual completion of man, who has now rushed onto the stage of the European theater of the absurd.

Nietzsche, Sartre, Schopenhauer, Stirner and Camus proclaimed the death of God and the resurrection of man. As a result, we see that Western European education is now governed by four principles: 1) God is either Platonic, that is, an ideal principle, or not directly related to man or even non-existent; 2) our neighbor, or our fellow man, is our hell, as Sartre claims; 3) the third principle is the irresponsible and ruthless desire for power; 4) there is no good or evil, according to Nietzsche.

Everything is allowed, since there is no God and therefore there is no moral principle. "If God does not exist, everything is permitted," exclaims Dostoevsky.

We reach, then, the culmination of the drama of Western European Education which results in the atheistic, inhuman, unloving, heartless murderer and suicidal European. Goethe exclaims in vain: "Licht mehr Licht!" (Light, more Light!).

Unfortunately, this darkness of atheism also affected the skies of our East.

Orthodoxy is transformed into abstract teachings, fleshless dogmas, the preservation of the rules of worship and of external forms.

That is why, without much remorse, we closed the temples and desecrated every sanctuary and saint of our faith in the face of the fear of death, erasing with one finger the Uncreated Holy Grace of the Victor of Death, our God-man Lord, Jesus Christ.

Phenomena of social degeneration, moral decline and decadence are now present in modern Greece.

For this reason it is necessary, if we want to put a brake on the dizzying speed with which we are running towards destruction as a Greek Orthodox Nation, we must refer again to the Education of the Three Hierarchs.

The Three Hierarchs - Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom - considered Greek Orthodox Education necessary. Education, according to Basil the Great, must offer the answer to the question: "What is the destiny of man?"

And the answer is given clearly: "Be like God, as much as possible in your human nature. Without knowledge of God, one cannot become like Him. Without instruction there is no knowledge" (Basil the Great, "On the Holy Spirit", PG 32, 69B).

This connection of Education with salvation aims towards the completion of man.

In Greek humanism, the purpose of Education was the humanization of man, the attempt to transcend animal nature.

Menander characteristically said: "How graceful is man when he is really a man. What a fine thing a human is, when truly human!" (Kock, [1888] Fragment 761, 1).

The Three Hierarchs then came to complete and extend Education to the "archetype", to which our educational course must lean towards, and this archetype is the God-man together with humanity deified according to Grace.

Basil the Great urges young people: "We Christians, young men, hold that this human life is not a supremely precious thing, nor do we recognize anything as unconditionally a blessing which benefits us in this life only. Neither pride of ancestry, nor bodily strength, nor beauty, nor greatness, nor the esteem of all men, nor kingly authority, nor, indeed, whatever of human affairs may be called great, do we consider worthy of desire, or the possessors of them as objects of envy; but we place our hopes upon the things which are beyond, and in preparation for the life eternal do all things that we do. Accordingly, whatever helps us towards this we say that we must love and follow after with all our might, but those things which have no bearing upon it should be held as naught" ("Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature", PG 31, 565C–D).

But also John Chrysostom comes to tell us: “For it is not that someone is a man if they have the body and voice of a man, but it is if someone has the soul of a man and the disposition of the soul" ("On Changing Names", Homily One, PG 51, 113-114).

In the man who has been reborn in Christ, in the man who has received the Education of the Three Hierarchs, the self-consciousness provided by Gregorian anthropology is recognized: "I am both small and great, both lowly and exalted, mortal and immortal, earthly and heavenly. I am to be buried with Christ and to rise again with Him, to become a co-heir with Him, a son of God, and indeed God Himself. This is what the great mystery means for us; this is why God became man and became poor for our sake: it was to raise up our flesh, to recover the divine image, to recreate mankind, so that all of us might become one in Christ who perfectly became in us everything that He is Himself (Gregory the Theologian, "Oration 7", PG 35, 785BC).

The Greek Orthodox Education of the Three Hierarchs is the Education of the Ancient Greeks, which is filtered through the Truth Revealed by the God-man, is transformed and becomes "fulfilled" by all sides of Education that aims towards the completion of man.

Whenever we turn to the Education of the Three Hierarchs, we find once again the universality, the completeness, but also the timeliness of this Education.

The Three Hierarchs interpreted "in words and actions" the reason for the existence of Education.

If we, the Greeks of today, study and embrace their teachings and receive these three "Luminaries of the Three-sunned Divinity" as signposts, we will have hope for a true and in Christ historical continuation of our Greek Orthodox course.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.