On the 30th of January every year, we celebrate the feast day of the Three Hierarchs, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, a special day in the Greek Orthodox world which also commemorates the legacy of Greek Letters. This is a much needed reminder in our days, especially considering how rapidly our world is changing around us. Essentially, these incredible Christian teachers and preachers of the divine word demonstrate for us the significance of both the Orthodox faith as well as Hellenic paideia.
The true openness and inclusiveness demonstrated by these three great luminaries is unparalleled. They show us that education is not something to be feared at all, but encouraged. The Three Saintly hierarchs show how Christians can make use of education through their use of Hellenism. They baptized the ideals and values of Hellenism and utilized them as vehicles to transmit the Truth of the Gospel.
Thus, on this special day, we celebrate the complementary role Hellenic paideia played in preparing the known world for the coming of Christ, for the establishment of the high ideals in society, especially as it concerns equality and the love of beauty. We honor and celebrate this seamless bond and marriage between Hellenism and Christianity and we receive this great inheritance of our Hellenic Orthodoxy as a great treasure which we are called to multiply, just as we are reminded to do so by our Lord in the parable of the talents.
We honor these saints with hymns, incense, and liturgical festivities, but we must strive to fully embrace their message. We must work hard to understand how we can emulate them in our own lives. What these saints exemplified in their lives was a full embrace of the entire oikoumene and they invite the entire world to participate in both Hellenism and Orthodoxy. The hierarchs embodied the real meaning of being a true Hellene, remembering the words of the ancients: “He who has received Hellenic paideia participates in Hellenism.”
There is a lot about the Greco-Roman world of those days that is difficult to fully appreciate in our own days, especially as the homelands of these three hierarchs are now located in what we refer to as the Middle East. However, even the city of Antioch — located in present day Turkey — was a great Hellenic treasure then. This can be found in a poem written by Constantine Cavafy, where he says:
“Antioch is boasting about its splendid buildings, its beautiful streets […] that it is the seat of glorious kings; for the artists and wise men that it has […] But above all is incomparably boasting, that it is a Greek city from ancient times; a relative of Argos.”
If we look back in an honest and sincere way, then, we will see that all along the purpose of Hellenic education was to produce good citizens and it remains that today as well. Most of us can agree that our Church has a similar goal. She wants to produce good citizens on earth and in heaven, our true and eternal homeland.
Therefore, having received this great inheritance and celebrating it collectively in honor of these great saints, let us remember the words of our Lord: “To whom much is given, much will be expected.” Hellenism and Orthodoxy are such great treasures, that they must be shared with the rest of the world. We must invite our friends and neighbors to learn and participate in this great legacy. We must be ambassadors of this great cultural heritage and bear worthily our obligation to history and to humanity, as these Truths belong to all people.
1. Constantine P. Cavafy, ‘Παλαιόθεν Ελληνίς’, Ποιήματα vol. II, ed. George Savidis (Athens, 1983), 60.
About the author
A native of Indiana, the Very Reverend Nephon Tsimalis served for many years as a Patriarchal Deacon at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 2019 he was ordained a priest and elevated to Archimandrite and sent to assist Archbishop Nikitas in London where he now serves as a full-time priest of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain.