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Literature

Books to Honor the Three Hierarchs & Greek Letters

January 31, 2022

January 30 is the feast day of the Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Gregory the Theologian, the Church Fathers who were great men of letters, defenders of Orthodox Christianity, and supporters of Greek learning. The Feast of the Three Hierarchs is therefore also a celebration of the Greek Letters.

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is conducted on the morning of the feast and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service. Great Vespers services are held on the evening before the day of the feast.

Scripture readings are as follows: Vespers- Deuteronomy 1:8-17, Deuteronomy 10:14-21, and the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Matins- John 10:9-16; and at the Divine Liturgy- Hebrews 13:7-16, and Matthew 5:14-19. Each of the Three Hierarchs has a separate feast day in January, Saint Basil on January 1, Saint Gregory on January 25, and St. John Chrysostom on January 27. Debate over which was the greatest hierarch led to the establishment of January 30 as a feast day to honor all three in the year 1100 during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos.

In the icon for the feast, the Three Hierarchs are depicted facing forward in a frontal pose. They wear the hierarchical vestments indicating their position as bishops of the Church. Saint John Chrysostom stands between Saint Basil (to his right) and Saint Gregory (to his left). Each Hierarch holds a closed gospel book, signifying their roles as great teachers and preachers of the Church. Saint John and Saint Basil are shown giving the traditional blessing with their right hand, and Saint Gregory has his hand respectfully resting over the gospel book. Saint Gregory and Saint Basil hold the gospel with their left hands covered by the phelonion and omophorion as a sign of special respect.

In 2017, February 9 was named International Greek Language Day, in honor of the national poet of Greece Dionysios Solomos who passed away on that day in 1857. The day had previously been designated as the Solomos Commemoration Day, and other days including the birthdays of other notable Greek writers including poet George Seferis and author Nikos Kazantzakis had also been considered for the celebration.

The day follows the celebration of the Three Hierarchs on January 30, which traditionally celebrates the Greek language and letters as well as the Church Fathers who historically promoted the Greek language. Solomos, of course, also made great contributions to the Greek language, having composed the Hymn to Liberty, the verses of which became the lyrics of the Greek National Anthem in 1865.

In honor of the Three Hierarchs and the celebration of the Greek Letters, here are a few books to add to your reading list.

The writings of Saint John Chrysostom are available online, in Greek and in English translation, including the Divine Liturgy used on most Sundays. His sermons on Wealth and Poverty and on Marriage and Family Life offer valuable advice and insights as relevant today as when he first wrote them. Saint Basil the Great’s writings and Divine Liturgy are available online as are the works of Saint Gregory the Theologian who also wrote a Divine Liturgy and powerful orations.

The Hymn to Liberty, The Collected Works of Dionysios Solomos, and Ta Italika Poimata (The Italian Poems) are all available online.

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