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Culture

The Three Hierarchs, the Greek Letters & Language 

January 21, 2018

The Feast of the Three Hierarchs is celebrated on January 30. Every year, churches, schools, and educational organizations in the community host events highlighting the Greek letters, language, and literature in honor of the work of the three great saints of Orthodoxy, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom.

The Church Fathers were great men of letters, defenders of Orthodox Christianity, and supporters of Greek learning. The Feast of the Three Hierarchs is therefore often combined with the celebration of Greek Letters in many Greek Orthodox parishes. The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is conducted on the morning of the feast and preceded by a Matins (Orthros) service. Great Vespers is conducted 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 honor of the Three Hierarchs and the Greek Letters, add the following books to your reading list. The Complete Works of St. John Chrysostom, 36 books, are available online. One of his most popular works is On Marriage and Family Life which offers some timeless advice for the Christian family. Many of the works of St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory the Theologian are also available online. On The Human Condition by St. Basil is available in the Popular Patristics Series published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

For those interested in the Greek origins of words in the English language, English Words Deriving from the Greek Language by Matina Psyhogeos is a reference work that should be on your list. The hefty volume is over 750 pages and includes sections with words listed by disciplines and fields of study including anatomy, architecture, chemistry, medicine, mythology, politics, and theatre among many others. The impressive list has columns featuring the English word, the Greek root word, and the definition in English. So many of the words are related to science and medicine that it would be difficult to envision how they could exist without Greek.

Scholars set the percentage of English words from Greek at about 60 percent and where scientific and medical words are concerned the percentage increases to 90 percent. Anyone fascinated by words will enjoy the book. The author includes the Greek alphabet, a pronunciation key, some general facts about Greece, and a Greek for Travelers section with many useful phrases for a variety of situations that the average traveler may encounter on their journey. Students may find the book especially useful in expanding their vocabulary and preparing for exams.

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