Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The three Holy Hierarchs in humbling conditions

The three holy hierarchs, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian, and St John Chrysostom, lived in times of great turmoil for the Church. Although there was no more persecution from pagans, heretics and Christians of weak faith and poor moral standards stood up against the holy ones.
three-hierarchs.jpgIn AD379, when the faithful in Constantinople talked St Gregory the Theologian into becoming their bishop, the Orthodox had no churches in the capital city. The Arian heretics held them all.
St Gregory stayed with a relative in the city, and converted one of the rooms of his relative’s house into a Church, dedicated to the Resurrection, not only of Christ our Lord, but also, the resurrection of Orthodoxy. By fervent prayer, daily services, and daily instructional sermons, St Gregory began to convert the city back to Orthodoxy. But it was not easy.

In the midst of wolves I built up a congregation
St Gregory the Theologian, 4th century

St John Chrysostom suffered many unjust accusations, exile and death in a strange land without support because he offended the vanity of the Empress and many less than virtuous clergymen. Councils even anathematised the holy man!

….he, hurrying on to the completion of his design, although we had declared our readiness to clear ourselves of the charges in the presence of a hundred yea or a thousand bishops, and to prove ourselves innocent as indeed we are, would not consent: but in our absence, when we were appealing to a synod, and demanding a trial, and not shrinking from a hearing of our cause, but only from open enmity, he both received our accusers and absolved those who had been excommunicated by me, and from them, who had not yet cleared themselves of the offences laid to their charge, he received complaints against me, and had minutes made of the proceedings, all which things are contrary to law, and the order of the canons. But what need is there of a long story? He did not cease doing and contriving everything until, with all possible display of arbitrary power and authority, he ejected us from the city and the church, when the evening was far advanced and all the people were streaming after us. Being drawn by the public informer through the midst of the city, and dragged along by force I was taken down to the sea, and thrust on board ship, and made a night voyage, because I appealed to a synod for a just hearing of my cause. Who could hear these things without tears, even if he had a heart of stone?
St John Chrysostom, 4th century

St Basil the Great also experienced ill treatment from heretics, and described the persecution as harder to bear than what the martyrs endured from the pagans before:

In my judgement, the war that is waged against us by our fellow countrymen is the hardest to bear, because against open and declared enemies it is easy to defend ourselves, while now we are necessarily at the mercy of those who are associated with us, and are thus exposed to continual danger….Our father were persecuted, but by idolators…The persecutors, who have lately appeared, hate us no less than they, but, to the deceiving of many, they put forward the name of Christ, that the persecuted may be robbed of all comfort from its confession, because the majority of the simpler folk, while admitting that we are being wronged, are unwilling to reckon our death for the truth’s sake to be martyrdom. I am therefore persuaded that the reward in store from the righteous Judge is greater than that bestowed on the former martyrs. They indeed both had the public praise of men, and received the reward of God; to you, though your good deeds are not less, no honours are given by the people. It is only fair that the requital in store for you in the world to come should be far greater….I exhort you, therefore, not to faint in your afflictions, but to be revived by God’s love, and to add daily to your zeal, knowing that in you ought to be preserved that remnant of true religion which the Lord will find when He comes on earth….If traitors have arisen from among the clergy themselves, let not this undermine your confidence in God. We are saved not by names, but by mind and purpose, and genuine love toward our Creator….Remember that it is not the multitude who are being saved, but the elect of God…If but one be saved, like Lot at Sodom, he ought to abide in right judgement, keeping his hope in Christ unshaken, for the Lord will not forsake His holy ones.
St Basil the Great, 4th century

In view of the lives of the three holy hierarchs, is there any reason for the Orthodox today to fear? No longer does the Arian heresy trouble the Church (although it still exists in a different form). Today, it is the heresy of Ecumenism that is the greatest threat. The true Orthodox understand that in abstaining from communion with heretics, in attending humble house-churches instead of glorious cathedrals, they are indeed following in the footsteps of the saints!

O Holy Hierarchs, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom! Strengthen all the Orthodox, console and uplift us! Make us firm on the path of salvation through suffering for Christ, in cleansing ourselves from sin through sincere repentance, and struggling for piety by fulfilling His commandments!

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