Three Holy Hierarchs

Happy Feast – Three Holy Hierarchs

To settle a dispute in the 12th century over whether Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus or John Chrysostom was the preeminent church father, it was decided to show the senselessness of such argument by celebrating all three together. Emperor Alexius Comnenus chose this date.

Circumcision of the Lord and St Basil the Great

Today on the Byzantine calendar, the Church commemorates both the Circumcision of the Lord and our father among the saints Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia.

Our Lord was circumcised on the eighth day after His Nativity in accordance with Jewish law as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The significance of this is manyfold; in emptying Himself, He who wrote the Law submitted Himself to it, which He came not to destroy but to fulfil. This submission also demonstrated that Christ was truly incarnate, truly robed in flesh, and not simply appearing to be a man.

Saint Basil the Great was born to a wealthy yet pious family at Caesarea in 330. Highly educated in philosophy, philology, oratory, law, naturalist, astronomy, mathematics and medicine, he developed a close friendship with Saint Gregory the Theologian in Athens. He later returned to Caesarea, where he became an ascetic and laid the foundations of Eastern monasticism, later being joined by Saint Gregory.

As the heresy of Arianism spread through the Empire and even to the imperial throne, Saint Basil arose as one of the principal defenders of Orthodoxy, being consecrated Archbishop of Caesarea in 370. He died on 1 January nine years later, shortly after blessing his friend Saint Gregory to accept consecration as Archbishop of Constantinople, and was immediately acclaimed as a saint. The Church continues to celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great today and on nine other occasions during the year. (SSC)

Holy Prophet Haggai

The Holy Prophet Haggai

The Holy Prophet Haggai. whose Feast is today, December 16th, was the tenth of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Little of his personal history is known to us. What we do know is that Haggai was of the Tribe of Levi and he prophesied during the times of the Persian emperor Darius Hystaspis (prior to 500 BC). Haggai was concerned for the authentic worship of God, especially need for the purity of Temple worship and promised the people that God would bless His people with fruitfulness and prosperity, overthrow the Gentiles. Upon the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity, he persuaded the people to build the Second Temple at Jerusalem, and he proclaimed that the Messiah would appear in this Temple in the last times. Hence his importance for Christians.

Some scholars say that Haggai was buried with the priests at Jerusalem, since he was descended from Aaron.

The Kontakion for this holy prophet reads:

Enlightened by the Spirit, your pure heart became the dwelling place of most splendid prophecy; for you saw things far off as if they were near. Therefore, we honor you, blessed and glorious Prophet Haggai.

St Savva

Today our Church recalls one the important saints, Our Venerabe Father Savva (Saba or Sabbas) the Sanctified.

St Savva first entered a monastery near his home in Cappadocia, but in the year 457 he travelled to Jerusalem and sought out St Euthymius. After spending some time under his instruction, Savva spent several years in seclusion in the Kedron wilderness. He was soon surrounded by followers. He organized them into a semi-eremitical community known as a lavra, which consisted of caves in a wild gorge in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The reputation he gained for wisdom and holiness earned him an unsought role in ecclesiastical history. The patriarch of Jerusalem ordained Savva priest and made him his vicar, or archimandrite, over all the eremitical settlements in Palestine.

St Savva, together with St Euthymius, was responsible for keeping the vast number of monks in Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine loyal to the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon concerning the two natures of Christ.

Savva was 93 when he died on this date in 532. The Typicon of St Savva, while probably not his actual composition, had enormous influence on the shape of worship in orthodox churches (who pray the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil).

In 1256 the Crusaders removed the body of St Savva to Venice, where it was enshrined until 1965 when Pope Paul VI returned it to the lavra that is today known as Mar Savva. This lavra has a history of nearly fifteen hundred years, which makes it one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the Christian world today. (NS)

St John Damascene

Also, today we liturgically recall St John Damascene on the same day we commemorate St Barbara.

The feast of Christmas is a theological feast. It is a celebration of God incarnate, taking our nature to perfect it. Jesus commanded us poor mortals to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:47). How can we do this – only by imitating our Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect God and perfect man, as we see in this passage from the Damascene:

“For the divine Word was not made one with flesh that had an independent pre-existence, but taking up his abode in the womb of the holy Virgin, he unreservedly in his own subsistence took upon himself through the pure blood of the eternal Virgin a body of flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, thus assuming to himself the first-fruits of man’s compound nature, himself, the Word, having become a subsistence in the flesh. So that he is at once flesh, and at the same time flesh of God the Word, and likewise flesh animated, possessing both reason and thought.

Therefore we speak not of man as having become God, but of God as having become Man. For being by nature perfect God, he naturally became likewise perfect man: and did not change his nature nor make the dispensation an empty show, but became, without confusion or change or division, one in subsistence with the flesh, which was conceived of the holy Virgin, and animated with reason and thought, and had found existence in him, while he did not change the nature of his divinity into the essence of flesh, nor the essence of flesh into the nature of his divinity, and did not make one compound nature out of his divine nature and the human nature he had assumed.” (On the Orthodox Faith, 3.2,

As a result of his theology of the Incarnation, John was able to defend with strength the importance of icons. If, in Jesus, God took a human face, then we can make images of him. We pray, holy Father John, make our Christmas a feast of perfection, for “God is with us.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St Barbara

St Barbara is commemorated today in the Church’s prayer of the Divine Liturgy and the Hours.

There is little doubt that the legendary story of the Holy Martyr Barbara was embellished a bit by early hagiographers. There is no reason for this, since the mere fact that someone who comes to faith in Christ is willing to lay down their life for him. For this reason, the more plausible facts of her life are a beacon for us who struggle in and for the faith. Her story tells us that she was a philosopher, a “lover of wisdom.” It was her love of wisdom, guided by grace that brought her to faith in the one true God in the Holy Trinity.

It is a reminder that our faith is not blind, it is rational, based on an authentic consideration of reality. Clement of Alexandria was one of the first Christians to see the value of Greek philosophy for the Christian faith, and on this same day, December 4, we celebrate the memory of Our Holy Father John Damascene, who wrote a massive work, the Fount of Wisdom, reasoning about our faith.

St. Barbara, however, shows that once we believe in the true God, it becomes more than just an intellectual exercise, but it changes and transforms our whole life, so that we cannot live any other way, and so she gave up her life for her faith. The story also tells us that it was her very own father who executed her. This is plausible. We know, as Christ told us, “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke12:52-53).

What does family truly mean in our faith? What does it mean to be a father? Should not a father encourage his daughter to become her own person, and not simply to imitate his way of life? A beautiful idea, but how do we carry it out in practice? What if the roles had been revered and the father was a Christian and his daughter would want to revert to paganism? Would he then be justified in his actions? I think some of us might say yes. We have difficulty, I think, separating sin and sinner. We say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner,” but we have difficulty distinguishing the two, and we end up hating the sinner double. The father would not be justified in killing his daughter, even if she was wrong, and even less, of course, because she was right.

Our Lord taught, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). Therefore, we pray today to St. Barbara, in whom the light of Christ shone forth, to lead us to a rational faith and a love for all people created by God.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St. Andrew

The feast of St. Andrew is the beginning of a new relationship of God with his people. He is the first-called, the first follower of Christ particularly as Rabbi, as Messiah and Savior. What does it mean to be Christian? It means to follow Christ without hesitation and without selfishness. This feast is truly a reflection of Christmas. Jesus is the first-born of the Father, the first-born of all creation, the new Adam, the re-Creator of the human race.

Andrew is the first-called, but he is simply the forerunner of all who choose Christ, in a world that is hostile to Christ and his renewal. On this feast, we also begin the singing of Christmas stichera. At Psalm 140 of Vespers, we see that Bethlehem is filled with the fire of the Godhead, “Isaiah, dance for joy: receive the word of God. Prophesy to the Virgin Mary that the bush burning with fire will not be consumed by the radiance of our God.” At the Apostichera, we question the righteous Joseph, “Tell us, O Joseph: How is it that you bring the Maiden which you received from the Temple to Bethlehem pregnant?” Through divine intervention, the sending of an angel, he sees through to the holiness of his wife. The stichera at Vespers tells us that the Light that never sets has come into the world in the town of Bethlehem, and is worshiped by the angels, the shepherds and the Magi, a theme to be repeated frequently in the Christmas feast.

For us to recognize Christ, we must follow the first-called Andrew, whose first question was, “‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” [Jesus] said to them, “Come, and you will see.” This is Christ who was to say later, ““Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. (Luke 9:58)” We have no comfortable place in this world. On Christmas, we “come and see” the Word of God in poverty, in a cave, rejected and persecuted by the world.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St Catherine of Alexandria

Troparion for St Catherine:

By your virtues as by rays of the sun you enlightened the unbelieving philosophers, and like the most bright moon you drove away the darkness of disbelief from those walking in the night; you convinced the queen, and also chastised the tyrant, God-summoned bride, blessed Catherine.

You hastened with desire to the heavenly bridal chamber of the fairest Bridegroom Christ, and you were crowned by Him with a royal crown; standing before Him with the angels, pray for us who keep your most sacred memory.

Saint Philemon and companions

Today the Church commemorates the memory of one Saint Paul’s close collaborators in preaching Savior’s Good News. He was born in Turkey and died in Colossae.

One of Saint Philemon’s biographers writes:

These four Apostles were all disciples of the Apostle Paul, and are mentioned individually in his Epistle to Philemon. In the first verse of this epistle, he writes: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker – also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier — and to the church that meets in your home.”

Philemon was made the Bishop of Gaza by the Apostle Paul. He drove away from the inhabitants the darkness of ignorance and illuminated them with the light of the knowledge of God. Then he and his wife, Apphia, with the Apostle Archippus his son, ministered to the town of Colossae from its Christian center, Philemon’s home. There also they preached the word of truth.

During a pagan feast to the goddess Artemis, the Christians of Colossae had gathered in Philemon’s home for prayer. When the pagans learned of it they became enraged and raided the home and took the Apostles Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus to be killed. The other Christians managed to flee in fear. At first, they were whipped and afterwards they were buried up to their waists and the pagans began to stone them. They then killed Philemon and Apphia by laying them on the ground and beating them with sticks. Archippus they removed from the pit barely alive and left him to the amusement of the children. The children pierced him throughout with knives, and then he was stoned to death.

St John Chrysostom

Today, November 13th, we commemorate the great Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. It’s his edition of the Divine Liturgy we pray most Sundays of the church year. He’s also one of the best preachers we had.

Today’s saint ought to be very familiar to you as you will recall at the end of each Liturgy of his we pray the priest always announces his name along with St Ann’s name and the saint of the day.

The Apolytikion of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople reads, and we pray:

“The grace of your words illuminated the universe like a shining beacon. It amassed treasures of munificence in the world. It demonstrated the greatness of humility, teaching us by your own words; therefore, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede to Christ the Logos for the salvation of our souls.”

The Kontakion of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople reads, and we pray:

“You received divine grace from Heaven, and by your own lips taught all to worship the One God in Trinity. All-blessed, venerable John Chrysostom, deservedly, we praise you for you are a teacher clearly revealing things divine.”