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Education Day - in a world lacking education



A commentary by Theodore Riginiotes, educator, theologian

 

The Orthodox Feast of the Three Hierarchs (January 30) the traditional celebration of Education is now in a world deprived of genuine Education.  Normally a Celebration of Caring, it is now in a conquered and ruined world searching for love and caring...

One could say that the pillars of Greek civilization are three: ancient Greece, the Greek Fathers of the Church and the younger, contemporary Greek writers and thinkers.

From these three spiritual spheres, people can draw supplies designed for a life of freedom and of quality - and it is imperative that it urgently does so in our time, because, as the years pass, the mighty of the world deprive us of our freedom and degrade the quality of our lives.

Of ancient Greece, we can learn something in school. Of the younger, contemporary Greek spiritual creations, likewise something.

Unfortunately, todays schools are like besieged castles, undergoing attacks from all directions, with the result that students cannot see the true value of education, and so are not reaching out to benefit from the gifts that education can offer, in spite of the adversities.  Anyway,the sphere about which almost nothing is taught, is of the Fathers of the Church (that is, the holy teachers of Christianity), given that the minimal references that do exist are limited to the vague lesson of Religious Studies - when they also deserve a place in the lessons of Philology and Sociology. They are now regarded only as mere religious thinkers, when they were igniters of souls, studiers of the deeper motives of human behavior, studiers of social phenomena, as well as teachers of peaceful revolutions.

If only we learnt more about them - and even more, if we bothered to study their written works and their personal example - our life and society would have been completely different. Man himself, as an entity, would have been quite different, as he was seen as a king, crowned with light, in the kingdom of heaven, and not a beggar at the mercy of an oppressive God, nor an instrument in the hands of wealthy and power-wielding governors. 

The Fathers of the Church themselves had stood up to the authorities of their time resistance without bearing arms, even to the death. Some of them were philosophers, such as Saint Maximus the Confessor and Saint John Climacus. Some were educators and organizers of large-scale humanitarian activities - such as the Three Hierarchs. Some were poets and musicians, who bequeathed masterpieces of incomparable artistic value and philosophical depth, such as Saint John of Damascus, Saint Romanos the Melodious, Saint Cosmas the Melodious, Saint Cassiane the Hymnographer... and many others, whose works are chanted even today in church, exactly as they had been written.

Others, finally, were men and women hermits, who broke every stereotype, lived a life of self-denial and love, and taught people the wisdom and self-awareness that they had attained through their personal struggles. Among them are not only Greeks, but also Egyptians (such as Anthony the Great, Saint Macarius the Egyptian, Saint Mary the Egyptian); Sudanese, Ethiopians, Syrians (such as Saint Isaac the Syrian and Saint Ephraim the Syrian, who are commemorated on January 28), Persians (Saint Anastasius the Persian)... but also Italians, French, British, Spanish - mostly, from olden times, when the entirety of Europe observed a uniform Christianity... Saint Genevieve of Paris, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Gregory of Rome, Saint Patrick of Ireland, Saint David of Wales, and countless others (to them were also Russians and others, from all the Balkan countries), all compose a pan-European mosaic, a truly United Europe, which is not based on the economic interests of the few, but on love and kindness, which - according to the Gospel - begins now and lasts through to eternity. And it is noteworthy, that they had ruthless emperors to contend with, barbarian raiders, gangs of fanatics, impostors who deceived the masses with supposedly advanced spiritual teachings, just like it is today.

Chart of British-Celtic Saints
Chart of European-Scandinavian Saints

Our age is disturbingly similar to the age of the ancient Fathers of the Church, which is why it is of utmost urgency to discover what they said and what they did, in every difficult situation.

There are countless episodes from the lives of the saints that are worth  narrating... episodes about those who sacrificed their lives to save others for example, the Greek historian Eusebius mentions the epidemic of 251 AD, where the idolaters threw out their sick relatives, for fear of becoming contaminated, which however the Christians would gather from the streets, care for them, and not worrying if they themselves became contaminated... Then there were others, who distributed all their wealth to the poor - like Saint George, Basil the Great, his sister Saint Macrina the Philosopher, Saint Philaret the Merciful, Anthony the Great, St. Melanie of Rome, St. Philothei of Athens, St. Elizabeth of Russia (the last two were also martyred by people who did not understand the grandeur of their love), e.a.

Also about physician saints, who treated the sick without silver (=money), hence their Greek title of Anargyroi (meaning silver-less, unmercenary).  Among them are four such holy physicians: Saint Hermione, Xenaida, Philonilla and Sophia the Physician; but also a recent example, the Eldress Gabriella, who traveled the world offering her medical care gratis, to the most seriously suffering people). Saints, who stood up against the authority of their time, as had all the Martyrs, (including young girls), confronting merciless emperors; such were Saint Ambrose of Milan, St. Germanus of Constantinople, St. Martin of Rome, St. Theodore the Studite, St. Philip of Moscow (the enemy of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who had also killed him)... Saints, who had clashed even with the ecclesiastical establishment of their time as was Saint John the Chrysostom (the giant of philanthropy), Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Maximus the Greek in Russia, St. Nilus of Sora and many others

But only a few, particularly touching cases will be mentioned below:.

Saint Nikephoros the Martyr.  During the era of persecutions, he surrendered himself to the Roman legions, confessed that he is a Christian and was put to death, for the sake of his friend, the priest Sapricius, who had denied Christ. To save the Christ-denier in eternity, the saint sacrificed himself. In fact he did this, even though Sapricius had ceased to regard him as his friend and hated him, and all the efforts of Saint Nikephoros for those sins to be forgiven had proven fruitless.

 

 The Russian holy princes Boris and Gleb, in 1015, knew that their evil brother Svyatopolk was planning to assassinate them, but they accepted death without reacting, and indeed within a month of each other. They considered it inconsistent with their Christian baptism to have their soldiers die or kill others for their sake.

 

  Saint Macarius the Egyptian, who later became one of the most important spiritual personages, at least in Orthodox history.  When he was still a young ascetic living as a hermit near a city, he was slandered by a young woman (who had become pregnant by a secret lover), claiming that the child was his. He accepted the slander, endured all kinds of insults from the population of that place and began to work twice as hard to support the woman and her child.  Eventually, when he learned that the slander had been exposed, he departed secretly, so as not to put the people in the awkward position of asking him for forgiveness.

 

  Saint Paulinos, bishop of Campania, in the 5th c. AD, after spending every penny of the Church's money and his own, buying captives from the Vandal raiders to free them, also gave himself up as a slave, so that the only son of a widow could be freed.

 

  Saint Leo the Great, Pope of Rome in the 5th century AD. (no relation to the all-powerful popes of the Western European Middle Ages). He went unarmed together with the city's priests and met Attila's army, which was preparing for a siege. What Attila said to him is not known. However, after their conversation, Attila abandoned the siege and departed.

 

  This feat was repeated two centuries later by the Pope Saint Nicholas II, thus thwarting the siege of Rome by the king of the Lombards Liutprand.

 

But we need to be aware that such people also exist in the Orthodox Church even today. Father Themistocles in Sierra Leone, Eldress Nectaria in Calcutta, Father Jonah in Taiwan, Father John Kibuka in Uganda and countless others, in Greece and abroad (yes, in Greece also), are struggling against the worldly powers, striving to put in practice the love of Christ.

 The struggle for the God-man is a struggle for man wrote the contemporary Serbian saint Justin Popovic, the exiled professor of the University of Belgrade.

 

The designation of Three Hierarchs prevailed when naming the three important bishops of the 4th century AD, who lived in the Roman Empire, when Christianity had only just begun to prevail. They are Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John the Chrysostom.

Basil and Gregory were brotherly friends and fellow students at the Philosophical School of Athens. John the Chrysostom lived a generation after the aforementioned two; that is, he was still young when they had passed away and does not seem to have met them. All three of these hierarchs were highly educated and their contribution to literature and society was immense and multifaceted, which is why they were considered three of the most important Church Fathers of all time. Given that they had written a great deal about education, their feast day was established in the modern Greek state as a school holiday.

It was deemed appropriate to commemorate them this year, hence the reason to say a few things about them, and also about several other unknown, but important - important, but unknown - peaceful revolutionaries and luminous victors.  Heres hoping that more will be said about the Three Hierarchs from now on.....

An additional piece of information is that Saint John the Chrysostom is the author of the Divine Liturgy text, which is celebrated in Orthodox Churches every Sunday throughout the year, except when the liturgy of Basil the Great is performed. The two saints composed the Liturgy in such a way that two rivers flowed through it: the symbolic repetition of the life of Christ (from His birth to the Crucifixion and -according to Christians- His Resurrection and Ascension), and the symbolism of the Second Coming, the general resurrection of the deceased (that is, the victory over Death) and the Kingdom of Heaven, which is destined for us all.

As Saint Chrysostom writes, this Liturgy is performed not only by the priest, but together with all the laity, men and women, without discrimination and prejudice, because we are all kings and priests, heirs and co-regents in the Kingdom of God a fact that is also emphasized in many places in the New Testament.

Therefore, on their commemorative feast day, and every Sunday, it is beneficial for all to be in church, to partake of this ancient Divine Liturgy, with the repetition of the Last Supper and the foretaste of the kingdom of heaven. The Three Hierarchs will definitely be present. Christ and the Holy Mother, Angels and Saints will also be present. There will also be thousands of ordinary people present - orthodox Christians - who are not swayed by social media and television spectacles and games, because they have greater expectations in their lives and in the lives of their children: the expectation of love and of eternity.

A final thought:  There are those grandparents, housewives, people perhaps of a moderate education (among them maybe some who are very educated), who continue to resist and will always resist the conqueror. They are the true, everyday heroes, who deserve to be visited, to shake hands with, and exchange warm reciprocating wishes. In the words of the poet: When they shake hands, the sun is certain for the world...  That is where our place is - next to those ordinary heroes, some of whom may even be members of our family (did you know that you have heroes in your family?).

That Ark of the Divine Liturgy always sails towards heaven, and there are always places in it for each and every participant...

 

PS:  The mothers of the Three Hierarchs, Saints Emmelia, Nonna and Anthousa, are also honored by the Orthodox Church; they are commemorated on the first Sunday of February.

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Translation:  A.N.

Article created:  04-02-2024.

Updated on:  04-02-2024.