The Three Holy Hierarchs

In the Eastern calendar, today is the commemoration of the so-called Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil “the Great” of Caesarea (330-79), Gregory “the Theologian” of Nazianzus (329-90), and John Chrysostom, “the Golden-Mouthed,” the bishop of Constantinople (347-407). Many of us are more familiar with the grouping of Basil and Gregory with Basil’s younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, the trio known as the Cappadocian Fathers. But the grouping of Basil and Nazianzen with John Chryostom is rooted in an eleventh-century debate over which of the three was the greatest theologian, a debate allegedly resolved by a vision of the three to John the Bishop of Euchaita in which they declared their unity and equality.

All three were defenders of Nicene orthodoxy and were committed churchmen (as was Gregory of Nyssa). All three were men of holiness and prayer. All three were supported by close Christian friends and family members, many of whom are also canonized in the Eastern tradition (especially noteworthy is Basil and Nyssen’s sister Macrina, a profound theological and spiritual influence on them both). But each of the three had his own unique gifting and personality, and each has his own lesson for today’s church.

Basil the pastor underscores the importance of the church. He left a monastic life to pursue a public ministry in defense of the divinity of Christ. He soon conscripted his reluctant friend Gregory to the same task.

Gregory the theologian teaches us the value the intellectual life. He is given the title “the Theologian” for a reason. Among his other writings, Gregory’s Five Theological Orations, preached to a small band of orthodox Christians while the see of Constantinople was in the hands of the heterodox, remain a classic defense of the doctrine of the Trinity.

John the preacher reminds us of the power of proclaiming the Word of God. He was given the moniker “Golden-Mouthed” because of his remarkable gifts of oratory. Few in church history have moved the church more powerfully to obey all that Jesus demands in Holy Scripture.

Men like these are an inspiration to the whole church of Jesus Christ. One need not be Orthodox or Roman Catholic to find great value in the lives of the saints. Yes, we Protestants understand that all Christians are already saints through faith in Jesus Christ. No, we Baptists will not be found asking the saints in heaven to intercede for us. But we confess belief in the communion of saints just the same. We too believe that all Christians share life together in the one body of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. We too are the inheritors of the whole history of the church. All things are ours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or Basil or Gregory or John. And we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:22-23).

Considering the lives of the saints who have gone before us serves as inspiration to our own faith and life. Growth in Christian virtue takes place, by the grace of God, through habits inspired by exemplars. So, let us remember faithful pastors, theologians, and preachers like the Three Holy Hierarchs. And let us imitate their faith as they imitated our one Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:7; 1 Cor. 11:1).

Leave a Reply