At the beginning of the 4th century, when, after the terrible trials of the first centuries, the persecution ceased, Christianity began to spread and strengthen. The Lord, by a miraculous appearance in heaven of the sign of the Cross, confirmed Tsar Constantine in the true faith, and he became the protector and patron of Christians. The emperors who ruled after saint Constantine often departed from Orthodoxy and again persecuted Christians and patronized heretics. In these difficult times the Lord strengthens the Church, showing the world the glorious defenders of Orthodoxy – Basil the Great and his friend Gregory the Theologian.
Saint Basil the Great was born in the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia into a noble and pious family. He received the basics of the Christian faith from his grandmother Macrina, his parents and his elder sister Macrina, who were zealous Christians. St. Basil received the best education for those times, he knew all the known sciences and was a skillful orator. During his studies he made friends with Gregory the Theologian, both of them were distinguished by meekness and chastity, and in the sciences they soon surpassed their teachers. But the secular sciences were not the goal of their life, they devoted a lot of time and attention to prayer. Faith made them brothers in spirit; according to st. Gregory, they “became everything for each other” and, “having one goal, constantly grew in love for one another.” This great friendship lasted for all their life.
After completing his secular education st. Vasily visited the places where Christian ascetics lived. After baptism he was ordained a presbyter. Having become a pastor, he preached daily, fought against the enemies of Christianity, and helped the hungry. Then, elected as an Archbishop, saint Basil continues to lead an ascetic life, visits the sick and the poor and creates settlements for lepers. Saint Gregory the Theologian describes how his friend Vasily looked like: pale complexion, full beard, slow gait, lack of haste in speech, inner concentration – all this aroused respect for him even from opponents. Emperor Valens, who was an Arian heretic, did not dare to harm the great Caesarean shepherd, but tried in every possible way to win him over to his side.
St. Basil opposed the false teachings about the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory says that to the emperor’s persuasions and threats, the saint replied: “You threaten me with confiscation of property, but it means nothing to a person who has nothing. Exile? But all the earth belongs to God. Torment? But they have no strength for the weak flesh, except perhaps the first blow, in which you are free. Death? But it will be deliverance for me, since it will sooner lead me to God, for Whom I live and work and to Whom I hasten to come… So neither violence nor convictions will force me to make an unjust decision.”
For eight years he was the primate of the Church and prepared the convocation of the Second Ecumenical Council, at which the Orthodox teaching of Saint Basil won. But the Holy Hierarch himself did not live to see the Council and reposed in the Lord, exhausted by great labors, at the age of about 50 years. Holy Hierarch Basil the Great surpassed not only his contemporaries, but also the great philosophers of antiquity in book wisdom and oratory. He left behind many remarkable theological works, such as an interpretation of the Holy Scripture and the Psalms, the treatise on the Holy Spirit, the message to the Church, and the rules of monastic life. Saint Basil the Great composed the order of the Divine Liturgy and wrote numerous prayers of repentance.
Friend of st. Basil st. Gregory the Theologian continued the fight for the purity of faith. The future Holy Hierarch Gregory was born in a small Cappadocian town of Nazianzus, therefore he is sometimes called “Nazianzen”. He was brought up by pious parents – Gregory, the future bishop, and God-loving Nonna. St. Gregory, having received an excellent education, was baptized at the age of 30, and then spent a few years in the wilderness, together with his friend Basil the Great, in feats and prayer, where they wrote the Rule for a cenobitic monks.
Called to the ministry of bishops, they fought against heresies, and then st. Gregory took part in the II Ecumenical Council, which he chaired. That Council adopted the final version of the Creed (Symbol of Faith), condemned the heresy of the Arians, Pneumatomachi and other false teachings. Saint Gregory the Theologian was so great in his works and virtues that, according to the testimony of his contemporaries, “if it were possible to create a human image in the form of a pillar, composed in parts of all the virtues, it would be like the great Gregory.” The saint had great zeal in preaching the Word of God, visited the sick and served them, helped the offended, protected the weak. Shining with a holy life, he was the chief hierarch in Constantinople for twelve years. As a sign of his victory over many and great heretics, st. Gregory was named the Theologian. After many labours, the physically exhausted Holy Hierarch left the throne at the age of about 60 and retired to Cappadocia, where he wrote many more theological works, letters and epistles.
The beginning of the 5th century of Christianity was marked by new disputes about faith and the emergence of new false teachings. To heal heretical strife the Lord called the Divine sage and preacher John Chrysostom. St. John came from a pious family, received the best education, but the vain worldly life was a burden for him, so after the death of his mother he distributed his property to the poor and went to a monastery and after a while into the wilderness. Then he was summoned to Antioch and ordained a deacon, and then a presbyter. Having become a clergyman, he visited the sick and the poor, defended the people from extortions and oppression by the authorities, and constantly preached. Elected as an Archbishop, John zealously fought against licentiousness and with too much influence of the imperial court in the affairs of the Church. He was an outstanding preacher, and many people came to listen to him.
The spiritual wisdom of Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom was a gift from God. Once a disciple of st. John found him writing a sermon under the dictation of holy Apostle Paul, who descended from the icon in the cell of st. John. The Holy Hierarch was a defender of the weak and oppressed by the authorities, which became a reason why many people of the upper class and some bishops became his enemies. The ill-wishers of Saint John, with the consent of the emperor, convened a council and achieved its condemnation, but in response there was a people’s uprising, and the Holy Hierarch was returned and greeted with jubilation by all the people. Soon, due to the new intrigues of ill-wishers, saint John was exiled to distant Armenia, from where he continued to spiritually guide his flock. Then he was sent further on to the Caucasus, but the saint, already sick and exhausted by the exile, could not endure the difficult path and died on the way at the age of about 60.
Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom was not only a remarkable preacher and a skillful interpreter of the Divine Scripture, but also a good shepherd, filled with mercy and love for the flock. By his wonderful preaching and virtuous life he renewed and healed human souls, his creations are a reliable guide to salvation in our spiritual life. Saint John Chrysostom wrote many prayers, he compiled a special order of the Divine Liturgy, which now bears his name in the Church.
In the 11th century there was a great dispute in Constantinople about the superiority of the merits of each of the three Holy Hierarchs in eloquence, firmness of faith, mercy, art of interpreting the Holy Scripture and other virtues. Out of these disputes a strife arose in the Church, while some called themselves Johannites, others Basilians, and still others Gregorians. Some time after these disputes arose the three great saints appeared together to a certain venerable learned man, Bishop John, and said with a single mouth: “We are equal before God, we have no divisions or contradictions with each other. There is neither the first nor the second between us. Therefore order to those quarreling over us to stop arguing, for, both during life and after death, we have a concern to bring the ends of the universe to peace and unanimity. In view of this, unite in one day the commemoration of us and write a service, and tell the others that we have equal dignity before God. And we will be helpers for salvation to those who commemorate us, since we hope that we have some merit before God.”
Hearing this miraculous command, the blessed Bishop John restored peace between the enemies and established the feast of the three Holy Hierarchs, as the saints had commanded him. The bishop demonstrated wisdom, for he saw that the memory of all three saints was commemorated in January (January 1 – Basil the Great; January 25 – Gregory the Theologian and January 27 – John Chrysostom), and therefore he united their memory on the thirtieth day of January, writing eulogistic chants and the canon to the Three Holy Hierarchs.
Our Orthodox faith, which was preached by Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, is the only true path to salvation. The thought that the great Holy Hierarchs believed and prayed in this way fills the soul and heart with joy and triumph: we worship the Holy Trinity, as they worshiped, and offer the Lord the sacrifice of thanksgiving, as they did. The Orthodox Old Believer Church preserves the ancient Typikon of divine service, in our churches the eight-tone chant created in Byzantium sounds, prayers written by the three Holy Hierarchs are read.
Brothers and sisters! Let us thank the Lord and the three Holy Hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, for, thanks to them the heretical strifes were extinguished in the Church, and the true faith, peace and unanimity were preserved. Let us ask the teachers of the universe that, through their prayers, we may be honoured with heavenly bliss in the Kingdom of Heaven, where the assembly of the three Holy Hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom unanimously and ceaselessly glorifies the Holy, Life-giving and Inseparable Trinity of the same essence – the Faher and the Son and the Holy Spirit! Amen!