February 3, 2008
For decades, our Archdiocese has set apart the last week in January of every year and has titled it as the week of Greek Letters. It concentrates on the three Luminaries of the Ancient Christian Church, who together are commemorated as the 3 Hierarchs every January 30th. These eminent Holy Fathers, prolific in the Greek language and philosophy were, St. Basil the Great, St. John the Chrysostom (goldenmouthed), whose Divine Liturgy we celebrated once again, and St. Gregory the Theologian.
Before I bring to you a few words about the 3 Hierarchs, the fantastic Scholars, who gave impetus to the delving into the Greek language, constituting the foundation of culture and civilization, I must mention what they were up against. There ascended on the Byzantine Throne Emperor Julian, who was known as the Apostate, meaning the drifting from what was already existing, the Christian Religion. Emperor Julian put out an edict that the Christian scholars were unworthy and should not to teach or preach in Greek, because they had totally been absorbed by Christianity, and drifted far from the Ancient Greek Traditions.
But, the 3 Hierarchs boldly stood up as pillars of Chrisianity. St. Basil the Great, who eloquently emphasized and preached, that we have much to learn from our idolatrous Forefathers, and it is up to us, with an open mind to make the proper selections, as the bees do choose the flowers, to give the best honey.
St. John the Chrysostom was a great orator and a prolific writer and commentator. His voluminous commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul, as is his book describing, as no other, the Sacrament of the Holy Priesthood. He wrote a treatise against Emperor Julian, condemning Idolatry, but underscoring that Christians do not deny the worth of our Ancient Greek Heritage.
On their Feast Day January 30th, the main hymn of the day portrays them as follows: : "Let us all who love their preaching come together with hymns to honor the three great torch-bearers of the Triple Godhead: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and the renowned John her Golden-tongued. They have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines, and are flowing rivers of wisdom; they have inundated all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge; and for us they always intercede with the Holy Trinity. Coming back to the pre-Christian days, it isn't by chance, that Alexander the Great set out to conquer the world, --- not as we know the modern Dictators, but as a champion, to unite the peoples of the world with a common denominator, which was the teaching of the Greek language and philosophy. Besides his army, he recruited eminent educators, who were in a position to transmit the elements of the Greek language.
His overall influence all the way to India, was a feat in itself, when we consider the logistics involved. His educational conquest can be understood in terms of the common denominator, which bound so many people together.
As the Prophets of the Old Testament heralded the Events of our Lord's life 8 Centuries before He came to this world, Alexander fits into the picture of Christianity, as a type of forerunner, in that, through the general use of the Greek language, when the Lord came, the New Testament was easily preached and recorded.
The Greek language was so powerful, that the various Nations lost their language, having submitted to the Greek.
A prime example is the Hebrews. When Alexander died, his Empire was divided amongst four heirs. One of these was Ptolemy, who ruled over Egypt, which had a large measure of civilization. The Hebrews had also lost their language, having been overtaken from the Greek. They could no longer understand their Holy Book, the Old Testament.
Ptolemy then commissioned 72 Hellenistic Scholars, who were Hebrews, to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into the Greek. This translation is known as the translation of the 70. The Roman Catholic Church uses the Latin term "Septuagint."
After the death of Alexander, his Empire weakened, and was divided into 4 Major Parts. Rome, at that time, was organized militarily, and was successful in taking over the vast Empire. Rome also conquered Greece in the year 146 B.C., and while it did subjugate Greece, in turn Rome was subjugated by the power of the Greek language and Culture. It was Cato in the Roman Senate who declared, "even though I am 80 years old, I know that I have to learn Greek, to be able to function."
Thus, Italy, as we know it today, also used the Greek as its official language. This lasted for over 4 centuries, until St. Jerome, a renowned Priest returned from Jerusalem to Rome, and was successful in re-Latinizing the Country. The remnants of Ancient Greece are still felt and especially on the Island of Sicily. The Greek Orthodox Church until today, is the only Church that reads the Scriptures in the language in which they were written. When one knows the Greek language, he or she can see basic differences in the various English translations. Sometimes they have a totally different meaning.
You may be amazed that not only in the Roman Catholic Seminaries, but also in those of the Protestant Seminaries, Greek is taught, so that the future Clergy are able to understand the Holy Scriptures better.
Today, because of the lack of proper schooling, the Greek is gradually fading, but in the larger Cities where there are full time Greek -American Elementary and High Schools, their graduates are fluent in both languages, and as matter they generally excel, because almost one half of the English language is pure Greek.
Yes, we are proud to perpetuate the Greek Culture and traditions, which surely are life enriching and edifying.
“Therefore brethren stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word or our epistle.” - Thessalonians 2:15