“Let us who love their words gather together
And honor with hymns the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead:
Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.
These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines.
They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom filling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge.
Ceaselessly they intercede for us before the Holy Trinity!” ~ Troparion in tone 1
The Three Holy Hierarchs are commemorated on January 30 every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.
Hundreds of years after they departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to who was the greatest of these three men. Some thought St. Basil was the best because of his purity and courage. Others considered St. Gregory the greatest because of his brilliant theology. Still others gave the title of “greatest” to St. John Chrysostom because of his incredible ability to speak and clearly present the Faith. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites.
The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other, and they asked that he write a service for the three of them together. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder that none of them is greater than any of the others, before God.
Bishop John immediately told his fellow Christians about the visit from the saints. Because he was so respected (he was very virtuous and eloquent), the three groups were reconciled with each other. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 as the day to celebrate all three of them. Some of the troparia of this service call the Three Holy Hierarchs an earthly trinity because of how they taught us with their speaking/writing (as well as their lives) to worship the Holy Trinity – one God in three persons.
The Three Holy Hierarchs are a great example to all of us. Let us learn from them (and teach our children, as well) several things. First, let us not compare ourselves to others. These three saints were each remarkable, yet they would not tolerate their brothers and sisters comparing them to each other. Secondly, the Three Holy Hierarchs are a model of godly compromise. They found a way to work around the problem of people considering each of them better than the other by suggesting instead that they be celebrated together. Thirdly, let us learn from these saints to work together to the best of our ability. Each of these saints excelled in a different way from the others. God has given each of us gifts/abilities, too. Like the Three Holy Hierarchs, let us use our giftings to the extent that we are able; for the glory of God, not to try to outshine those around us.
Through the prayers of the Three Holy Hierarchs, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us, and save us.