Revered Fathers, Head of Schools, and my dearly beloved children in the Lord,
At the beginning of a new academic year, I take the opportunity to share some thoughts with you. Today our Church commemorates the Three Hierarchs – St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom – the patron saints of all levels of education, of teachers, and of students.
The common feast of these great Fathers of the Church was established in the 11th Century to honour their supreme contribution to education, their unshakeable and zealous faith in God and their incomparable pastoral and charitable activities. They had a very well-rounded education and generally loved learning. The Three Hierarchs belong to the Great Fathers of the Church because they used their formidable education to explain the Holy Scriptures to the people, so everyone could live a life in Christ. They were also very encouraging of broader secular studies and strongly emphasised the value and importance of the Greek language.
St Basil encouraged the students to be like the bee, which takes from the flowers only what makes good honey. St Gregory the Theologian said, “Adorn the souls of children with the right education, and everything else will follow.” They built many schools for all the children, rich and poor, and special schools for the people to find work. St John was nicknamed Chrysostom because of the sweetness of his words. He was a charismatic orator and his sermons were powerful and as precious as gold.
Their advice to both teachers and children is still applicable to this day. St John emphasised that education is superior to any other profession because it has to do with forming souls. He focused on the character of the teacher and recommended that anyone wishing to undertake the task of educator should be compassionate and self-effacing. They should demonstrate their love for their students and recognise the specific qualities of each one. Moreover, they should always confirm what they taught with their own, personal example.
Basil the Great was even more practical. He suggested that schools be built in quiet places and that teachers should make themselves clear and be brief; to use lots of examples and take into account and cultivate the unique talents of each child.
Gregory the Theologian was a prolific poet and friend and fellow student of Basil the Great. He, too, was highly educated and believed education to be a benefit of the highest value. He used his knowledge to bridge the gap between the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking theologians of his time, while formulating our understanding of the Holy Trinity as One God in Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The common features of the Three Hierarchs were their great love of learning and letters; their theological and philosophical brilliance; their contribution to the true faith; their devotion to works of charity; and the ascetic life they led. For the Three Hierarchs, education shapes our inner world; it gives us the power of reason and helps to elevate our spirit.
It is my hope and prayer, that the example of these great saints is a motivation for both our teachers and our beloved students – to inspire learning and to be inspired to learn. In closing these few words, I extend to each and every one of you my paternal blessing and good wishes for the new academic year and finish by summarising the advice of these great educators to young people of any era:
“Go on, ever forwards and ever upwards. Really want to be educated. Throw yourselves into your studies. Hunger to do something great and heroic. Learn to ignore yourselves and submit to the service of others. Do you dream of a better society? Work for it. Arm yourselves with vitality and persistence and live the love of Christ powerfully and ardently, until the end”.
God bless you!
In Sydney, on the 30th day of January, 2023
With fervent paternal prayers
† Archbishop MAKARIOS
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia