About Brotherly Love


(Jan. 30/Feb. 12)


        Brothers and sisters!

        Today we celebrate the joint feast of Christ’s three great hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, the teachers of the whole world.  During the month of January, the Church of Christ also commemorates these three holy bishops separately:  Basil on January 1, Gregory on January 25, and John on January 27.  Today in my sermon, I shall explain how these three saints came to share a single feast, and also say a word about what that feast means for us.

        During the reign of the Christ-loving Emperor Alexius Comnenus, around the year 1100, a dispute arose concerning the three hierarchs among the scholars of the imperial city of Constantinople, the New Rome.  Some held that Basil the Great was superior to the other two, for he was, as they said, the perfect model of a prince of the Church, was just yet cautious in forgiving sins, and led an angelic life.  Others preferred John Chrysostom, because he was loving and condescending to human weakness, and by his sweet discourses guided all men to repentance.  Finally, there were those who had the highest respect for Gregory the Theologian, saying that as a stylist he had no peer, and that his thought was the loftiest of all.  The polemic grew sharper and sharper, until some of the scholars began calling themselves Basilians, some Johnites, and some Gregorians. 

        The members of these groups understood that the controversy was reaching a dangerous level of intensity, but at the same time everyone wanted to see his own preference prevail.  Meantime, the three saints appeared, first individually and then together, to the holy Bishop John of Euchaita, who enjoyed universal respect for his sanctity and learning.  This is what the saints told him:  “We are equal before God and in complete concord with one another.  Command the disputants to put aside their differences, for just as when we were alive, so even now our concern is to bring peace and oneness of mind to the ends of the earth.  Commemorate us together on a single day, compose a festive service to us, and inform everyone that we share a common rank before the Lord.  Trusting that we enjoy God’s favor, we promise to further the salvation of those who honor our joint memory.”  After this, the holy Bishop was able to reconcile the factions, establishing the present feast and persuading all the churches to observe it solemnly. 

        I think, dear Christians, that having heard this history, you have already realized what is the present feast’s chief lesson for us.  It obviously teaches us oneness of mind, concord, and love of peace, such as the Three Great Hierarchs shared.  If these are foreign to us, then what good are our other virtues?  Where peace and love are absent, enmity is present.  Where enmity is present, so is the devil, whose constant concern is to block our way to the Kingdom of heaven.  Even a martyr, if he has not the Lord’s peace and love for his brother in his heart, can lose the crown.  Thus we read in the Lives of the saints how, during one of the ancient persecutions, two brothers who were at enmity with each other were imprisoned for confessing Christ.  The heathen put them to torture, hoping to compel them to renounce the Lord and worship idols, but despite the fierce torments they underwent, both remained steadfast.  Then the sentence of death was passed on them.  In the dungeon, as they awaited their end, one of the two repented and said to the other, “Beloved brother!  Let us reconcile.  Tomorrow morning we shall be removed from this cell and be put to death.”

        However, despite the extreme circumstances, the second brother would have none of it.  At dawn, both were led to the place of execution.  When they arrived, the one who would not reconcile was seized with fear and renounced Christ; the other bravely accepted martyrdom and received the crown.

        Afterwards, the judge asked the apostate why he had not renounced Christ the day before, thereby saving himself from torture.  The wretch answered, “The moment I refused to reconcile with my brother, despite his pleas, I sensed that God had forsaken me, leaving me bereft of His help.  I began to fear death, and so I denied Christ.”

        Brothers and sisters, you can see from this the terrible state of soul that results from enmity and failure to seek peace, and pursue it,[1] as the holy prophet David urges.  Therefore, in the words of another of the prophets, let us love truth and peace[2] with our whole heart.  This is the chief lesson of the present feast.  If the Lord’s peace reigns in our soul and we seek blessed concord with our brethren, then our prayers and our other good works will shine forth as the sun[3] before God.  As a result, we will experience much joy both in the present life and the next.  Whatever else we may do to win the Lord’s favor, be it to struggle against our passions, or to fast, or to stand at prayer, or to keep vigil, or to offer candles before the icons, or to give alms, or to repent of our sins, let us be sure to preserve a peaceful disposition and to seek concord with our brethren.  If, despite this, discord arises, let us do whatever we can to dispel it, in the spirit of Christian love.  This way, the God of love and peace will always remain nearby, shedding upon us His grace.  Amen.


[1] Ps. 33:14

[2] Zach. 8:19

[3] Matt. 13:43