Skip to comments.The Faith of Our Fathers
Posted on 02/27/2009 9:54:55 AM PST by NYer
Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. These are the words Byzantine Rite Catholics hear from the lips of the priest at the beginning of every Divine Liturgy. It is a prayer full of deep adoration, a profession of faith in the greatest mystery of Christianity. We worship the only true God Who is Triune, a Trinity of Persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
This emphasis on the Triune nature of God literally permeates the entire Liturgy. The end of every litany of petition said by the priest ends with a doxology of the Trinity; we make the sign of the Cross three times and with three fingers. During Great Lent we prostrate ourselves three times. The Eastern Church places the Feast of Theophany as one of highest ranking celebrations after Easter and Christmas for it is the manifestation of the Trinity at the Jordan on the occasion of the Baptism of Jesus. This is no coincidence. As Catholics, we take for granted the rich patrimony of Trinitarian theology with which the Church, like a good Mother, nourishes us.
Many of us do not even know the beautiful Saints who defended this most fundamental truth of the Faith. Since the Eastern Church, by the Providence of God, promulgated special Feasts to remind the faithful of our indebtedness to certain Patristic Fathers, I would like to share with you the story of the special February feast of a trinity of Saints. On February 12th, Byzantine Rite Catholics celebrated the feast of Basil, Gregory and John Chrysostom.
Before looking at the history of the Feast, we must recognize that it is these three who contributed enormously in expounding for us the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. It was in the crucible of persecutions, exiles, and heated debates of valiant, zealous priests and bishops that the Catholic Faith was able to take solid root. Their theological discourses reveal to us the situation of the Church in the fourth century — a time both of great excitement and great confusion. Do not kid yourselves twenty-first century Catholics! Yes, we are living in times of an unprecedented loss of faith. But the Arian crisis was comparable in severity as a challenge to the Church. Satan roused Arius, a fourth century priest, to deny the divinity of Our Lord and Savior, advancing the error that Jesus was only a mere man. Around the same time we have Macedonius of itchy ears (2 Tim.4:3-4) contending that the Holy Spirit was only a creature and not divine. Countless trusting and unsuspecting faithful were infected with the spiritual venom that seeped into the body of Christ, placing souls in danger.
This naturally got the attention of all three Fathers, Saints Basil, John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzus. Besides prayer their greatest weapon was the pen. Saint Basil made vigorous defenses of the divinity of Christ in his Letters against the Arian Eumonius. His renowned treatise, De Spiritu Sancto, dismantled Macedonius claims and affirms by Scripture the constant belief of the universal Catholic Church: that the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity is Divine. His wrestling with heretics of this sort is manifest throughout the Divine Liturgy which bears his name, where we find the classic Trinitarian doxology Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, now and forever and ever, Amen. Likewise, one sees this influence in the Anaphora (Canon) of the Liturgy itself where once more he makes quite clear that all three Persons of the Trinity are Divine, equal and distinct, yet one. It is Saint Basil to whom we owe these most magnificent prayers.
As for Saint John Chrysostom, the golden mouthed, he too composed a Divine Liturgy — at which all Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine Rite assist — wherein his staunch defense of Christs divinity and the unity of the Trinity is made evident by numerous doxologies, the Trisagion prayer and Anaphora to name just two. His strong stance against Arius is also demonstrated by his monumental commentaries on the Gospels, most notably that of St. John, which is full of Christological passages and is a favorite target of attack for the heretics. He lays them low by the reaffirmation of the unity of Christs Person, and the distinction of His two natures, divine and human.
We could hardly overstate the enormous contribution of Saint Gregory in his works on the Blessed Trinity. The babbling of heretics gave him little time for repose, either. He mounted his crusade for the Lord in is his most famous Five Theological Orations, where he rigorously defends the Nicene profession of faith in the unity and distinctness of the Persons by frequent use of the Nicene terms Hypostasis and Consubstantial. The latter of these theological terms is also to be found within the Divine Liturgy.
There is a saying that goes lex orandi, lex credenda. We pray what we believe. For these Fathers, this is taken very seriously. Assisting at Sunday Mass meant not only worshipping God and receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist, but also getting an education in the Faith. Whether realizing it or not, while the faithful were praying, they were learning what the Holy Catholic Church teaches and has always taught. It became an apologia pro sancta Trinitatis, so to speak. The struggles to maintain the purity of the Faith in the midst of a crisis so severe left an indelible mark, so that every opportunity was utilized to reinforce the correct doctrine on the Triune nature of God. However, it would be a mistake to reduce Saints Basil, John Chrysostom and Gregory to solely great theological minds. They were and always will remain for time immemorial Fathers, not merely of the Faith — but spiritual Fathers entrusted with the care of souls. Of course, after their passing into eternal life, the flock who received so much care would not let their legacy die, as subsequent years were to prove.
Though each Father has an individual Feast day dedicated in his honor, a singular event occurred which brought the three champions of the Blessed Trinity together with one feast. Curiously enough, the Feast of the Three Hierarchs is a more recent addition to the Byzantine Rite Calendar, having its origin in the middle part of the eleventh century. It is related that a heated debate broke out amongst the faithful as to which Father was the greatest. The controversy had three groups each taking party names from the Patristic Father whom they preferred: the Basilians for those who loved Saint Basil; the Joanites for those who were devoted to Saint John Chrysostom; and the Gregorians for the supporters of Saint Gregory. Knowing the humble hearts of these beloved Fathers, this was sure to be most displeasing to them, and so with Gods permission, they decided to settle the bickering once and for all.
It so happened that the Saints paid a visit to Bishop John of Euchaita near Constantinople, each one separately and then all three together. In these apparitions the Fathers spoke the following message:
We, as you can see, are one before God and there is nothing between us that is contrary or controversial; each one of us, differently inspired by the Holy Spirit, taught that which was necessary for the salvation of man. Therefore, there is no first or second among us, but as you call one so shall the others be called. Arise, then, and command those who are arguing over us, not to divide themselves, for as during life, so too after death, our goal is to bring peoples from all corners of the earth to peace and unity. Institute, therefore, the celebration of our memory on the same day, as all three of us are of the same rank before God, and we shall help those to achieve salvation, who shall celebrate our memory.
The venerable Bishop John responded promptly to the wishes of the Holy Fathers and placed the feast on the 12th of February in Greece.
This holy feast of the three calls us to rejoice and to a fervent hope in the Lords solemn and infallible promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church. We can rely on His word, seeing that every time Satan has launched his most vicious attacks against the Lords Mystical Body, Jesus raises up great men to send Hells warriors back into their infernal abodes. His holy servants, the Saints, are not opposed to one another but preach the same Catholic and Apostolic Faith. Let us rest in the Lord, knowing that as constantly as weeds of heresy sprout, He will continue to ever send forth His Holy Helpers to cut them down with the sharp two-edged sword of unchanging Truth. God is with us! God is wonderful in His Saints, Basil, Gregory and John Chrysostom!
We have been truly blessed with Pope Benedict XVI's teachings on these Church Fathers and compiled into a book.
In his lenten message, the Holy Father writes:
The practice of fasting is very present in the first Christian community (cf. Acts 13,3; 14,22; 27,21; 2 Cor 6,5). The Church Fathers, too, speak of the force of fasting to bridle sin, especially the lusts of the old Adam, and open in the heart of the believer a path to God. Moreover, fasting is a practice that is encountered frequently and recommended by the saints of every age. Saint Peter Chrysologus writes: Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open Gods ear to yourself (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).
I am reading this:
Lent is a golden opportunity to turn off the boob tube and delve into the lives of the saints or meditate on our Lord. My favorite Lenten book is still:
It continues to feed me this year. Each time I feel the urge to break the fast, I remind myself that I am now in the desert :-)
Bathe Seven Times....on the seven deadly sins.....I am reaching deep inside me on this one.
oh, yes I read The Story of a Soul already. it was a treasure.
Just finished it..
Makes me hunger for more of Benedicts writing.
reading it a bit each day, sometimes it gives me so much to think about I have had to slow my reading down to meditate on what he is teaching.
I read one chapter a day and pondered it.
We are so blessed to have him as #1 Shepard.
I see they have study guides to go along with the books...LOL. So far one chapter bored me to tears...it was the one on the Jewish faith. The rest has been fascinating.
This sounds like a great book for Lenten reading.
On St. Clement of Rome -The Church Has a Sacramental, Not Political Structure (March 7, 2007)
Truly a Doctor of Unity (St. Ignatius of Antioch) (March 14, 2007)
St. Justin Martyr: He Considered Christianity the True Philosophy (March 21, 2007)
St. Irenaeus of Lyons: The First Great Theologian of the Church (March 28, 2007)
St. Clement of Alexandria: One of the Great Promoters of Dialogue Between Faith and Reason (April 18, 2007)
On Origen of Alexandria: He Was a True Teacher (April 25, 2007)
Origen: The Privileged Path to Knowing God Is Love