This coming Sunday is the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs. Around the year AD 1100 there was a raging argument plaguing the Orthodox Church — who was the greatest, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian or St. John Chrysostom? This strife was so contentious that the three saints appeared to St. John Mauropous, Bishop of Euchita (celebrated on October 5) who was a great hymnographer. Explaining that the glory they have at the throne of God is equal, they asked him to compose a common service for them in order to end the disputes. We have celebrated this service on January 30 since.
Thus, while reading the Epistle (Hebrews 13:7-16) and the Gospel Reading (Mathew 5:14-19) we tried to place them in context of this feast as well as the events of the readings themselves and our own lives.
The verse we spent the most time on was Hebrews 13:9:
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.
We asked the question, “What are diverse and strange teachings?” To understand this, we need to look at verse 8:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.
In other words, the truth that was taught to the Apostles is the same that was passed down from generation to generation down to us. The means by which Christ saves us has not changed. The reality of Christ Incarnate — both God and man — the crucifixion, and the resurrection has not changed. So, what we know about God, Christ and how we are saved has not changed throughout the ages. We might have clarified these truths, depending upon the context that the Church found Herself, but these basic truths have not changed.
Diverse and strange teachings call into question either what we know about God (and therefore Christ) or about how we are saved:
- In St. Paul’s time, there were those who insisted that fasting laws and getting circumcised were necessary for salvation. This calls into question how we are saved. If fasting laws and circumcision are necessary, then Christ’s saving passion is somehow incomplete.
- In the time of the Three Hierarchs, there was a teacher named Arius who taught that there was a time when the Son was not. He called into question what we know about Christ, God and the Trinity. If there was a time when the Son was not, then He is part of creation and of a fundamentally different essence than God the Father. As such, uniting ourselves to Christ would do us little good, since we are already part of creation. Only in being of one essence with the Father does uniting ourselves to Christ save.
- In our own time, there is the phenomenon of the Old-Calendarists. When various Orthodox Churches (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Poland and Bulgaria) started to switch to the revised Julian Calendar (which uses the Gregorian Calendar for fixed feasts) in 1924 (the last in 1963), there were those who refused to make the switch. These Old Calendarists broke communion with the Orthodox Church in order to form their own communion. In other words, they follow in the footsteps of the Judaizers of St. Paul’s time. They see the use of the Julian Calendar as necessary to salvation, calling into question the completeness of Christ’s passion.
The verse from the Gospel that we focused on was verse 18:
For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
The iota and the dot are the smallest of letters and strokes in the Greek alphabet. Thus, Christ is claiming that the law must be fulfilled completely. If we read some of the hymns from January 1 we see the Church declaring that Christ fulfills the Law:
The supremely good God was not ashamed to be circumcised in the flesh; but for our salvation He offered Himself as a type and example to all. For the Author of the Law fulfills the precepts of the Law and the things the prophets preached of Him — Stichera of Vespers for the Circumcision in the Flesh of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ
The Law reveals our sin, because fallen humanity is incapable of fulfilling the Law. Christ, being both God and man, is sinless. Therefore He is capable of perfectly fulfilling the Law — abolishing that which separates humanity from God. This He accomplishes for our sake. When we are baptized we are said to put on Christ (cf. Ga;. 3:27). Thus, the Law is fulfilled in us by Christ Himself. The Law is not the means of our salvation, Christ is.