My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Those ancient men of God who lived before the Law were not taught by words or writings; being pure in heart, they were enlightened by spiritual illumination, and thus they learned and were assured of the will of God. God Himself spoke with them, giving them information and commandments directly.
Such men were Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants Job and Moses.
But because people grew weaker and became unworthy of receiving assurance and instruction directly from the Holy Spirit, God, in His love for mankind, bestowed the Scriptures, that at least through them men might remember Him and learn His will.
Likewise, Christ also spoke to His disciples personally and communicated to them His grace as a teacher. But because heresies were later to spring up and spread, and because our morals were to become corrupt, He deigned to have the Gospels written down, that from them we might learn the truth, that we might not be led astray by the falsehoods of heresy, and that our morals might not be utterly corrupted.
In one respect, our Lord gave us four Gospels that from them we learn the four universal or cardinal virtues: the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.
We learn prudence, when our Lord teaches us, “Be ye wise as serpents, and gentle as doves.”
We learn justice, when our Lord teaches and charges us, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”
We learn temperance, when our Lord says, “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”
And we learn fortitude, when the Lord says time and again, “Fear not!”
In another respect, four Gospels were given to us, because they are the pillars of the world. Just as the world has four parts: east, west, north and south; likewise, it was fitting that there be four pillars.
Each is called a Gospel – or “Good News” – because it proclaims to us things which are truly good, such as the remission of sins, righteousness, the ascent to heaven, our adoption as children of God, the inheritance of eternal blessings and our liberation from the slavery of sin.
Furthermore, the Gospels proclaim and teach us that we have received all these things in a most wonderful and agreeable manner. We neither laboured to acquire such benefits, nor have we received them through our own efforts; rather, we were vouchsafed all these good things solely by God’s grace and love towards mankind.
Moreover, there are four Evangelists, of whom two, Matthew and John, were of the number of the twelve Apostles, and the other two, Mark and Luke, were from among the seventy disciples. Mark was a follower and disciple of Saint Peter, and Luke was a follower and disciple of Saint Paul.
Matthew wrote his Gospel before all the others, in the language spoken by the Hebrews, for the benefit of Jewish believers. Tradition attests that he wrote it eight years after the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it was later translated from the Hebraic language into Greek by Saint John.
Mark, who was taught by Peter, wrote his Gospel ten years after the Lord’s Ascension. Luke wrote fifteen years after the Lord’s Ascension, and John the Theologian wrote his Gospel thirty-two years after the Lord’s Ascension.
If anyone should say: Was not one evangelist enough?, listen to the answer. One was enough, but that the truth might be revealed more clearly and wondrously, four were permitted and moved to write Gospels.
Thus, when we see that these four men, who did not confer or sit down together, but were in different places, have written about something as if speaking with the same mouth, do we not stand in awe of the truth of the Gospel and say that they spoke by the Holy Spirit?
If, however, someone should say that there are some things on which the Evangelists do not agree, we respond that they agree in every respect concerning those matters which are most necessary, namely: that God became man, born of the most blessed Ever-Virgin; that He worked miracles; that He was crucified; that He was buried; that He rose again; that He ascended into heaven; that He will judge the living and the dead; and other such things. If, then, in great and essential matters there is no disagreement, but all four agree, we ought not to be surprised if they appear to differ in other matters.
As truly it is, that which one Evangelist has omitted, another has supplied; it is for this reason that they appear to differ on some points. But we believe and accept without any misgivings all that the holy Disciples, Apostles, and Evangelists taught and preached; we assent fully to their dogmas and doctrines; we keep their traditions with all reverence, and we carry them out as we were taught.
And not only with mere words do we believe and keep the Lord’s commandments, confessing and glorifying the great miracles of our Lord and God, but we strive by our very deeds to show this, and to affect unbelievers and doubters, so that they will be drawn to the true faith and to the firm foundation of the Lord’s miracles. For as the Apostle says, Faith without works is dead; works without faith do not save men, and neither does faith without works; rather, we are saved by works with faith and faith with works.
As Saint Paul attests to the Hebrews, and here allow me to paraphrase: By faith all the ancient men of God who were before the Law bore witness and showed that they were pleasing to God. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts, and he died for his faith. By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death. By faith Noah was told of things unknown and he prepared an ark to the saving of his house.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed. By faith he came to dwell in the land of promise, as a stranger, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. By faith also Sarah, being barren, received strength to conceive, and was delivered of a child when she was past age. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
By faith Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: by faith he celebrated the Pasch.
By faith the Hebrews passed through the Red Sea as by dry land. By faith the walls of Jericho fell. By faith the three young men were keepers of the Law and entered into the fiery furnace. By faith the Prophet Daniel, entered into the lions’ den and was preserved. By faith all the saints struggles until death, completing their course of asceticism and martyrdom, wherefore they were counted worthy of heavenly blessings.
As the Apostle says, Through faith all the saints subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of foreigners.
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. They all died in their faith, not having received the promise, but having seen it from afar, confessed it and kissed it, as strangers and foreigners upon the earth.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Therefore, brethren, since we have the love and concord of our faith, and we are joined and knit together as members of the body which is the Church of Christ, let us share one another’s sufferings and joys, that we may receive the grace of the Holy Spirit which comes down from Christ, our Head, and thus may be saved.
For grace is given generously to everyone who desires the good, to the little and the great, the wise and the simple, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, men and women of every age; the good God extends to all the rays of His grace.
Let us not, then, make excuses of our lack of learning, our inexperience, our lack of understanding and our weakness; rather, let us seek, and learn, and be instructed, and increase in our faith by our desire and effort.
All the faithful who have been born again in the one font of holy Baptism constitute one body by the Holy Spirit, even though we are many and diverse in terms of earthly birth, habits and way of life. It is the Holy Spirit Who unites all by His grace; it is He Who binds us and holds us together and furthers our unity.
lf we do not have the bond of love for one another, if we do not have concord and do not keep it unfailingly, we shall lose the unity of the faith and the grace which the Holy Spirit has bestowed on us.
God is charity, and by doing the truth in charity we shall in all things grow in Him. This will happen if our faith is furthered by a good life and spiritual profit.
Let us believe, my friends, and love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength; moreover, let us love each other, as the commandment charges us. And let us do what is right in every time and place and every thing. For thus shall we come unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, to Whom be glory forever.