On Holy Apostles Feasts

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 


Beloved brethren, on Friday we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Glorious, and Pre-Eminent Apostles Peter and Paul, and yesterday we celebrated the Synaxis of the Twelve Great Apostles: Peter and Andrew his brother, James and John the sons of Zebedee, Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus whose surname was Thaddaeus, Simon the Canaanite, and Matthias, who replaced Judas the betrayer.  (See Matthew 10: 2-4; Acts 1: 15-26). 


These feasts of the Holy Apostles are considered so important by the Church, that She has assigned a special fasting period to precede them. Our other three fasting seasons - the Great Lent before Pascha, the Fifteen in August to honor the Dormition of the Theotokos, and the Fast of the Nativity – are dedicated to the Lord or to the Most Pure Theotokos. This fast alone, that of the early summer, is dedicated to a specific choir of the saints, and these saints are the Holy Apostles. This signifies that the position of the Apostles in the Church is pre-eminent. This significance of the apostles for the Church is so great – indeed essential - that “apostolic” is one of the four distinguishing marks of the Church which we state in the Symbol of Faith: “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” Church. 


What do we mean when we say that the Church is “apostolic”? 


First, we mean that the Church is founded upon the apostles’ eye-witness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy, the Christian Faith, is not merely another philosophy or moral teaching, and it is certainly not merely a cultural identity. The Christian Faith is the power of God Himself coming into the world and smashing the power of the devil, death, and hell by the infinite power of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Apostles were the physical, literal eye-witnesses of the Risen Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost they converted the nations to the Faith in the Resurrection. They bore witness, though it cost them everything in this life – their families, their property, their reputation, everything. Finally, it cost them their lives, and by this testimony, this martyrdom, they became the foundation stones of the Church of Christ. 


Second, when we say that the Church is Apostolic, we mean that She is governed by bishops who are the successors of the Apostles. Wherever they went throughout the world, the Holy Apostles ordained successors in every place, επισκόπους, the word we translate as “bishops,” which means “overseers,” those who oversee the ministry and governance of the Church. A true bishop is one who possesses the literal, historical line of apostolic succession from the very first generation of the Church. A true bishop, however, also must confess and teach the pure, orthodox Faith.  There are Christian groups who have the physical, historical apostolic succession - such as the Churches of Rome or Armenia or the Coptic church of Egypt, or now, sadly, in our own time, the ecumenist hierarchies of the State church organizations of the modern Orthodox countries – but at some point, either long ago or recently, they rejected the Orthodox Faith, and therefore their bishops are not truly apostolic in the complete sense. A true bishop must only possess the historical succession from the Apostles; he must also confess the pure and complete Faith of the Apostles. 

This is why we at St. Spyridon Church are loyal to the Holy Synod of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, because they have remained loyal to Orthodoxy in the midst of today’s apostasy, when so many powerful patriarchs and synods have betrayed the Faith through the false teaching of ecumenism, the so-called “equality of all religions.” Whatever the faults or failings of our bishops as men, this is nothing compared to the fact that they are true bishops. This fact, by itself, means we should love them greatly, honor them, and do all in our power to work in harmony with them for the defense and the spread of our Holy Faith. 


Third, when we say that the Church is Apostolic, we mean that She teaches the apostolic way of life. Remember, the Church is not merely a teaching; She is how we live; She is our life. In Acts, chapter 2, verse 42, we read a perfect, capsule description of the life of the early Church. St. Luke writes, “And they continued steadfast in the Apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” So if we want to live the life of the real Church, we have to do four things: 

  1. We have to confess the teaching of the Apostles, and not some other teaching. We have to be Orthodox. 
  2. We have to abide in fellowship. The Greek word here is κοινωνία, which can be translated as community, fellowship, or communion – it is the same word we often use for the Mystery of Holy Communion. Without being in fellowship, in communion, in community with our brethren, without the shared life of striving to live the commandments and practice love, we do not have the apostolic life, even if we profess the apostolic Faith. 
  3. We must participate in the “breaking of the bread.” This is the original term for the Holy Eucharist, for the Mystery of Holy Communion. Without partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we do not remain living members of the Apostolic Church, even if we are baptized. We become dead to the Faith, dead branches of the True Vine.  
  4. We must participate in “the prayers.” This refers specifically to the ancient practice the Church continued from the Faith of the Old Testament, which was the evening and morning divine services of the assembled community in the church. We call these “Vespers” and “Matins,” in Greek εσπερινός and όρθρος.  These holy services are not something extra, something only for priests and chanters. They are for every Orthodox Christian. In a sense, they are even more basic than the Divine Liturgy: We may not be prepared to receive Communion every day, but we can participate in Vespers and Matins every day. In a normal Orthodox environment, they are chanted every day, and everyone should go to them in Church or read and chant them at home.

    When there are no priests, the people chant and read by themselves. We saw a great example of this in the twentieth century, when, after the calendar change in Greece, many faithful communities gathered who had no priest for weeks or months on end, but they gathered every Sunday and holy day, even in some places every day, and the men of the community - who had learned the Typicon and ecclesiastical Greek and Byzantine chant from their fathers and grandfathers – read and chanted the Vespers and the Orthros, and thus fittingly celebrated the Church year salvifically, with abundant grace from God, even without priests.

    When there were no men to read the services, the pious women read them. This has occurred throughout the Church’s history, from the most ancient times until now: in times of persecution, when there were no priests available, the lay people preserved the worship of the Church through the Vespers and the Matins. We should think about this. 

Fourth, when we say the Church is “apostolic,” we mean that She is the Church whom God has sent to all the nations. The very word απόστολος – apostle – comes from the verb αποστέλλω, which means, “I send.” In St. Matthew, chapter 28, we read that the Risen Lord said this to His apostles before His Ascension: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Thus, to be apostolic Christians, it is not enough to believe the apostolic teaching - we must spread the apostolic teaching. And the apostolic Church is also the catholic Church – She is not for one nation only, but for all nations. 


In regard to this last point, I plan to distribute a recent message addressed by Archbishop Kallinikos to the clergy synaxis of our Church in America which recently took place in Boston. Here His Beatitude teaches precisely this: that the Orthodox Church is for all nations and not one only. 


Let us ask the great Apostles Peter and Paul - and the Holy Choirs of the Twelve and of the Seventy, and the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women truly Equal to the Apostles, and the Holy Equals to the Apostles Constantine and Helena, and all those truly apostolic men and women of every time throughout all the nations of the world, who gathered the nations into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church – let us beg them to intercede for us, so that we will believe, live, and share the Faith of the Apostles, which is the Power of the Resurrection of Christ, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.