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:
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.