Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
IN MOST TIMES AND PLACES other than our own, traveling was not a recreational pursuit. It was a venturing into the unknown: Were the roads safe from kidnappers, from wild animals, from any danger? Will people receive us or rob us? There were serious reasons why our prayers always had petitions for “those who travel by [air,] sea and land…”

The godly response to travelers was to welcome them and offer them hospitality. In Genesis 18 we read how the patriarch Abraham literally ran to offer hospitality to the three travelers who appeared at his campsite: “Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.  So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground,  and said, ‘My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.  Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant’” (Genesis 18:1-5).

Catherine de Hueck Doherty

Throughout history, extending hospitality was considered a way for ordinary Christians to encounter Christ. The late foundress of Madonna House in Ontario described how this impacted her childhood in pre-Revolutionary Russia: “My father was in the diplomatic service, so he entertained all the diplomatic corps at our home in Petrograd one evening. Big deal: tea and wonderful trays of cakes, and 250 people. Suddenly the butler opened the door and said, ‘Christ at the door, sir.” Well, the French ambassador’s wife dropped her cup; she had never heard anything like that.

“My father and mother excused themselves from the 250 VIPs and walked into the next room. There they found a wino at the door. My father bowed low to him and opened the door. My mother set the table with the best linen and served him herself with my father’s help.”

Catherine was about nine at the time and recalls asking, ‘Mommy, can I serve the gentleman?’ Her mother replied, ‘No, you were disobedient last week; you can’t serve Christ when you are disobedient.’”

“Now that’s my background,” Catherine wrote in her autobiography. “That’s how we were taught.”

Catherine was to make hospitality a way of life. Fleeing the Communist takeover of Russia, Catherine and her husband, Basil, emigrated to the West where they would prosper. By the time Catherine was in her thirties, she had re-discovered Christ in the poor. During the Great Depression, she spearheaded the founding of several houses of hospitality in Toronto, New York and Chicago. In 1947 she established Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, which grew to be a community of clergy and laity numbering about 200. They receive guests from all over the world and help them make the Madonna House spirit their own. Over the years, twenty “field houses” – mini Madonna Houses – have been opened in North America, Europe, and Asia. The spirit of hospitality Catherine learned as a child had touched the world.

Catherine expressed her spirituality in a document called “The Little Mandate,” a distillation of the Gospel which she believed that she had received from the Lord Himself. It reads: “Arise – go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me: going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.”

Asceticism of the Open Door

A similar spirit of hospitality characterized the life of another Russian émigré of the same period, Maria Skobtsova, sometimes known as St Maria of Paris. Maria was born into an upper middle class family in Riga, Latvia and grew up on the family estate on the shores of the Black Sea. The first woman admitted to theological studies in the Russian Orthodox Church, she had fled the Bolshevik revolution along with other members of her family, and settled in Paris, one of the many destitute Russian émigrés in that city.

In 1932, after the death of a daughter and the collapse of her marriage, Maria was encouraged by her bishop to develop a “monasticism in the world,” centered on diaconal service within the city, rather than on withdrawal from it. Funded by her bishop, Maria rented the first of several houses where she would house, feed and clothe other émigrés like herself. A small community of co-workers began to form and the first house was exchanged for a larger property. Within five years Maria had acquired other dwellings to house families, men and the sick.

Maria’s lifestyle did not fit the traditional pattern of monasticism in the Russian Orthodox Church.  “For many in church circles we are too far to the left,” she once noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.” Maria explained her work, not in sociological or political terms, but in the light of the Gospel. “Everyone is always faced,” she wrote, “with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item ... the Cross.”

Maria continued her work in Nazi-occupied Paris, ministering to some of the many Jews outlawed by the Nazis. “If we were true Christians,” Mother Maria wrote, “we would all wear the star. The age of confessors has arrived.” Maria was eventually arrested along with her son Yuri, a co-worker, and the community’s chaplain, Fr Dimitri Klepinin. They would all die in Nazi concentration camps. Appropriately enough, Maria breathed her last on Good Friday, 1945.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom Recalls…

One of St Maria’s first jobs as a newly arrived émigré was as a traveling lecturer employed by the Russian Student Christian Movement. Metropolitan Anthony – then one of the students – recalls this incident:

“She went to the steel foundry in Creusot, where many Russian refugees were working. She came there and announced that she was preparing to give a series of lectures on Dostoevsky. She was met with general howling: ‘We do not need Dostoevsky. We need linen ironed, we need our rooms cleaned, we need our clothes mended -- and you bring us Dostoevsky!’ And she answered: ‘Fine, if that is needed, let us leave Dostoevsky alone.’ And for several days she cleaned rooms, sewed, mended, ironed, cleaned. When she had finished doing all that, they asked her to talk about Dostoevsky. This made a big impression on me, because she did not say: ‘I did not come here to iron for you or clean your rooms. Can you not do that yourselves?’ She responded immediately and in this way she won the hearts and minds of the people.”
 
WHAT LANGUAGE WAS SPOKEN by the first Christians? On one level, we can say it was Aramaic or Hebrew with a sprinkling of Greek. On another level – the level of spiritual thought – we must say that the first Christians spoke the language of the Torah, what Christians today call the Old Testament.

The first Christians’ cultural and spiritual frame of reference was the Jewish Scriptures, the same tradition revered by all Jews of their day. The difference between them was that the first Christians believed that the promises of the Torah and the Prophets were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures Are Fulfilled

From the first, Jesus affirmed that He was realizing what had been foretold. “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” After reading Isaiah 61:1, 2 He announced, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4: 18, 19, 21). When His fellow-townsmen rejected Him, He moved on to Capernaum.

In Matthew’s Gospel the story of Jesus’ ministry begins with another prophecy: “…and leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:12-17).

The New Testament Quotes the Old

There are a number of times in the Gospels when specific Old Testament texts are quoted in the belief that they are fulfilled in Christ. Some of these claims are interwoven into the stories of Christ’s teaching and miracles. Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount the Lord announces: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18).

In Luke’s Gospel the Lord speaks more directly: to say that He fulfills the Law means that the era of the Law was at an end. “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:16, 17).

Several times in the course of his preaching the Lord Jesus tried to show His disciples that He was the realization of these prophecies. He explained His use of parables in terms of an Old Testament prophecy: “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull’ … that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 13:13-15, 35).

In a similar way the Lord confronted the Pharisees citing the Prophet Isaiah: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? … Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:3, 7-9).

The Passion Prophesied and Fulfilled

As Jesus’ time with His disciples was drawing to a close, He tried to prepare them to see His coming Passion as fulfilling the words of the prophets. “Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.’ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:31-34).

Later, of course, the Twelve would see that Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled the prophets’ teaching and would proclaim it as such. They taught, for example, that His triumphal entry as king into Jerusalem was such a fulfillment: “All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey – a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:4, 5).

Prophecies Made Clear by the Risen Lord

It was only after Christ’s resurrection that the disciples came to understand how the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecies were pointing to the Lord Jesus. When the risen Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus He explained these prophecies to them. As the Gospel recounts it, “He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

After Jesus vanished from their sight, their response was swift as they began to absorb the meaning of this experience: “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32). From then on, the early Christians would open the Scriptures by showing how the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms could only be understood as revealing Jesus of Nazareth and His saving work.

From St Cyril of Alexandria

“The Israelites used to say that the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled, either in the persons of some of their more glorious kings or at least in the holy prophets. They did not correctly understand what was written about Him, so they missed the true direction and traveled down another path... For their good [Jesus] draws them away from such a supposition… “He brings forth Moses and the prophets, interpreting their hidden meaning and making plain to the worthy what was obscure to the unworthy. In this way He settles in them the ancient and hereditary faith taught them by the sacred books which they posessed. For nothing which comes from God is without its use. All have their appointed place and service.” (St Cyril of Alexandria, On Luke, 12, 24)
 
ON THIS, THE SIXTH SUNDAY after Pentecost we read how Christ healed a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:27-35). We also hear St Paul’s prescription for healing a paralyzed church: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6). The Church is fully alive, then, when we use the gifts we have been given. St Paul describes these gifts as charismata, a Greek word meaning undeserved favors. We have not earned them – God has given them to us freely in order to build up the Church. The word is sometimes transposed into English as charism. In popular use, a charismatic person is one who has a particular gift or flair, usually for leadership or influence.

Charisms in St Paul

St Paul then catalogs some of these charisms: “…if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (vv.6-8). A few of the gifts listed – teaching, giving – are self-evident as they are familiar to anyone active in one of our churches. Most parishes have church school teachers, some have youth and adult groups with lay leaders who exercise real teaching ministry. Others of these gifts are less familiar, perhaps none more so than prophecy. When we think of prophecy our minds often turn to the great prophets of the Old Testament: Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest who foretold that God would work on behalf of His people. We particularly think of those who foretold the coming of the Messiah. We don’t usually think of prophets in the New Testament, apart from John the Baptist whom the Lord called the greatest of the prophets (cf., Luke 7:27-28). Scripture tells us that there were prophets in the early Church. We read in Acts, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1). Not only were there prophets, but St Paul (Saul) was one of them. We tend to equate prophecy with fortune-telling: looking into the future. The early Church had a wider understanding of prophecy. Prophecy was understood as a Spirit-prompted utterance that was rooted in a true revelation whose full meaning was not evident. Thus Diodoros of Tarsus (+390) described it as “the explanation of things which are unclear, whether future or past, whether present or hidden” (Commentary on Paul). Another Antiochian writer, Bishop Theodoret of Cyr (+466), said that prophecy “does not refer only to the prediction of future events but also to the knowledge of things which have been hidden” (Commentary on the Letter to the Romans). In a thinly disguised attempt at anonymity St Paul tells of “a man” (thought to be himself) who had such an experience.  “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Many notable Christians have been given to see or hear the hidden things of the Spirit. The last bishop of Alexandria to suffer in the Roman persecutions, St Peter of Alexandria, had such a prophetic vision. He saw Christ clutching to His chest His garment which had been torn in two. When St Peter asked who had torn the Lord’s robe, Christ replied “It was Arius.” The torn garment was a prophetic symbol of the Church divided by heresy as described in this vision.

Leadership in the Church

It may surprise us that there is no mention of the priesthood in St Paul’s list of charismatic gifts. In fact, this catalog contains two such references. In v.7 we are told that “ministry” is one of the Church’s charisms. The actual word in Romans is diakonia, which appears in some translations as “serving” or “service.” Early writers were divided as to its meaning. In Pelagius’ Commentary on Romans we are taught that “Diakonia refers to the office…” of deacon. In St John Chrysostom’s Homily on Romans, 21 we read that “The word diakonia is comprehensive, covering everything from the apostleship itself to any spiritual function. It is indeed the name of a particular office, but here it is used in a general sense.” At its inception the purpose of the diaconate was to provide food for the poor, primarily widows who had no one to support them. As the Church developed, deacons’ responsibi-lities came to include the property and material resources of the Church as well as its care for those in need. Thus the offerings which people brought to the Liturgy were given to the deacons who allocated them as needed. The deacons became the “ears and eyes and mouth and heart” of the bishop (Apostolic Constitutions III, 19). Their liturgical role derived from their position as the bishop’s right hand man. All those who participate in the charitable work of the Church or the material administration of the Church participate in its ministry of diakonia. Most modern English versions of the Bible translate the gift in v.8 as leadership. The Greek term is o proistamenos, the one who presides. Like presbyter (elder) and hegumenos this term designated the head of the community, the presiding bishop or senior presbyter of a local community. This term is used today in Greek churches for the senior priest in the parish who, like his first century predecessor, needs to give careful and assiduous attention to all the needs of the Church in his care. “Diligence” is one of the “seven heavenly virtues” in Prudentius’ Psychomachia, or Contest of the Soul where it is the opposite of sloth. Another gift which is not clear in the above translation here is paraklisei, which we see rendered as exhortation. This Greek word is related to the terms Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) and Paraclesis (the “service of consolation” to the Theotokos). Perhaps “spiritual encouragement” might be a clearer translation for this gift, the gift of many counselors in the Church today.

Behave Like a Christian

While these and other charisms described in St Paul’s epistles are particular gifts given to one or another believer, those mentioned in vv.9-13 are for everyone. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Hospitality was particularly prized in the ancient world where travel was fraught with danger and uncertainty. This was particularly true for Christians in St Paul’s day when both the state and people of other religions saw Christians as their enemies. Believers were expected to provide food, shelter, security and other necessities for any fellow Christians who might come their way. St Paul and the other apostles all benefited from the hospitality offered by their hearers and urged it on all the faithful. As we are reminded in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).
 
WE READ IN Matthew 9:1-8 that, when people brought a paralyzed man to the Lord Jesus, He healed the man’s paralysis, but not before telling him, “Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). The bystanders’ initial thought that Jesus had blasphemed was replaced by wonder. As Matthew described it, “they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men” (Matthew 9:8). The Lord Jesus, of course, was more than just a man. His full humanity was joined without confusion to the divine nature of the Word of God. He forgave sin, then, as the only-begotten Son of the Father. But the onlookers’ amazement would be justified in time: God would give men the power to forgive sin, in the Church. When the glorified Christ appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, He told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22, 23). The Church was to extend the presence of Christ in the world both physically and spiritually by imparting the forgiveness of sins to those who came to it in faith. The first place where the Church bestows forgiveness of sins is in the mystery of baptism. When we are buried with Christ in baptism we rise to a newness of life marked by deliverance from the power of sin. Infants brought for baptism, of course, have no sins of which they may be guilty; adults who receive baptism with repentance are freed from their past sins. As the priest announces at the eighth day removal of the baptismal garments, “you have been baptized, enlightened, chrismated, sanctified and cleansed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!”

The “Second Baptism”

The early Church recognized that believers might fall into serious sin, particularly when threatened with imprisonment and death during the Roman persecution of Christians. It began using its ability to forgive sin in a new way. Those guilty of serious sin would be reconciled to the Church after confessing their sin and undergoing a period of repentance – what came to be called the Mystery of repentance. Today we express repentance and experience the forgiveness of sins through the Church in a number of ways:
Daily prayer of repentance –
For a member of Christ’s Body, the Church, prayer is the most basic way to experience God’s forgiveness. As St John of Kronstadt said, “Often during the day I have been a great sinner, and at night, after prayer, I have gone to rest justified and whiter than snow by the grace of the Holy Spirit, with the deepest peace and joy in my heart” (My Life in Christ, Part 1).
Regular Self-Reflection –
Periodic, even daily self-examination helps us to see the direction of our lives. Our entire existence should be lived in the light of the Holy Spirit. We examine our actions, thoughts and feelings, affirming our true selves in Christ who has taught us to live for God’s glory and discerning where we have let sin draw us away from our true goal.
A Relationship with a Confessor/Spiritual Father –
Each person is in a different place in his or her journey. We may on occasion find thoughts in the Scriptures or the Fathers that touch our hearts, but finding someone who knows you and knows the ways of Holy Tradition is like taking a giant step in the Christian life. The fullest dimension of spiritual guidance involves sharing our thoughts and yearnings, not just our sins with this spiritual guide.
Receiving the Eucharist –
Several times during the Divine Liturgy we are reminded that the Eucharist is given to us “for the remission of sins.” To receive this gift we must approach “discerning the Body,” as St Paul says: sensing the depth of this Mystery and our unworthiness to take part in it. And so before receiving we say the prayer “I believe, Lord, and profess” specifically asking for the pardon of our offences – the deliberate and the indeliberate, whether committed knowingly or inadvertently – so that we may receive the remission of sins and eternal life in this Mystery.
Observing the Church’s Fasts -
The Fasts are another liturgical expression of repentance. Rearranging our lives in obedience to the Church’s weekly and seasonal fasts is a most practical way of affirming our commitment to life in Christ, a daily reminder that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
The Mystery of Confession –
As we have seen, Confession was at first considered a “second baptism,” a starting over in the Christian life, when a person had committed serious sin. Over the centuries it became more widely used and is considered appropriate today whenever a person feels the need for it, particularly:
  • When a serious sin has been committed;
  • When a habitual sin has overwhelmed the Christian;
  • When a Christian has stopped growing spiritually and needs a reorientation of priorities.
Confession, with prayer and fasting, is also a customary preparation for important spiritual experiences such as receiving the Eucharist or other Mysteries and observing the Great Feasts of the Church year as a part of the Christian’s ongoing repentance. Thus we read in the Didache (late first or early second century), “On the Lord’s Day come together and break bread ... having confessed your transgressions that your sacrifice may be pure.”

No “Cheap Forgiveness”

Some people think that for us to obtain forgiveness we simply need to say a prescribed prayer or undergo a stipulated rite without any real connection to one’s heart. Obtaining God’s forgiveness is not the religious equivalent of paying a traffic ticket. Our sin is forgiven only when two conditions are met. The first condition is that we extend to those who may have hurt us the same forgiveness we seek to receive from God. We recall this each time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us…as we forgive.” If this is not clear enough we also have the Lord’s caution, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14, 15). The second condition is that we do something about our sin. This may mean that we make some kind of restitution: return stolen property, or try to rebuild another’s reputation which we have harmed, or the like. It may mean that we take steps to avoid repeating the same kind of offence in the future, particularly if our sin is habitual like indulging in gossip or unseemly talk. As the nineteenth century Greek saint, Cosmas the Aetolian, once remarked: “Even if every spiritual father, patriarch, and hierarch, with all the people forgive you, you are unforgiven if you don’t repent in action.” To repent in action does not simply mean resolving not to sin again. Like New Year’s resolutions, such declarations rarely are kept for long. We simply do not have the power to keep ourselves from sin. Repenting in action means, first of all, turning to God in prayer to be delivered from our sin. We are counseled to repeat continually the prayer of the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Only God, who forgives us when we sin, can prevent us from falling into sin… and that only when we continually desire Him to do so. The sincerity of our prayer to be delivered from sin is shown by how often we are moved to utter it.
 
THE FAST OF THE APOSTLES which follows the feast of Pentecost concludes with two special commemorations: on June 29 we remember the glorious leaders of the apostles, Peter and Paul; on the next day we observe a synaxis (assembly) for all Twelve. The feast of Saints Peter and Paul is particularly observed as the throne-feast of two apostolic patriarchates: Antioch (where both apostles ministered earlier in the lives) and Rome (where both were martyred and buried).

Peter and Paul in Antioch

The Acts of the Apostles devotes its first part to the ministry of St Peter in the Holy Land. The second part concentrates on the ministry of St. Paul in Asia Minor and Europe. In the middle we find reports of the first controversy among the Christians: whether Gentile converts must observe the Law of Moses as well as believing in Christ. The original Christian community in Jerusalem, led by James, the Lord’s Brother, was composed of believing Jews. They objected to Peter receiving Gentiles into the Church. Peter defended his actions because the Gentile believers had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Jerusalem believers responded in awe, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 10:18). The controversy erupted again, however, when St Paul was sent by the Church of Antioch to preach Christ in Cyprus and Asia Minor. Although he first taught in the Jewish synagogues he soon gained a greater following among the Gentiles. When Paul returned to Antioch and reported what he had done, news spread to Jerusalem. Jewish believers in Christ from Jerusalem told Paul’s Gentile converts that they also had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. St Peter was drawn into the controversy when he came to Antioch, as St Paul describes in Galatians 2: “…I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision” (Gal 2:11-12). Ultimately the dispute was taken to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. There Peter defended Paul, saying “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10) A popular icon shows the reconciled apostles embracing. Finally James issued his ruling as head of the local Church: Gentile converts to Christ need only abstain from “things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29). Here the apostles retained the practice recorded in the story of Noah where God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it” (Genesis 9:4). Since strangled animals do not shed blood they too were forbidden. The ban on consuming blood was frequently repeated during the first centuries for a reason not found in Acts. Fourth-century Christians in Asia Minor found themselves in conflict with the Manichean sect which prohibited the eating of meat. The Christians countered at the Synod of Gangra (AD 340) by defending the eating of meat, as long as the prohibition of blood was observed. The decree of this synod was confirmed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. We continue to observe this ban on fast days. We do not eat meat or fish, which have red blood, but may eat shellfish which do not. St Peter is traditionally said to have remained in Antioch for seven years while St Paul continued on his missionary journeys. Peter’s family is said to have remained there and, as far back as the first century AD, people in Antioch were claiming descent from the chief apostle. Certain Semaan families of modern-day Syria and Lebanon continue to make this claim.

Peter and Paul in Rome

The last chapters of Acts speak of St. Paul’s journey to Rome. Arrested in Jerusalem, he was tried by the Roman procurator, Porcius Festus. Paul, claiming his right as a Roman citizen, appealed to be heard by Caesar himself. The procurator acceded, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go” (Acts 25:12). Acts concludes by saying that, once in Rome St Paul lived under guard “two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God…” (Acts 28:30-31). As a Roman citizen, St Paul was ultimately beheaded. St Peter’s connection with Rome is not documented in Scripture, but written evidence from as early as the second century attests that he was thought to have preached there, where he was crucified upside down at his own request, feeling unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus did. Two great churches were built over their burial places in the fourth century by St Constantine the Great. He erected St Peter’s on the Vatican Hill, which was replaced in the sixteenth century by the basilica we see today. Following modern excavations the bones of a man in his 60s was unearthed there and on June 26, 1968 Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been identified. Constantine also commissioned St Paul’s Outside the Walls which has been enlarged and rebuilt several times in the succeeding centuries. The saint’s body lies in a crypt below the altar, except for his head which is enshrined in the pope’s cathedral, St John Lateran. Throughout history the Church of Rome has been considered pre-eminent because of the presence of these two apostles. Tertullian perhaps expressed it best: “What a happy Church that is, on which the apostles poured out their whole doctrine with their blood; where Peter had a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John [the Baptist, by being beheaded].”
The Church Praises the Apostles

With what garlands of praise shall we crown Peter and Paul, the greatest of the heralds of the Word of God, distinct in their person, but one in spirit – the one the chief of the apostles, the other who labored more than all the rest? Christ God, who is most merciful, fittingly crowned them both with diadems of glory and immortality. What songs of praise could be worthy of Peter and Paul? They are like two wings on which the knowledge of God spreads out to the far ends of the earth and soars aloft to Heaven, two hands from which the Gospel pours forth grace, two feet on which the doctrine of truth travels about the world, two rivers of wisdom, two arms of the cross through which the merciful Christ casts down the pride of demons! With what spiritual songs shall we praise Peter and Paul? The voices of the fearful Sword of the Spirit, the illustrious ornament of Rome, the delight of the whole world, the God-inspired tablets of the New Testament, conceived and uttered in Sion by Christ, the all-merciful God!

Stichera from Vespers for June 29
 
“THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN!” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) When the author of these words wrote them back in the 3rd or 4th century BC, he never thought that they would become a stock phrase in the 3rd millennium AD, in a language that as yet did not exist. This and other Bible phrases like “A wolf in sheep's clothing” (Matthew 7:15) or “Money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) would be repeated by people who did not know they came from the Bible or the content in which they first were written. Another such phrase which has entered our vocabulary poses an interesting question. “God loves a cheerful giver” (1 Corinthians 9:7) is easily remembered and understood, but is it so easily lived? Many people know that they ought to do “good works” or be generous, but do it reluctantly, out of a sense of obligation. From our earliest years we learn not to be selfish, yet we often secretly resent having to make room for another at our table or donate to yet another cause. Yet the Scripture repeatedly calls on us to develop a cheerful liberality in our dealings with others. We seem to always be asked to give, but find ourselves resenting that we never really receive anything in turn. St John Chrysostom insists that we have receive inestimable blessings, gifts that we have not yet learned to cherish: “Who that is receiving a kingdom, has a long face? Who that is receiving pardon for his sins keeps frowning?” When we have the knowledge of God’s love for us firmly in our heart, then what to some may be a burden, to others is a joy. In his Epistle to the Romans St. Paul encourages us to use whatever gifts we may have been given to build up the Church. He also indicates the spirit in which these gifts should be exercised. “[Let] he who gives, [do so] with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Those who share material goods are to do more than to share them; they are to be truly generous, to give from their heart. Those who lead are not simply to seek the honor of leader, but to do the often thankless work of a leader conscientiously. Those whose gift it is to minister to those in need are not to lord it over them or play the martyr but to be cheerful in their service. St John Chrysostom confronted the paradox of those who did good deeds without those deeds proceeding from an open heart. “Why do you complain that you have given alms? Why do you grieve at showing mercy, and lose the advantage of the good you have done? For if you serve grudgingly, you are not being merciful but cruel and inhuman. For if you grieve, how shall you be able to raise up the sorrowful … since nothing seems to men such a disgrace as to be receiving from others? By an exceedingly cheerful look …you show that you are receiving rather than giving, you will even cast down the receiver rather than raise him up. This is why he says, ‘He that shows mercy, with cheerfulness.’” The epistle continues in the same theme: love, but without pretense. Do not simply pretend to love. Give preference to others and do it fervently. Rejoice, be patient, be steadfast. The burden of being a Christian seems to grow with every line. How do we attain a heart so open to God and His world that these injunctions no longer seem a burden?

Opening Ourselves to Others

Often, like Charles Schultz’ character in Peanuts, we find ourselves saying, “I love mankind – its people I can’t stand.” Our abstract commitment to love is sorely tested when we come into contact with concrete examples of people who are hard to love. We retreat into seeing the world as “us” (those we like, whose company we enjoy) and “them” (everyone else). Is this the way life is meant to be lived? The call to reach out to one another, to love one another is a burden to many Christians. To do so runs counter to the egocentric bent of our fallen nature. It has been said that we continually try to reconstruct around us the world of our childhood, where we were at the center. Then we either pulled things and people toward ourselves in order to possess them or we pushed them away to keep them from dominating us. Thus we often find ourselves trying to organize the world around us: the family, the parish, the organizations to which we may belong. At the same time we may be indifferent to others who are not of our family, our clan, our nationality or our social class. We may prefer to keep out of sight those who do not contribute to our perceived identity. We can begin to deal with this aspect of our broken nature in ourselves by prayer. Repeatedly asking God to help us overcome our indifference to others will gradually produce an openness to those whom God has placed in our life. Reflecting on the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian can help us to see the ways in which our passions stand in the way of being openhearted in our dealings with others. While this prayer is used liturgically only during the Fast, it may be an important part of our private prayers at any time. O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk. We ask in this prayer to be delivered from the two extremes to which we may be prone. Sloth here represents the general feeling of indifference we may have to others and despondency points to joylessness that results when we try to live the Christian way of life. When we surrender to such feelings in the spiritual life we become like people suffering from depression who may go through the motions of living but find no joy in life itself. The opposite feelings, lust for power and idle talk, represent our attempts to control others rather than to serve them. We may try to “help” others by telling them how they should be living or directing how they should be dealing with their problems. We try to be “elders” when we are still spiritual children. But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity (σωφρόσυνη/sōphrosunē), humility, patience and love. The second phrase gives us the virtues which we need to correct our fallen inclinations. The first of them, chastity and humility, are the opposite of lust for power. Chastity refuses to dominate physically or sexually; humility refuses to dominate spiritually or psychologically. Disinterested love is possible only when we no longer are trying to depersonalize others by controlling them. The tendency to give up on ourselves and others is countered by patience and love (ἀγάπη/agape). A parent endures the “terrible twos” or the “traumatic teens” only with these qualities. A friend and especially a brother or sister in Christ needs the same character to bear the burdens of others. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen. It is so much easier, as the Lord noted, to see a speck in someone else’s eye than to see the log in our own. Rather seeing myself as a sinner and my brother as beloved of God makes the spaces that separate us from one another seem to vanish, bringing me closer to following Christ who the Lover of Mankind and the One who sees the absolute worth of each person as well. We see that He truly loves us to the very core of our being and that He loves “them” the same way.

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