Celebrating the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul

Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Glorious Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul on June 29 is an ancient practice of the Church.  It was already celebrated in the Pre-Constantinian Church.  As such it actually predates some of the Twelve Major Feasts of the Church.

“This feast was instituted by Sixtus II (Pope from 257 to 258) on 29 June of 258, when the relics of these two great apostles were translated to the catacomb of St. Sebastian in Rome. The Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the day is Matt. 16:13-19: St. Peter’s confession of Christ at Caesarea Philippi.” (footnote, Saint Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p 584)

 

In the modern world, some scholars who reinterpret Christian history in order to discredit some of the theological claims of the Church, try to portray some of the theology of St. Paul as late developments in Christian thinking.  They discredit St. Paul, claiming he invented a Christianity that didn’t exist prior to his teaching, and that it was Paul and his followers who turn Jesus from a messianic rabbi into the incarnate God.  NEW YORK TIMES columnist Ross Douthat points out that history itself does not support this revisionist version of understanding Christianity.

“In other words, the popular revisionist conceit that the early Christians initially meditated on Jesus’ sayings and only gradually mythologized their way toward the idea of his divinity finds no support whatsoever in the oldest surviving stratum of Christian writing. As Adam Gopnik, no believer himself, put it in a New Yorker essay: ‘If one thing seems clear from all the scholarship … it’s that Paul’s divine Christ came first, and Jesus the wise rabbi came later. This fixed, steady twoness at the heart of the Christian story can’t be wished away by liberal hope…Its intractability is part of the intoxication of belief.’” ( Bad Religion, p 165)

St. Paul doesn’t invent Christianity or distort it as some Muslims claim, as do some modern liberal biblical scholars.  St. Paul received a tradition and proclaimed it to the world, while the other Apostles were still alive.  There was opportunity for them to quash his teachings, but instead the Church embraced Paul and recognized him as one of the glorious leaders of the Apostles.  Paul didn’t change the theology or the message, he just proclaimed it more loudly and to new people.

The Goodness Which God Sees

‘And God saw that it was good.’ [Genesis 1]

It is not to the eyes of God that things made by Him afford pleasure, nor is His approbation of beautiful objects such as it is with us; but, beauty is that which is brought to perfection according to the principle of art and which contributes to the usefulness of its end. He, therefore, who proposed to Himself a clear aim for His works, having recourse to His own artistic principles, approved them individually as fulfilling His aim.” (St Basil, The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, p 53)

 

According to St. Basil, the goodness or beauty of anything is determined by its original purpose in God’s creation or plan.  The more perfectly something fulfills God’s original intention for it determines whether God sees it as good/beautiful.    God, not being a creature like  us, does not have physical eyes, so God does not “see” things as we do.  God “sees” things in terms of their fulfilling the aim He originally  had for the object.   This is why God sees even our spiritual struggles as good and beautiful – as even if we struggle, we are moving toward being human as God intended us to be.

St. Basil says God is an artist following the artistic principle that values creating things which serve a purpose.  Beauty is thus related to purpose, to truth.  It is not purely subjective, but can be measured.  Everything which God created is purposeful, even if we do not know the purpose.

In this thinking, we can come to understand how scientists in revealing the purpose of anything in the universe are helping us to interpret and see the true beauty of God’s creation!

And, as the purpose of each created thing is understood, as each mystery is fathomed, we also are learning about the Creator.  God is being made known through His creation.  One thing which continues to amaze is the depth and mystery of God as Creator.

Women AND Men in Christ

 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Commenting on Psalm 1, St. Basil the Great notes the psalm speaks in the singular about “man” yet he says we should never doubt that it refers to both men and women.  Men and women share the same nature and the same blessings from God.

“Why, you say, does the prophet single out only man and proclaim him happy? Does he not exclude women happiness? By no means.  For, the virtue of man and woman is the same, since creation is equally honored in both; therefore, there is the same reward for both. Listen to Genesis. ‘God created man,’ it says, ‘in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.’ They whose nature is alike have the same reward. Why, then, when Scripture had made mention of man, did it leave woman unnoticed? Because it believed that it was sufficient, since their nature is alike, to indicate the whole through the more authoritative part. ‘Blessed, therefore, is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly.’” (St Basil, The Fathers of the Church: Exegetic Homilies, pp 155-156)

Sunday of All Saints (2016)

In the collection of the homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, there is a footnote explaining a little about the history of celebrating All Saints day on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

“With the Sunday of All Saints, the first Sunday after Pentecost, the cycle of moveable feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church draws to a close. This cycle began with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee . . . and had its epicenter the Sunday of Pascha (Easter), the Feast of Feasts. Originally dedicated to the Triumphant Martyrs . . . this feast was later expanded (probably during the reign of Leo VI the Wise, Emperor from 886-912) to include all the saints, both known and unknown, throughout the ages. As such, it is also the feast to which every Christian looks with earnest expectation, for it sets before us, in a concrete and graphic manner, the very purpose of our existence: to become ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:17) . . .

Furthermore, the liturgical sequence of the feast of the Pentecostarion (a liturgical book containing the services from Easter Sunday to the Sunday of All Saints) is significant, as it points to the pattern of the manifestation of God the Holy Trinity in the divine economy, namely, that it is the Son and Word of God who in and through His saving work, culminating in the Sunday of Pascha, reveals God the Father to the world, that it is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the full and perfect divinity of the Son (Sunday of Pentecost), and that it is the communion of the saints, that is the Church, who together affirms the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son (Sunday of All Saints).” ( footnote in Saint Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp 580-581)

The fruit of Pascha and Pentecost are the Holy Ones of God, the Saints.  The Resurrection of Christ opens Paradise to all the chosen of God, while the coming of the Holy Spirit enables us to live the holy life on earth.  The existence of the saints is a witness to God’s plan of salvation for all humankind.

The Fire Which is the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is Light and Life,

a living Fountain of spiritual gifts,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

all-knowing, upright and good–

He leads us and washes away our sins.

He is God, and He makes us gods;

He is Fire proceeding from Fire,

speaking and acting and distributing gifts.

Through Him all the Prophets, Martyrs and Apostles of God are crowned.

Strange account, strange and wonderful sight:

fire is divided for distributing gifts.

(Pentecost Hymn)

Same Spirit, New Dispensation

On the Thursday after Pentecost, the Matins hymns offer us insight into what the Feast of Pentecost means for believers and how we experience the new dispensation of God’s salvation.

The Holy Spirit, the giver of grace has come down upon earth,

Not as in the days of old:

Through the shadow of the law or the dawn of the prophets.

Rather, now He is given to us in person,

Through the mediation of Christ.

Let us cleanse our hearts by the practice of virtue,

That we may receive his illumination,

For He enlightens us in a Holy Mystery.

In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit came down upon some of God’s people, such as the prophets, and they spoke the Word of the Lord to God’s people.  At Pentecost, we celebrate that no longer do we receive the Holy Spirit only through the inspired Scriptures:  now we receive from God our Father His Holy Spirit, as gift.  The person of the Holy Spirit is revealed to us and given to us.  The Holy Spirit abides in us – not just the gifts of the spirit, or the Spirit’s power or effects, but the Spirit Himself comes upon  us and lives in us!  We, God’s people, are to live that changed life which allows God’s Holy Spirit to abide in us.

Moses said … “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them!”  (Numbers 11:29)

Not only are the prophecies fulfilled, but the Holy Spirit abides in all of us who are baptized into Christ.  Prophecy is changed into reality and we enter into the hoped for time of the Lord.

Behold, the oracles of the prophets are fulfilled!

He who discloses Himself dimly to them

Now plainly reveals Himself as God the Paraclete!

He is fully poured out upon the apostles.

Through them the faithful have come to worship the uncreated Trinity!

The Spirit of God which inspired the prophets, now comes to inspire all of us who listen to their words, coming to abide in us so that we might be with Christ forever.

Being Light Upon Earth

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“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)

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One of the Matins hymns from the Week of Pentecost describes how believers become light dawning on the world.

Savior, You have filled Your apostles with the light of the Spirit!

He has made them as the sun at dawn,

For they have burned the fog of error from the face of the earth!

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They have illumined the souls of the faithful,

Teaching them to adore Your Father and the most-Holy Spirit,

Who sanctifies those who worship You!

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We Christians are not to be just a candle lit in the face of overwhelming darkness.  Rather we are illumined to be like the sun which overwhelms the darkness, bringing light to every nook and cranny in the world as well as in our hearts!

Post-Paschal Blogs as a PDF

I have collected together into one document all of the 2016 blogs I posted after Pascha related to the themes of the Post-Paschal Sundays.  This document is available for viewing at 2016 Post-Paschal Sunday Themes.

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You can find links for all of the PDFs I have made through the years for the blogs I gathered into document for each year from 200802016  Post-Paschal Sunday theme, for Pascha and Bright Week, for Holy Week and for Great Lent at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

The Thrill of Victory

As I was growing up, one television phrase that defined sports was, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”   Having grown up near Cleveland as a sports fan of their teams, through the years, I was heavy into the agony of defeat, but the thrill of victory was pretty scant after 1964 (I am old enough to have actually seen Jimmy Brown play in Cleveland’s last glory days).  And, that agony of defeat perhaps is redemptive suffering if it occurs in championship games where one’s team is close to claiming the championship but just falls short at the end of the game.  As a Cleveland fan, that thrill of an almost championship was not even there, for usually it was just years of agonizing suffering.  Not only did Cleveland not win any championships, their teams participated in precious few championship games.  The Indians did have a couple of runs at the World Series in the mid -90’s but those also ended in agonizing defeat.

And even though now I’m a jaded fair-weather fan, I did relish the Cleveland Cavalier’s championship victory.  Down 3-1, it looked like yet another year of suffering agony, but then the Cavs bested the best, taking the final game in the final minute – truly the thrill of victory defines sport again.

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Congratulations to the Cavaliers for being champions and to LeBron James for being the MVP.  And thanks for bringing the thrill of victory back into Cleveland sports.

The Day of the Holy Spirit

“There are several signs that the energy of the Holy Spirit is beginning to be active in those who genuinely aspire for this to happen and are not just putting God to the test – for, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, ‘It is found by those who do not put it to the test, and manifests itself to those who do not distrust it’ (cf. Wisd. 1:2).

In some it appears as awe arising in the heart,

in others as a tremulous sense of jubilation,

in others as joy,

in others as joy mingled with awe, or

as tremulousness mingled with joy, and

sometimes it manifests itself as tears and awe.

For the soul is joyous at God’s visitation and mercy, but at the same time is in awe and trepidation at His presence because it is guilty of so many sins. Again, in some the soul at the outset experiences an unutterable sense of contrition and an indescribable pain, like the woman in Scripture who labors to give birth (cf. Rev. 12:2). For the living and active Logos – that is to say, Jesus – penetrates, as the apostle says, to the point at which soul separates from body, joints from marrow (cf. Heb. 4:12), so as to expel by force every trace of passion from both soul and body.

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In others it is manifest as an unconquerable love and peace, shown towards all, or as a joyousness that the fathers have often called exultation – a spiritual force and an impulsion of the living heart that is also described as a vibration and sighing of the Spirit who makes wordless intercession for us to God (cf. Rom. 8:26). Isaiah has also called this the ‘waves’ of God’s righteousness (cf. Isa. 48:18), while the great Ephrem calls it ‘spurring’. The Lord Himself describes it as ‘a spring of water welling up for eternal life’ (John 4:14) – He refers to the Spirit as water – a source that leaps up in the heart and erupts through the ebullience of its power.”   (St Gregory of  Sinai, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 44476-44502)