The Twelve Apostles

Each year on the Orthodox calendar June 30 is dedicated to the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles.   Each of the Apostles has their own individual feast day on the calendar, this one celebrates the Twelve as a community.  This feast may be related to the establishment of a church in Constantinople in the 4th Century which was dedicated to the Twelve.

“The Twelve evidently constituted the earliest Christian ‘canon’ or measuring-rod – the standard by which the authenticity of the Church’s message was to be gauged, for the duration of their lifetime. They are the pillars of the whole structure (cf., though with wider reference, Gal. 2:9, 1 Tim. 3:15), and to such one must refer one’s preaching (Gal. 2:2). But there is no sign that the Twelve were intended to be perpetuated by succession. here was no caliphate: if there was a caliphate anywhere in the Christian Church, it was in the line of James the Lord’s brother, not of the Twelve. They were regarded as essentially a dominically chosen and commissioned foundation body, expressly authorized to give eye-witness evidence of the decisive events. As such they were, by definition, irreplaceable in any subsequent generation. Whereas the removal of Judas by apostasy was met by the special lot-casting for Matthias, none of the subsequent depletions, by martyrdom or natural death, were made up. The Twelve were no self-perpetuating body: they were simply the initial authority for the Christian claims about Jesus. Alongside this authority, and indeed as an integral part of it, there ran also the authority of the Jewish scriptures. The ‘argument from Scripture’, that is, the demonstration that what the apostles bore witness to was no isolated phenomenon, but could be shown to be the culmination and fulfillment of God’s design for his People already sketched in scripture.” (C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament,  pgs. 179-180)

Sunday of All Saints (2013)

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”   (Matthew 19:28-29)

St. Nikolai Velimirovic  (d. 1956AD) commenting on the above passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, writes:

“The Lord uses the number ‘an hundred’ because it expresses the whole fullness of the gifts that the faithful will receive. Not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands, of men and women have left all this and received it all. To these and all such this Sunday – the Sunday of All Saints – is dedicated. Some saints have their special commemoration during the year. These are only the best-known. But there is, apart from them, an enormous number of saints who have remained hidden from human sight but are no less known to God the living and omniscient. They make up the victorious, glorified Church of Christ, and stand in the closest relationship to us who make up, on earth, the militant Church of Christ’s soldiers. Through them, the Lord shines like the sun among the stars, for they are members of His Body (Eph. 5:30).  They are alive and powerful, and close to God. And they are also close to us. They constantly observe the life of God’s Church on earth; they vigilantly accompany us from our birth to our death; they hear our pleas, know our troubles and help us with their strength and their prayers, which, like the smoke from incense, rise through the angelic heights to the throne of God (Rev. 8:3-4). These are Christ’s great martyrs , both men and women, the saints and our God-bearing Fathers, pastors and teachers of the Church, devout kings and queens who defended God’s Church from persecutors; confessors and hermits, ascetics and solitaries, stylites and fools for Christ – in brief, all those for whom Christ’s love overshadows every other love on earth, and who, for Christ’s name, left all and endured right to the end, for which they were themselves saved and brought salvation to others. They help us today to come to salvation, for there is no selfishness or jealousy in them; they rejoice that as great a number as possible of men and women should be saved and come to that glory in which they themselves rejoice. They were all victorious through faith. They all quenched the fiery power that, in the form of the passions, burned up weak human nature. Many of them, to whom the whole world was not worthy, wandered over the face of the earth, in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:38). This life is a test of our works, and the reward is given to the world to come. They passed the test with flying colors, and now give us their aid, that we may not be ashamed but pass the test as they did and be like them in the Kingdom of God. God is indeed wonderful in His saints!” (Homilies, pgs.8-9)

St. Paul’s Conversion

In the New Testament we find a couple accounts of the Lord Jesus Christ’s calling St. Paul to become His servant.   The accounts do not match perfectly in detail, but give us some idea how St. Paul understood his conversion from persecuting Christians to becoming an apostle of Christ, and also how St. Paul’s supporters understood his being called by Christ.  First, we have a description from St. Paul himself which he recorded in his letter to the Galatians.

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.  But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.  Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea;  they only heard it said, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’  And they glorified God because of me.”  (Galatians 1:13-24)

St. Luke the Evangelist is also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and he was a companion and supporter of St. Paul.   He offers his own description of St. Paul’s calling.  It is from St. Luke that we learn the famous details of Paul’s conversion.  Paul offers no description or details about his encounter with Christ in his letter to the Galatians.  Modern biblical scholars point out that in Acts, Luke is the narrator, and the story of St. Paul’s conversion though being related by St. Paul himself are still Luke’s words and version of the story.  They tend to think Paul’s words in Galatians are to be considered more first hand then what St. Luke claims Paul said.    In Acts, St. Luke has St. Paul describing his conversion from persecutor of Christ to apostle of Christ in these words:

“As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me.  And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’  And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’  Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.  And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’  And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.  And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,  came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him.  And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth;  for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'”  (Acts 22:6-16)

St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) who served as the Pope of Rome for the last 14 years of his life, wrote about St. Paul’s conversion.

“Thus it is that Saul, when the bright light from heaven came upon him, did not hear immediately what good it was that he should do, but first heard what he had done wrong.  For as he was lying prostrate, he asked, saying: ‘Who are you, Lord?’  Immediately, he replied: ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’  And when Saul quickly added: ‘Lord, what do you want me to do?’  It was immediately related:  ‘Arise, go to the city, and it will be revealed to you what you are to do.’  Behold, the Lord, speaking from heaven, reproved the deeds of his persecutor and yet did not immediately instruct him about what he should do.  Behold, the core of his pride had been dismantled, and then, being humbled after his ruin, he sought to be built up again.  And when his pride had been destroyed, even then the words of edification were withheld so that the cruel persecutor might remain humbled for a long time and only afterwards might he be rebuilt firmly in goodness, when he had become transformed in proportion to the change from his former error.  Therefore, those who have not yet begun to do good works should first be overthrown from the stubbornness of their evil deeds by the hand of correction, so that they may rise afterwards to the state of righteousness.”   (THE BOOK OF PASTORAL RULE, p 196)

St. Gregory reads the narrative of St. Paul’s conversion to be an example for others to follow: we must overthrow pride in our hearts in order to be corrected and healed of our stubbornness and sinfulness by God.  St. Paul’s conversion is a story teaching us the importance of humility in our spiritual sojourn.  We find this same interpretation of the importance of St. Paul’s conversion in the 4th Century writer St. Ephraim the Syrian :

“Thus the heavenly King arrayed Himself in armour of humility, and so conquered the bitter one, and drew from him a good answer as a sure pledge [of victory]. This is the armour concerning which Paul said, that by it we humble the loftiness that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. For Paul had received the proof of it in himself. For as he had been warring in pride, but was conquered in humility, so is to be conquered every lofty thing which exalteth itself against this humility. For Saul was journeying to subdue the disciples with hard words, but the Master of the disciples subdued him with a humble word. For when He to whom all things are possible manifested Himself to him, giving up all things else, He spoke to him in humility alone, that He might teach us that a soft tongue is more effectual than all things else against hard thoughts. For neither threats nor words of terror were heard by Paul, but weak words not able to avenge themselves: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? But the words which were thought not even capable of avenging themselves, were found to be taking vengeance by drawing him away from the Jews and making him a goodly vessel.” (Hymns and Homilies of St. Ephraim the Syrian, Kindle Loc. 4704-12)

For St. Ephrem, it is humility which brings about change in St. Paul – the humility of God!  For though Saul was going forth with threats and murder in mind (Acts 9:1) against the Christians, God appears humbly to Saul and never threatens him, but rather speaks to Saul peaceably.  The Lord sees Saul as threatening not the Christians but Himself.  St. Ephrem says it is God’s humility and soft words which lead to conversion and are far more effective against pride and hardness of heart than all forms of threats of punishment.

On this the feast of St. Peter and Paul, we Christians should contemplate God’s own method in bringing about the conversion of St. Paul.   Threats of hell and damnation would best be replaced by our humility and good words to proclaim the Good News.  The Lord asks Saul, “why do you persecute me?”, but never threatens Saul with retribution, retaliation, persecution, terror or punishment.  The humility of our God, His love for humankind is beyond measure.  It is with humility and love (the incarnation!) that God endeavors to convert the hard of heart.  We are to imitate Christ our Lord as we go into the world to proclaim the Good News of salvation.

To all my fellow members of St. Paul parish in Dayton, I wish you a joyous patronal feast day.   Holy Apostle Paul, pray to God for us!

Images from the California Coast

After visiting  the city of San Francisco and Yosemite National Park (click the links to see my photos of these places), my son, John, and I drove on Highway One down the California Coast along the Pacific Ocean.

We were treated with magnificent coastal views, but also some wonderful wildlife.

At Pfeiffer Beach we were treated to a wonderful view of the ocean.  However, the wind was howling, and if you smiled, your teeth got sandblasted.  We saw a very few brave souls carrying picnic baskets, but about all they could expect to eat was sandwiches with a lot of emphasis on the sand.

The beach is known for its purple sand.

McWay Falls in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of many notable vistas along the coast.  In terms of artistry the coast is a work in progress as learned about the effects of landslides in changing the coast.   Wildfires also change the scenery – a sequoia forest John visited several years ago was wiped out by a forest fire and a landslide.

The coastal views are awe inspiring, and photos cann’t do justice to the overall size of what one is looking at – which was true in Yosemite as well.

We arrived in Los Angeles and visited the Getty Museum, which has a spectacular grounds – the architecture and landscaping are worth the visit.

We did walk the boardwalk at Venice Beach a couple of times.  A tremendous amount of diversity and energy are notable on the beach.  I was looking to photograph a pacific sunset.

And was treated to a moon rise along the beach as well.

You can find links to other photo-blogs I’ve done at My Photoblogs.

Links to my other California photo-blogs:   Images of San Francisco,  Yosemite National Park

Images of San Francisco

Transamerica Pyramid from Coit Tower

A few photos from my visit to San Francisco, which was the first time I made it to the city.  The weather was cooler than I imagined, but we actually didn’t see much of the famous fog in the days we were there.  The main event in my visit was my son’s wedding some photos of which I already posted.   I previously posted some photos from my visit to Yosemite National Park.

We arrived in San Francisco late at night, and caught a nice view of the city from the Golden Gate Bridge.  Coit Tower is at the center of the photo; the Bay Bridge is to the left.

A similar view of the San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge closer to sunset.  The sun is giving a golden reflection off a downtown building.  The photo is from Alcatraz.

A birds-eye view of the Bay Bridge.  You can see  my other photos of the San Francisco skyline on my Flickr page.

Since my biological clock was on East Coast time, it was easy to be up to see a San Francisco sunrise – which was equally spectacular.  The downtown skyline is to the left of the photo: this is looking at San Francisco from the opposite side of the above photos.

We did some typical tourist things including a visit to the Boudin Bakery, where they make sourdough bread in many shapes.

Despite the quips of some about the “left coast”, at Coit Tower one finds a Statue of Columbus looking at an American flag and the new world.  It is very much part of the USA.  More photos are at San Francisco Scenes.

We walked through Golden Gate Park, a wonderful urban park, well worth visiting.  More photos at Golden Gate Park.


The Japanese Tea Garden was a peaceful place to be.  I’ve come over time to really appreciate the artistry of these gardens – it is a living art, each scene changes as the sun moves across the sky casting different shadows and featuring different aspects of the garden.

We did go out to Alcatraz Island, now a museum run by the National Park System.  We did the evening tour – very well done, very informative and a look at one piece of American history.  More photos of this visit are at Alcatraz.


Current Alcatraz residents.

And of course San Francisco is famous for the Golden Gate Bridge.

You can find sets of my photos from San Francisco at  San Francisco Photos – just click on any of the small icons to visit the sets and start the slide show.

You can find links to other photo-blogs I’ve done at My Photoblogs.

The Church Present and Future

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (St. Paul to the Philippians 3:13-14)

Orthodox Christian vision does not orient us to the past, but to the coming eschaton. We read the Scriptures not so much to learn history, but to orient ourselves to what God is doing and to move toward where God is directing us.  The Old Testament is about Christ.  The New Testament is about the Kingdom which is to come.

“To return to the first centuries of Christianity in the life of the Church is to reject history. The concern of the Church lies not behind her in the past centuries, but in the present and ahead in the future. The true understanding of tradition consists not in a mechanical repetition of the past, but in the principle of the uninterrupted flow of life and creativity, in the undiminished grace that abides in the Church.”  (Nicolas Afanasiev in Tradition Alive, pg. 43)

Yosemite National Park

America has been blessed by God with places of awe inspiring beauty.

I’ve been on vacation, enjoying Yosemite National Park for the past week.

Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls

We had beautifully sunny weather, though the air was often quite chilly.

I’ll share a few photos of things I saw in and around Yosemite.

The scenery is spectacular.   I think God must have enjoyed creating this part of the earth.

Spectacular scenery with abundant waterfalls as well.

Half Dome and Nevada and Vernal Falls

Spectacular scenes with some drama as well – wildfires were visible.  They of course can be destructive but are part of the natural cycle of life in the area.

Snow is still visible in some of the mountains, though it is late June.  The melting snow feeds the waterfalls.

Lukens Lake and its wildflowers add variation to the scenery.

We did miles of walking – I won’t call it hiking but it was not easy.  Below we are approaching the top of Vernal Falls.

A photograph cannot do justice to the majesty and size of the giant sequoias.

Though we saw signs warning of bears and mountain lions, we saw relatively few mammals, but a sampling below of a few animals.

Steller’s Jay

Lizards were the creature we saw the most.
Coyote were the biggest predators we saw.

My favorite are the wildflowers – my son, John, reminded me frequently that the hikes would not be nearly so long if I didn’t stop to photograph every flower.  Personally I thought it was the steep climbs which were the problem.  The flowers were a relief along the way.

Besides the wildflowers, John is also a colorful character to travel with.

We ventured a little bit outside Yosemite Park to visit Mono Lake and its unusual Tufa formations.  The tufa was actually produced underwater, but use of the lake by water thirsty southern Californians nearly drained the lake exposing the tufa formations.  It is also home to the underwater fly – yes, there are flies that can live underwater.

The moon towards evening was also bright, though not yet full.   Ansel Adams I’m not.  He certainly would have caught the moon perfectly.

All good things come to an end, and so too another beautiful day.

You can view all of my photos from the national park at Yosemite Visit

You can find links to other photo-blogs I’ve done at My Photoblogs..

Pentecost: Feast of the Holy Trinity

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitudes came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?”And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, “Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, “Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”   (Acts 2:1-11)

Pentecost, the Feast which commemorates God’s sending His Holy Spirit upon the apostles and all the world, is also celebrates God fully revealing to us the Holy Trinity.

“The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that, just as man is authentically personal only when he shares with others, so God is not a single person dwelling alone, but three persons who share each other’s life in perfect love. The Incarnation equally is a doctrine of sharing or participation. Christ shares to the full in what we are, and so he makes it possible for us to share in what he is, in his divine life and glory. He became what we are, so as to make us what he is. St. Paul expresses this metaphorically in terms of wealth and poverty: ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Cor. 8:9). Christ’s riches are his eternal glory; Christ’s poverty is his complete self-identification with our fallen human condition.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pgs. 97-98)

Pentecost was originally a Christological Feast in the Church.  Through history the feast became more focused on the Holy Spirit.

Archbishop Anastasios uses the imagery in the ‘Heavenly King’ prayer to illustrate the activities of the Spirit throughout the entire cosmos. He goes on to say that the Holy Spirit: …vigorously renews the atmosphere in which human beings live and breath…motivates and inspires people to crave and search for the truth…[and] soothes our hearts and helps to create a new kind of relationship between human persons…Nothing can restrict the radiance of the Holy Spirit. Wherever we find love, goodness, peace, and the Spirit’s other ‘fruits’ (Gal. 5:22), there we discern the signs of its activity. Furthermore, it is clear that quite a few of those things are present in the lives of many people who belong to other religions.” (Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, pg. 70)

Holy Pentecost (2013)

“Although Acts 1-2 offers a precise chronology for the sending of the holy Spirit ten days after the ascension and fifty days after the resurrection, the early Christian community did not introduce parallel celebrations to commemorate these as historical events. For the early Church, ResurrectionAscensionPentecost was a unitive feast of unbroken joy, celebrating Christ’s once and for all victory over death. The early community did not share the tendency of a later period to divide this fifty day feast into three feasts, each with its own season. Until the end of the second century, notices about Christians celebrating Pentecost refer to their keeping of the Jewish agricultural festival (e.g., Epistula Apostolorum 17).   Tertullian (ca. 225) offers the first clear evidence for a celebration of Pentecost with a Christian content, both as a fifty-day festal period (De Corona 3) and as a feast day appropriate to baptism (De Baptismo 19). Origen (254) explains the feast by noting that ‘if a man is able to say truthfully “we are risen with Christ”, and also that “he raised us up and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ”, he is always living in the days of Pentecost…[and] he becomes worthy also of some share in the fiery tongue given by God’ (Contra Celsum 8.22). The Council of Nicea recognizes Pentecost as a season during which no fasting or kneeling were allowed.[…] The first evidence of a distinctive content for Pentecost comes from Egeria (ca. 384 CE), who noted that the Jerusalem Church celebrated the outpouring of the Spirit and the Ascension together fifty days after Easter (ch. 43). The Jerusalem liturgy shares the tendency of the early Church to understand Pentecost and Ascension as intimately related theologically: Ascension as the triumphant completion of Christ’s earthly  ministry, with the missionary outpouring of the holy Spirit as the unavoidable result. Thus they were celebrated on the same day. This tradition harkens back to John 20 that suggests that the resurrection, the sending of the Spirit, and the end of Christ’s earthly ministry al occurred on the same day. Between the time of Egeria’s visit and the appearance of the Armenian Lectionary (415-439 CE), Jerusalem’s liturgy experienced an important shift in its Pentecost celebration. As the antiphon (Ps. 142:3-10b), reading (Acts 2:1-21), and gospels (John 14:15-24, 25-31) for various prayer gatherings during the day demonstrate, the Pentecost liturgy in fifth-century Jerusalem more narrowly commemorates the original Pentecost event. Henceforth, Pentecost diminishes as a Christological feast, and is transformed into a celebration of the Holy Spirit. It is not surprising that such should occur in the decades following the first Council of Constantinople (381 CE) that decisively defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Symbolum of the First Council of Constantinople).” (The Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary, pgs. 716-717)

Pentecost – the descent of the Holy Spirit

Theology and Physics: Moving from Light to Darkness

Even in science it is the unknown that creates excitement.  Mystery elicits a strong interest to investigate, and there is a desire to discover the unexpected.  What Harvard Theoretical Physicist Lisa Randall

“is excited about is ‘dark matter,’ which—along with ‘dark energy’—makes up the vast majority of the known universe. The current estimate is that 70 percent of the universe is dark energy and 26 percent dark matter. Which adds up to 96 percent. Meaning that what we see and know adds up to a measly 4 percent.

Four percent! The invisible 96 percent apparently keeps the universe in gravitational equilibrium, preventing it from collapsing on itself or dissipating into virtual nothingness. But we know almost nothing else about it. The problem has been that the dark stuff doesn’t seem to interact with the 4 percent we know in such a way that gives us a clue to its nature.”   (Lisa Randall’s Guide to the Galaxy,  Smithsonian  June 2013)

This excitement in physics is moving from the known to the unknown, from light into darkness.   It is the experience of the new day beginning at sunset: “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:5).

That is the same direction and movement we find in mystical theology.  We move from the known (this world which we can see, touch, hear, smell, measure, test) to the unknown (to the Divine, the eternal, the Resurrection and Ascension).   We move in mystical theology from light (what we can see in the empirical world) to the darkness which is the mystical experience of God (that which is beyond our sensory experience).

The same thing which is exciting and attractive about science – discovering mystery – is what makes theology and the mystical life attractive to believers.  The cosmos and the Creator both hold great mystery – knowledge we have not penetrated and even cannot penetrate.  We know the truth is there, but it remains beyond our ability to grasp, control or even test.

(See also my blog Journey into the Unknown: Science and Religion)