Condemned for Not Believing?

Mark 16:9-20 presents to us an interesting dilemma to consider.  Are unbelievers condemned for all eternity?    The text begins:

Now when Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

Image result for icon walking emmaus

The text indicates that the eleven remaining Apostles are twice told that Jesus has risen from the dead.  First Mary Magdalene, who in this text of Mark’s Gospel is the very first person to hear the Gospel of the resurrection, directly encounters the Risen Lord Himself.   She goes and tells the Apostles, but they refuse to believe.  Then two others encounter the Risen Christ and they too go to the Apostles to tell them that Jesus is alive.  Again the Apostles refuse to believe. What happens next is that Jesus Himself appears to the eleven Apostles:

Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Jesus chastises them for their unbelief – the Apostles had not believed the witness of those three people who had talked with Him after He had risen.  The Apostles were not a people unprepared for the Good News – they had spent the previous three years in intense personal training under the tutelage of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.  They were the most prepared people in the entire world to hear the Gospel, and yet they didn’t believe the Good News.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Now, comes the dilemma.  Jesus says those who do “not believe will be condemned.”  The Apostles themselves did not believe.  So do they stand condemned?   Their repentance for initially not believing is not recorded.  They eventually do go into the world and do as Jesus commands.  Their initial unbelief is not held against them.

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”   So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.

The Apostles who were hand-picked and discipled for three years by the Lord Jesus Himself, did not believe the Gospel when they first heard it proclaimed.  They even heard it twice and still disbelieved.  It is only when Jesus appears to them directly and upbraided them that they apparently believed.  They did not remain condemned forever despite twice disbelieving the Gospel proclaimed to them.

This is a great message of hope for the world that Jesus’ first reaction to disbelief will not be eternal condemnation, but a tongue lashing from the Lord.  If His hand-chosen disciples after three years of living with Jesus did not believe the message of the resurrection when they heard it proclaimed, perhaps it is reasonable that others who never met Jesus also disbelieve us and the Gospel.  Maybe they all will be given the same chance as the Apostles – to personally encounter the Risen Lord before any judgment or condemnation is actually pronounced.  The Apostles were shown great mercy despite failing after all the advantages they had by being personally trained by Jesus.  We can hope that Christ will be even more merciful to those who never met Him, let alone being discipled by Him, and who disbelieve.

When the Apostles heard the Good News, they were not people who had never heard of Jesus or the Gospel.  They were the best trained Christians on the planet, and yet they disbelieved.  Jesus still chose patience and mercy toward them.  Giving them power and opportunity to serve Him.

SS Peter and Paul: Christianity with No American Advantage

2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9             Matthew 16:13-19


In the Orthodox Church we give honor to the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul on June 29.  These two men were both of humble origin, working class,  they were not rich, but were laborers – one a fisherman and the other a tent maker.  They held no college degrees, never were kings or presidents of anything, they never watched TV, never spoke to the mass media, they had no Internet access, never attended a class in business management.  They had no army or superior weaponry to defeat enemies.  They never thought or believed that the United States was the greatest nation on earth.  They spoke no English.   Yet these two men helped bring Christianity to the entire world.  And each of us here today has been touched directly by their lives and work.  We have heard the Gospel because of what these two Jews did.

39062310591_55441d8733_nWe Orthodox Christians in America like to think of ourselves blessed by God because of the nation we live in – blessed with an abundance of food, blessed by an abundance of wealth, blessed to live in the most technologically advanced society, protected by the mightiest military power on earth.    The Apostles, Peter and Paul, never had any of our advantages and blessings.  As we heard in Paul’s Epistle, instead of all these advantages and blessings,  they suffered poverty, persecution and homelessness.  Yet they changed the world by spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire and through that Empire to all of Europe and then to the North American Continent.

Listen again to St Paul’s own words:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.


We must not allow ourselves to be deceived and seduced by physical wealth and power or seduced by physical and external blessings – for none of these things are the goal of Christianity or the intended result of Christianity.  Let us not be lulled asleep or blinded by our blessings, our abundance, our material wealth and military power.  The Kingdom of Heaven does not consist of these things.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)

Our battle and our warfare is a spiritual one, and we need to be mindful of how distracting all the physical blessing and pleasures can be, and how easily they seduce us into losing sight of our true goal in life.


We Christians are to remember our purpose in life is to do the same thing the Apostles did.  Those men who had so little and yet changed the world.  We have been blessed with an abundance of materials goods, what are we doing with them for the glory of God?   We have a mission to tell others about Jesus Christ, about God’s love and eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

The desire to live and proclaim the Gospel should be our only measure of blessings and success.

We have to consider what Christ told Paul who was weak and  powerless:

My Grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.  My grace is sufficient for you.

As St Paul realized, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

We may have an abundance of food, wealth and power, but those are not the things that help us to follow Christ or live according to His Gospel commandments.  We don’t learn to rely more on Christ when we are completely satiated with all we need, with all we can eat, drink and consume.  We are not much attracted to heavenly realities when we are mired in earthly wealth and pleasure.


We have to change ourselves first before we can change the world.  The strength of God is not found in armies or financial wealth, but rather in the holiness that the saints choose to live by.   We are to learn to rely on heavenly realities rather than on earthly power.   Holiness is the power we need in our lives, and we have to choose it.

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)  The answer is revealed in the lives of the saints, who lived for Christ who revealed the kingdom in this world.  For Christ is the One who deifies humanity.  What the saints lived for, struggled with, suffered for, tells us who they believed Jesus to be – Lord, God and Savior.  The saints reveal Christ not only in what they taught but in their very being and in how they lived and died.


Sts Paul and Peter revealed in their lives whom they believed Jesus to be.  And Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”, gives rise to a second question in us. If Jesus is Lord, God and Savior,  “Who am I?”

We should answer with Sts Paul and Peter, I am a disciple of Christ, a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ, one of God’s chosen people, one of the redeemed, I am united to God.

St Paul the Apostle of Christ

But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  . . .  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”  (Galatians 2:11-14)

And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.  (2 Peter 3:15-16)

It is clear in the Gospel that Jesus prayed for unity among believers – a oneness in the Church:

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.”  (John 17:20-23)

What is the unity for which Christ prayed?  What was He thinking about when He asked that we all be one?  Did He imagine the Church would be a monolith?  Did He imagine we would be like the collective, hive-mind Borg in the sci-fi franchise Star Trek?  Any reading of the New Testament shows us from the beginning of the Christian Church there was diversity, debate and disagreement.  There are four versions of the Gospel which do not agree in every detail.  The Church rejected the effort to eliminate the differences in the text and preserved all four versions of the Gospel.   The Twelve were quickly confronted with the outsider Paul, called by Christ to leadership but not from within the fellowship of the Apostles.  Paul and Peter disagreed on issues.  There was the unexpected growth of Christian communities following the persecution of the Church and a variety of Christian experiences in which, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles are chasing after the Holy Spirit rather than leading the mission of the Church (see my The Acts of the Apostles and Evangelism).  Then the rise of heresies and a multitude of voices and the Apostles sorting through all the claims to establish legitimacy for Christianity and a recognized message and theology.

Modern historians tend to think that the Church did not start off with uniformity and conformity and then move to diversity.  Rather, they think Christianity diversified right from the get-go, and only later as the Church came into its own in the imperial Church does the leadership begin attempting to demand more conformity and uniformity in the Church.  Church Councils and canon law attempted to reign in on the diversity and bring about expressing the common mind of the Church in a more uniform manner.

Jesus Himself did not send out the Apostles alone into the world, but rather sent them out in pairs, where team work would require the two to have a common mind about what they taught and did.  It meant that oneness of mind had to be worked on and established.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.  (Luke 10:1 )

The Apostles themselves had to interpret the parables and teachings and commandments of Christ.  They had to decide how to live the Gospel, and what behaviors, attitudes and ideas were outside the bounds of the Gospel commandments. This is why St Paul tells us we have to work out our salvation – we have to talk with one another, listen to each other and come to a common mind.  This has to be worked on and worked out, it doesn’t happen by magic:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  (Philippians 2:1-2)

Oneness of mind occurs because we choose to love one another and we choose to make it happen.

The Apostles had to apply the commandments of Christ to new and diverse situations, they had to apply a Gospel teaching to issues which Christ had not Himself addressed.  They needed wisdom to understand when new thinking was required of them in order to remain faithful to the spirit of the Gospel.   We can see for example how St Paul emphasized certain teachings of Jesus and downplayed others:

“A few examples are enough to demonstrate this: e.g., Jesus summoned his followers to leave everything; Paul admonished them to remain in the social role in which they had been called (1 Cor 7:27-28).  Jesus promised toll collectors and prostitutes that they would enter the kingdom of God before the pious (Mt 21:32); Paul excluded prostitutes from the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). Jesus commanded his disciples to dispense with earning a living and having possessions (Mt 10:9; 6:25ff. par); Paul is proud of earning his own living—and recommends that his communities should also do the same (1 Thess 2:9; 4:11).  Paul orientates his ethical instructions on the needs of the local communities; by contrast the ethic of Jesus is … an ‘itinerant radicalism.’”  (Petros Vassiliadis, “From the Pauline Collection to Phos Hilaron of Cappadocia”, SVTQ Vol 56 #1 2012, p 8)

The Apostles not only had to interpret the teachings of Christ, they also had to interpret their own experiences in the light of the Gospel – their successes as well as their failures, their victories as well as their suffering.

“In relating his sufferings to those of Christ (Philippians 1:29) and stating that he desires to share in Christ’s sufferings (3:10), Paul interprets the pain of his fetters as capable of transforming death into life, of revealing Christ’s identity (cf 1:20), and ultimately of glorifying God.  Paul, like Christ, suffers so that life may come and so that God may be glorified.” (L. Ann Jervis, AT THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL, p 57)

As we celebrate the glorious, triumphant leaders of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, we can appreciate the diversity of the Church through its long history.  The Apostles allowed differences in practice or teaching because they believed the Gospel was still preserved in this.  They blessed new communities and a variety of experiences that occurred by the prompting of the Holy Spirit but beyond their control.

While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.  (Acts 10:44-48)

The unity of the Church was not the result of the Church being a monolith.  The interior unity of the Church was found in Christ,despite the multiplicity of experiences and expressions.  The unity of the Church is Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, love.   Because the Church is made up of many diverse peoples with divergent spiritual experiences, it has always had to wrestle with of what its unity consists and how to maintain that oneness that Christ prayed for.  Councils, canons, creeds all were established to help maintain the unity which recognizing the reality of the diversity of peoples and spiritual gifts.  The unity of the Church relies on our willingness to love one another and to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Blessed Saints Peter and Paul

pray to God to help us be one

even as the Father and the Son are one.

When We Fail as Disciples

And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”

Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.  (Matthew 17:14-23)

It was a tough day for the Apostles.  First, they were not able to perform a miracle and heal a boy. Worse yet, the father of the boy goes and brokenheartedly reports their failure to the Lord Jesus.  Second, Jesus seemingly piles on to their woes by lamenting having to bear with them.  Third, Jesus then tells them the real bad news – He is about to be killed by these people.  Did the Apostles even fear that perhaps they contributed to people wanting to kill Jesus because they failed to heal the boy?  The crowd is turning against their Lord because they cannot do something He promised them they could do:  “These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, ‘Go . . . to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.‘”  (Matthew 10:5-8)  The Gospel lesson begins with the Apostles in dismay and ends with them being filled with sorrow.

“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”

Like the Apostles, we who are Christ’s disciples today may not be able to heal a child, or to do other miracles for those who come to us, but there things we can that will fulfill Christ’s commandments to us.  We don’t want people coming to Christ complaining to Him about how we fail in the most basic things.    We shouldn’t let it happen that people could come to Christ and say about us:   “Lord, I came to the members of Your parish and they didn’t minister to me.  We don’t need to worry about  “I was sick, and they didn’t heal me.”  But what about “I was sick and  they didn’t even visit me or pray for me.”  These are things we as Christ’s disciples must never fail in because they really are within our power to do.  We don’t need any miraculous powers to pray for others or visit them.

There are many other complaints people might make about us to our Lord:

I came to Your disciples and . . .

They weren’t patient with me or my child.

They weren’t merciful to me

They didn’t forgive me.

I was hungry, they didn’t feed me

I was homeless or poor and they didn’t welcome me.

I was sick or in prison and they didn’t visit me.

I was naked and they didn’t clothe me.

I was thirsty but they gave me no drink.

I was a stranger and they didn’t welcome me.

Or even

…. They gave me no peace.

They brought me no joy.

They showed me no kindness.

They did not practice self-control.

I was an addict and they fed my addiction .

I was an alcoholic and they didn’t help me stay sober.

I was addicted to porn and they sent me dirty jokes.

The Lord Jesus invites all kinds of people into His Church with all kinds of needs and imperfections:

And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”   (Mark 2:15 -17)

As Christ’s disciples, we are to minister to them in the ways that Christ commanded us, and many of those ways are not miraculous, but simple things well within our powers.

That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”  (Matthew 8:16-17)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.  (1 Peter 2:24-25)

The Blinding Light which Illumined St. Paul


Again, the light that illumined St Paul on the road to Damaskos (cf. Acts 9:3), the light through which he was raised to the third heaven where he heard unutterable mysteries (cf. 2 Cor. 12:4), was not merely the enlightenment of conceptual images or of spiritual knowledge. It was the effulgence of the power of the Holy Spirit shining in His own person in the soul.


Such was its brilliance that corporeal eyes were not able to bear it and were blinded (cf. Acts 9:8); and through it all spiritual knowledge is revealed and God is truly known by the worthy and loving soul.

(St Symeon Metaphrastis, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 34516-22)

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Glorious and All-Praised Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.

Glorious Leaders of the Apostles Peter and Paul


If, as we have said, we commemorate each of the saints with hymns and appropriate songs of praise, how much more should we celebrate the memory of Peter and Paul, the supreme leaders of the pre-eminent company of the apostles? They are the fathers and guides of all Christians: apostles, martyrs, holy ascetics, priests, hierarchs, pastors and teachers. As chief shepherds and master builders of our common godliness and virtue, they tend and teach us all, like lights in the world, holding forth the word of life (Phil. 2:15–16).


Their brightness excels that of the other radiantly pious and virtuous saints as the sun outshines the stars, or as the heavens, which declare the sublime glory of God (cf. Ps. 19:1), transcend the skies. In their order and strength they are greater than the heavens, more beautiful than the stars, and swifter than both, and as regards what lies beyond the realm of the senses, it is they who reveal things which surpass the very heavens themselves and indeed the whole universe, and who make them bright with the light “in which there is no variableness neither shadow of turning” (cf. Jas. 1:17).


Not only do they bring people out of darkness into this wonderful light, but by enlightening them they make them light, the offspring of the perfect light, that each of them may shine like the sun (Matt. 13:43), when the author of light, the God-man and Word, appears in glory.

(St Gregory Palamas, On the Saints, Kindle Location 672-682)

A blessed Feast of the Holy Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul!

St. Paul Apostle to the Nations

Today, June 29, we honor the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.   St John Chrysostom, whom many in the Orthodox world think is the greatest Patristic interpreter of St. Paul, writes that though we honor the saints, we are also confronted by the fact that the saints did not escape trials and tribulations in their own life times.  Rather, the saints learn in and from their tribulations about themselves, about the world and about God, and are thus able to find benefit even in events most of us want to avoid.

Chrysostom says:

“That tribulation served the purpose of the Saints can be heard from David the Prophet, who said: ‘It is good for me Lord, that I have been in trouble, that I might learn thy statutes.

Paul said, ‘I was caught up into the third heaven, and transported to Paradise. Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.’

By “messenger of Satan” Paul does not refer to particular demons, but to men serving the devils: unbelievers, tyrants, heathens, all who constantly troubled him. ‘God,’ he said, ‘permitted these persecutions that I might not be too much exalted.’ 

Although Paul, Peter and others like them are holy and wonderful men, yet they are but men, and require much caution lest they should allow themselves to be too easily exalted. Nothing is as likely to cause one to presume a high state for himself than a conscience full of good works and a soul that lives in unquestioning confidence.”   (Afflictions of Man, O LOGOS Publications,  p. 4)

Chrysostom notes the holy people recognize that suffering and setbacks contribute to our own humility, and they recognize the need for this humility because they recognize themselves as being chosen and favored by God.  Chrysostom’s warning is note-worthy – who suffers the most from sinful pride?  Those whose conscience is full of good works and thus is full of confidence that God will reward them.   St. Paul admits:

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:3-4)

Rather than focusing on all the good things we do – even when done for God – godly wisdom has us focus on God’s love for us.  This reminds us of our need to love others as God loves us.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

The saints are not those whose consciences are made clean by all the good works they did, but rather are those who experienced the love of God and endeavored love God in their own lives.

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.

St. Paul: Pray to God for Us




The above hymns in praise of St. Paul are from the Matins hymns for the feast of Sts Peter and Paul (June 29).

A joyous feast of the Holy, Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, especially for all of those parishes which celebrate their patronal feast today and to all those who bear the names of Peter and Paul or have  either of them as your patron saint.  May God grant you many years!

To Live Like an Apostle

In the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, the apostles anachronistically sing, “Always hoped that I’d be an apostle.  Knew that I could make it if I tried..”   It is probably also a wishful thought of many a dreamy Christian who in Don Quixote fashion imagines being a modern apostle or who imagines having themselves been chosen by Christ to be part of that original inner circle of the Twelve –  if they had only been born at the right time.  Of course looking at icons of the glorious apostles we might mistakenly imagine they lived a heavenly and favored life on earth.   But by all accounts their lives were difficult and most of them met violent deaths after a life time of self-sacrifice in service to the Lord.

We who have chosen to follow Christ need to remind ourselves of St. Paul‘s famous description of what it meant to him to be a chosen apostle:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”  (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

Following Christ requires courage and perseverance.  Being a Christian is not about living a prosperous life filled with ego gratification.   As. St. John Chrysostom says we are most like the apostles when we experience poverty and suffering.

“When you find yourself penniless and hungry, subject to a thousand dangers, remember that the Apostles, prophets and patriarchs – the just men – all lived in hunger, thirst and nakedness. They were not to be counted among the rich and comfortable, but among the poor, the afflicted, the distressed.”   (St. John Chrysostom, Afflictions of Man, p. 9)