29 June 2010

The Glorious and All Praise-Worthy First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul

Sermon of Blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

On this present day Holy Church piously remembers the suffering of the Holy Glorious and All-Praiseworthy Apostles Peter and Paul.

Saint Peter, the fervent follower of Jesus Christ, for the profound confession of His Divinity: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God", -- was deemed worthy by the Saviour to hear in answer: "Blessed art thou, Simon... I tell thee, that thou art Peter (Petrus), and on this stone (petra) I build My Church" (Mt. 16: 16-18). On "this stone" (petra), is on that which thou sayest: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God", -- it is on this thy confession I build My Church. Wherefore the "thou art Peter": it is from the "stone" (petra) that Peter (Petrus) is, and not from Peter (Petrus) that the "stone" (petra) is -- just as how the Christian is from Christ, and not Christ from the Christian. Do you want to know, from what sort of "rock" (petra) the Apostle Peter (Petrus) was named? -- Hear ye the Apostle Paul: "I do not want ye not to know, brethren, -- says the Apostle of Christ, -- how our fathers were all under a cloud, and all passed through the sea: and all in Moses were baptised in the cloud and in the sea. And all thus eating spiritual food, and all thus drinking spiritual drink: for they did drink from the spiritual accompanying rock: for the rock indeed was Christ" (1 Cor. 10: 1-4). Here is the from whence the "Rock" is Peter.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the final days of His earthly life, in the days of His mission to the race of man, chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles for preaching the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardour was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt. 10: 2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. And therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: "And I give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and if thou bindest upon the earth, it will be bound in the Heavens: and if thou loosenest upon the earth, it will be loosened in the Heavens (Mt.16; 19). Wherefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these "keys" and the right "to bind and loosen". And that actually it was the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to also all His Apostles: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit", -- and further after this: "Whoseso sins ye remit, are remitted them: and whoseso sins ye retain, are retained" (Jn. 20: 22-23); or: "with what ye bind upon the earth, will be bound in Heaven: and with what ye loosen upon the earth, will be loosened in the Heavens" (Mt. 18: 18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational corner-stone -- Jesus Christ Himself (Eph. 2: 20) doth bind and loosen. Let both the binding and the loosening be feared: the loosening, in order not to fall under this again; the binding, in order not to remain forever in this condition. Wherefore "by the passions of his own sins, -- says Wisdom, -- is each ensnared" (Prov. 5: 22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.

And after His Resurrection the Lord entrusted the Apostle Peter to shepherd His spiritual flock not because, that among the disciples only Peter alone was pre-deserved to shepherd the flock of Christ, but Christ addresses Himself chiefly to Peter because, that Peter was first among the Apostles and as such the representative of the Church; besides which, having turned in this instance to Peter alone, as to the top Apostle, Christ by this confirms the unity of the Church. "Simon of John, -- says the Lord to Peter, -- lovest thou Me? -- and the Apostle answered: "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee"; and a second time it was thus asked, and a second time he thus answered; being asked a third time, seeing that as it were not believed, he was saddened. But how is it possible for him not to believe That One, Who knew his heart? And wherefore then Peter answered: "Lord, Thou knowest all; Thou knowest that I love Thee". "And sayeth Jesus to him" all three times "Feed My sheep" (Jn. 20: 15-17). Besides this, the thrice appealing of the Saviour to Peter and the thrice confession of Peter before the Lord had a particular beneficial purpose for the Apostle. That one, to whom was given "the keys of the kingdom" and the right "to bind and to loosen", himself thrice bound himself by fear and cowardice (Mt. 26: 69-75), and the Lord thrice loosens him by His appeal and in turn by his confession of strong love. And to shepherd literally the flock of Christ was acquired by all the Apostles and their successors. "Attend yourself to all the flock, -- urges the Apostle Paul to church presbyters, -- in which the Holy Spirit hath established ye as bishops, to shepherd the Church of the Lord God, acquired by His Blood" (Acts 20: 28); and the Apostle Peter to the elders: "Feed among you the flock of Christ, attending to it not by need, but by will and according to God: not for unrighteous profit, but zealously: not as commanding parables, but be an image to the flock. And when is appeared the Prince of pastors, ye will receive unfading crowns of glory" (1 Pet. 5: 2-4).

It is remarkable that Christ, having said to Peter: "Feed My sheep", -- did not say: "Feed thy sheep", -- but rather to feed, good servant, the sheep of the Lord. "For was Christ divided, or is Paul crucified according to you, or are ye baptised in the name of Peter or of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1: 13). "Feed My sheep". Wherefore "wolfish robbers, wolfish oppressors, deceitful teachers and mercenaries, not being concerned about the flock" (Mt. 7: 15; Acts 20: 29; 2 Pet. 2: 1; Jn. 10: 12), having plundered a strange flock and making of the spoils as though it be of their own particular gain, they think that they feed their flock. Such are not good pastors, as pastors of the Lord. "The good pastor lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn. 10: 11), entrusted to Him by the Prince of pastors Himself (1 Pet. 5: 4). And the Apostle Peter, true to his calling, gave his soul for the very flock of Christ, having sealed his apostleship by a martyr's death, now glorified throughout all the world.

And the Apostle Paul, being formerly Saul, was changed from a robbing wolf into a meek lamb; formerly he was an enemy of the Church, then is manifest as an Apostle; formerly he stalked it, then preached it. Having received from the high-priests the authority at large to throw all christians in chains for execution, he was already on the way, "he breathed with rage and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9: 1), he thirsted for blood, but -- "the Living One in the Heavens mocked him" (Ps. 2: 4). When he, "having persecuted and vexed" in such manner "the Church of God" (1 Cor. 15: 9; Acts 8: 5), he came nigh to Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him: "Saul, Saul, wherefore persecutest thou Me?" -- and I am here, and I am there, I am everywhere: here is My head; there is My body. There becomes nothing of a surprise in this; we ourselves -- are members of the Body of Christ. "Saul, Saul, wherefore persecutest thou Me; it is terrible to thee to kick against the goad" (Acts 9: 4-5). Saul, however, "trembling and frightened", cried out: "Who art Thou, Lord?" I am Jesus, -- answered the Lord to him, -- Whom thou persecutest". And Saul suddenly undergoes a change: "What wantest Thou me to do?" -- he cries out. And suddenly for him there is the Voice: "Rise up and go to the city, and it will be told thee, what thou ought to do" (Acts 9: 6). Here the Lord sends Ananias: "Rise up go upon the street" to a man, "by the name of Saul", and baptise him, "for this one is a vessel chosen by Me, to bear My Name before pagans and rulers and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18). This vessel must-needs be filled with My Grace. "Ananias however answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thine saints in Jerusalem: and to be here to have the authority from the high-priests to seize all calling upon Thy Name" (Acts 9: 13-14). But the Lord urgently commands Ananias: "Search for and fetch him, for this vessel is chosen by Me: for I shalt tell him, how much must-needs be for him to suffer about My Name" (Acts 9: 11, 15-16).

And actually the Lord did direct the Apostle Paul, what things he had to suffer for His Name. He instructed him the deeds; He did not stop at the chains, the fetters, the prisons and shipwrecks; He Himself felt for him in his sufferings, He Himself guided him towards this day. On a single day is done the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, Paul followed soon after him, -- formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed in himself his pride into humility, as means also his very name (Paulus), meaning "small, little, less", -- demonstrates this. What is the Apostle Paul after this? Ask him, and he himself gives answer to this: "I am, -- says he, -- the least of the Apostles: but moreso than all I have laboured, yet not I, but the grace of God, which is with me" (1 Cor. 15: 9-10).

And so, brethren, celebrating now the memory of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, remembering their venerable sufferings, we esteem their true faith and holy life, we esteem the innocence of their sufferings and pure confession. Loving in them the sublime quality and imitating them by great exploits, "in which to be likened to them" (2 Thess. 3: 5-9), and we shall attain to that eternal bliss which is prepared for all the saints. The path of our life before was more grievous, thornier, harder, but "how great the cloud of witnesses enveloping us" (Hebr. 12: 1), having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily-passable. First there passed along it "the Founder and Fulfiller of faith" our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Hebr. 12: 2); His daring Apostles followed after Him; then the martyrs, children, women, virgins and a great multitude of witnesses. Who acted in them and helped them on this path? -- He that said: "Without Me ye are able to do nothing" (Jn. 15: 5).

17 June 2010

The Holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel and Ismael

from the Synaxarion:

The Holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel and Ismael, brothers by birth, were descended from an illustrious Persian lineage. Their father was a pagan, but their mother was a Christian, who baptised the children and raised them with firm faith in Christ the Saviour. Having grown into adults, the brothers entered military service. Speaking on behalf of the Persian emperor Alamundar, they were his emissaries in the concluding of a peace treaty with the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). Julian received them with due honour and showed them his favour. But when the brothers refused to take part in a pagan sacrificial offering, Julian became angry, and annulling the treaty, he locked up the peace emissaries of a foreign country in prison, like common criminals. At the interrogation he told them, that if they scorned the gods worshipped by him, it would be impossible to reach any peace or accord between the two sides. The holy brothers answered that they were sent as emissaries of their emperor on matters of state, and not arguments about gods. Seeing the firmness of faith of the holy brothers, the emperor gave orders to subject them to fierce tortures.

They suspended the holy martyrs, having nailed their hands and feet to wood, at their heads they thrust nails, and under their finger-nails and toe-nails they wedged sharp needles. During this time of torment the saints, as though not feeling the tortures, glorified God and prayed. Finally, they beheaded they holy martyrs. Julian ordered their bodies to be burned. But suddenly there occurred an earthquake, and the ground opened up and took the bodies of the holy martyrs into its bosom. After two days, following upon the fervent prayers of Christians, the earth returned the bodies of the holy brothers, from which issued forth a fragrance. Many pagans, having witnessed the miracle, came to believe in Christ and were baptised. Christian reverently buried the bodies of the holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel and Ismael. This occurred in the year 362. And since that time the relics of the holy passion-bearers have been glorified with wonder-working.

Having learned about the murder of his emissaries, and that the law-transgressor Julian was marching against him with a numerous army, the Persian emperor Alamundar gathered up his army and started off towards the border of his domain. In a large battle the Persians vanquished the Greeks. Julian the Apostate was killed by the holy Great-Martyr Mercurius (Mercury, Comm. 24 November).

Thirty years later the pious emperor Theodosius the Great (+ 397) built at Constantinople a church in honour of the holy martyrs, and Sainted Germanos, Patriarch of Constantinople (Comm. 12 May), then still a priestmonk, wrote a canon in memory and in praise of the holy brothers.

08 June 2010

The Holy Martyr Paul of Kaium

The Holy Martyr Paul of Kaium was born and raised at Constantinople. For denouncing the emperor Constantine Kopronymos (740-775) in the Iconoclast controversy, the saint was sent to prison. Under interrogation the martyr remained unyielding. They cut off his nose, poured on his head boiling brimstone with pitch, blinded his eyes and with bound legs they dragged him along the street. The saint died from his torments on 8 June 766. 122 years later his incorrupt relics were discovered at the Kaium monastery and put in a church of the Most Holy Mother of God. in the year 1222 the holy relics were transferred from Constantinople to Venice by the Latin crusaders.

07 June 2010

The PriestMartyr Marcellinus, Pope of Rome

The PriestMartyr Marcellinus, Pope of Rome, and with him the Holy Martyrs Claudius, Cyrinus and Antoninus: Saint Marcellinus was Pope of Rome during the height of the persecution against Christians under Diocletian and Maximian (284-305), when during the course of a single month 17,000 men were martyred. During this time also Pope Marcellinus was arrested. Terrified of the fierce tortures, he burned incense and offered sacrifice to idols. The emperor called him his friend and attired him in splendid clothes. Torn with agonising remorse, he wept bitterly that, having roused many to accept torture for Christ, he himself gave his flock an example of cowardice.

During this time at the city of Sinuessa (in Campania) there met a Council consisting of 180 bishops and presbyters. Pope Marcellinus appeared at the assembled Council in penitential hair-shirt, his head sprinkled with ashes, and he asked to be judged for his betrayal. The fathers of the Council said: "Judge thyself with thine own lips. From thy lips the sin did come forth, from thy lips likewise let judgement be pronounced. We know, that even Saint Peter out of fear denied Christ, but he bitterly bewept his sin and again received blessing of the Lord".

Then Marcellinus pronounced sentence upon himself: "I recognise myself deprived of the priestly dignity, of which I am unworthy. After death let my body not be given over to burial, but rather thrown for devouring to the dogs; cursed be the one who dares to bury it".

Upon his return to Rome Marcellinus went to the emperor, threw down at his feet the fine clothing given him and said, that he bitterly regretted his renunciation of Christ. The enraged emperor gave orders to torture him and sentenced him to death.

Fervently having prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who mercifully receives sinners that do repent, the martyr willingly placed his head beneathe the sword. With him were beheaded the holy Martyrs Claudius, Cyrinus and Antoninus (+ 304).

The body of Saint Marcellinus lay for 36 days along the wayside. Appearing in a vision to the newly-made Pope Marcellus, the holy Apostle Peter said: "Why all this time hast thou not given burial to the body of Marcellinus?" "I fear his curse," -- answered Saint Marcellus. "Perhaps thou dost not remember, -- said the Apostle Peter, -- that it is written: 'He that humbleth himself shalt be exalted'. Wherefore go bury his body with reverence".

Fulfilling the command of the Apostle Peter, Saint Marcellus buried the body of holy Pope Marcellinus in a crypt, built for burial of the bodies of martyrs by the illustrious Roman Priscilla, along the Via Salaria.

04 June 2010

Being Sent Empty Away

He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. (St. Luke 1:52-54)
All too often, I find myself embattled and in total disaster mode this time of year; it is the perfect storm, really. The weather is nice; the post-Paschal laxity is refreshing; annual depression from sad events some years past revisits. And to top it off, this year, I am dealing with the extremely trying and wrenching illness of a loved one. After the deaths of so many family and friends last year (19 at final count in 2009), it is particularly difficult.

So on top of all of that, I decided to fall off the wagon. The longer I am Orthodox, the more I realize that even though the cure is there waiting, it sure doesn't work unless you take it. Does that make me a Pelagian? Some of my fundagelical friends and family think so (although not too many of them would say "Pelagian"). Regardless, I think it's a fundamental truth: you can believe all you want, but unless you suck it up and do as you ought, all the belief in the world won't save you.

Ah-ha, I hear you say, but didn't the Lord say that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountains? Indeed He did; but Faith is more than just belief--it is belief perfected by right-actions, by living in conformity with what you profess. As it turns out, that is so very difficult that I see how, by comparison, moving mountains would be a simple enterprise.

Like the father of the demoniac child, I say "I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief" and hope that He will answer the weakest of prayers--because as it turns out, they are the most necessary ones after all. Especially if one does not wish to be sent empty away.

Dominus vobiscum+