Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
What defines the ministry of the Apostles?

The life of the Apostles and the church is built upon the bedrock of the confession of faith.
Peter’s confession.
The hundred and fifty three fish and the Restoration of Peter.

Matthew 16:13-19, John 21:15-25

2008

 

Icon of the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing - Patmos 15th Century http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/peter-paul-patmos-by-angelos15thc-01.jpgIn the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Brothers and sisters, we celebrate the Apostles Peter and Paul today[1].

 

What is it that defines the ministry of the Apostles?

 

The two Gospels show us. The first Gospel I want to speak about shortly and briefly, because I think the matinal Gospel is much more powerful for our needs.

 

Today many people were thinking many things about Jesus, but Peter knew Who He was. He said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

The life of the Apostles is built upon the bedrock of their confession of faith.


To believe that Jesus is the Christ entails following His commandments because belief is not just a static thing; it is not just saying that we believe in a fact. It is dedicating ourselves. If we believe that Jesus is God, then we should obey Him. And the ministry of the Apostles was grounded in this fact.

 

Even while others were saying all kinds of things, He might be Elias, Jeremiah, a prophet, John the Baptist; Peter knew. And so the Lord said this famous part of the Scriptures where He says, Thou art Simon, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.” The rock is the confession of Christ.


Now, in our day and age, especially in the West, the idea of confession of Christ is just BELIEF. No, it is LIVING according to the commandments because Jesus is God, and because He is reliable, and He showed us the way, and it is the only way to life.


So that is the first aspect of the Apostles -- and it should be of us and of all the saints, and of course it was - the confession of Christ, to believe that Jesus is God, correctly, in every way - that means according to the Creed, according to the Seven Ecumenical Councils, according to the universal witness of the Church - Who Jesus is.

 

That’s why it is so important to know Who He is. That’s why it is so important that in our services; over and over and over again, we speak dogmatically of the nature of God and of the two natures of Christ, and of what His resurrection entails and how He was a man and how He was God. All these things are over and over again in our services. That’s the reason. Because without knowing Christ, we will know nothing.

 

What is the application of this knowledge? It is what happened in the first Gospel, that is, the Gospel for matins last night[2], happens to also be a resurrectional Gospel, one of the eleven of the cycle[3] and one of my favorites. It’s truly breathtaking in its scope.


Icon of Apostles Peter and Paul, holding a church between them. http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/peter-paul-dorm-skete-01.jpg The Lord has appeared on the shore; the Apostles have seen Him. Peter is so excited to see Him, he throws his fisher’s cloak on him and he swims to shore and to the Lord. And then the Apostles follow, dragging the net full of fishes, one hundred fifty and three, and yet the net was not broken.


We could speak about that for a long time. This is very meaningful. The Apostles were prepared for their ministry by the three years. Remember that before, three years ago, they, when they caught the fish, their nets broke. But after seasoning with the Lord, after learning of His ways and taking His yoke upon them, they were ready so they could truly be fishers of men. And those 153 fish, they include us. That’s all of humanity. Because regarding the Apostles: Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.”[4] So we are part of those fish.


Then Peter is on the shore with the Apostles, and they have eaten. And then the Lord says to Simon, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” He asks him, Do you love Me with a love that is above all things? Do you love Me as God loves and as we should love God? The word that He uses for “love” leaves no room for anything else. It is the love of God and a love for God[5]. Now, in Greek there are three words for love.[6]

 
Simon, only a few days before, remember, had rejected the Lord.[7] He had denied Him three times. So he felt still shaky in his faith. He felt guilty. How would you feel? We’d feel guilty, right? We’d feel a sense of unworthiness.


So he says to the Lord, unsure of himself, he says, “I love You,” but he used a different word[8] - “I love you deeply, sincerely, as a friend, as a brother.” And that is not how we should love God.


But the Lord said, afterwards, “Feed My sheep.” And then He said the same question again identically, and identically Peter answered it again, and the Lord said, “Feed My lambs.”

Now, the third time the Lord wants to teach Simon something and us too. He said, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me as a brother? Do you love me as a friend? Do you have great affection towards Me? He didn’t say, Do you love Me as you would love God. He used the same word for love that Simon had used the previous two times.

The Gospel says Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Do you love me as a friend, as a brother, but not as God?”

And Simon said, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”

Now, it is interesting to me also that at this point, Simon still uses the same word: I love you as a brother. But we know from his life that he loved Him as one would love God because we see the fruit of his life, the struggles that he went through. He was crucified for our Lord. We can see it in his epistles which have a striking clarity about the love of God and a peacefulness about them that can only be from someone who loves God with a whole heart. But at that moment Simon was still being prepared by the Lord. In time, he would show that he truly loved the Lord as one should love God.

What does this little vignette teach us? It teaches us that the apostles were called to love the Lord with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind; just as we are.

They weren’t really called any differently than we are. The extent of their ministry is different, but the base of their ministry, the reason for their ministry, is the same as us, because they are responsible for the same commandments as we are. And they know the same God we know. But they loved the Lord with such power that it obliterated everything else.

And look at what they went through. The Apostle Paul gives a recounting of some of the things that happened to him. He was beaten with 40 stripes save one, five times. He was beaten with rods three times, shipwrecked three times. A day and a night he was in the water. There were many other things - hunger and thirst and nakedness and wondering what would happen the next day, and fear and all the other gamut of human emotions that happen when we have very difficult trials that we go through[9]. It was the same for the Apostle Paul, for the Apostle Peter, for John, James, all the rest of them.

This is what we are called to do - to love God such that we will feed the sheep.  The Lord talks a lot about love for Himself, but He mostly talks about how we should love our neighbor.  If you read the Gospels, they are mostly about how we should
relate to other human beings. Why would this be?

Now, Saint John makes it very clear. If we say we love God Whom we have not seen, and we don’t love our brother whom we have seen, we are liars, and the truth of God is not within us[10].

 So, if we are Christians, we will love the brethren, and the brethren are everyone. Remember the parable about who is my neighbor?[11] Everybody is your neighbor. The mean ones, the kind ones, the honest ones, the thieves, the cruel, those who are good to you, those who are evil towards you, those who speak badly of you, those who praise you, those who would give you back something of what you have done for them, those who would spit in your face and take more beside. All of those are the sheep.

There are many things, especially in our society; we seem to be a society that’s created weaknesses, created passions. People have passions for television or smoking or video games; there’s a hundred and fifty other things that we can become addicted to that many of our brethren from the earlier age were not tempted by, because they had no access to these things. And there are still things you can be addicted to, for sure, but we have so many things in our society that it’s very hard for us to pray, for us to be attentive.

And, yes, we should pray and be attentive. But here is the most important thing that you should do. I’ve told you many times.

If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind.

Love your brethren – that is  the most important thing. It’s more important to love your brethren -  and that’s everybody - rather than it is to pray or to fast. If we love the brethren, then we are showing love for God. Now, we must pray and fast, of course. But if we only pray and fast and do not love the brethren, we will not be saved. It will not happen.

Let us emulate the apostles, brother and sisters. Let us first confess Christ. It doesn’t mean just saying I believe in Jesus Christ - it means living according to Who He is and what He taught. And let us, above all things, love Him so that we would, above all things, consider it our life’s mission to feed the lambs and feed the sheep.

May God grant us this blessed ministry. Amen.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2008    

Transcribed by the hand of the handmaiden Helen (2011). May God save her and her loved ones.

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[1] The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is on June 29th according to the church calendar, which is July 12 on the “wall calendar”. It follows a fasting period that begins on the Monday after the Sunday of All Saints. This is the second Monday after Pentecost, and this is  the only major fast that has a variable beginning day, and a fixed ending day. Great Lent, which precedes Pascha, has a variable beginning and ending date each year. The other two major fasting periods – the two weeks before the Dormition (Aug 1-14, church calendar), and the fast before the Nativity of Christ, begin and end on fixed calendar dates every year.

[2] John 21:15-25

[3] The eleven Resurrectional Gospels all refer to the events in the resurrection and are read in an 11 week repeated cycles. There is one from Matthew, two from Mark, three from Luke and five from John. These Gospels are read at Sunday matins.

[4] Psalm 18:5 (Sept) , also quoted in Romans 10:18. This is part of the prokeimenon for the Apostles, which we use on their feast and on every Thursday at liturgy, before we read the Epistle. The church knows this psalm to be a prophesy regarding the evangelism of the Apostles and their successors.

[5] The word for love used by Christ the first two times is “agape” which denotes the highest, purest love. It is the love of God for us and the love we should have for God. It is the perfect fulfillment of the Greatest commandment, and certainly by extension, since the “second one is like it”, the way we must love everyone. “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,  (36)  Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  (37)  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  (38)  This is the first and great commandment.  (39)  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  (40)  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mat 22:35-40 KJV)

[6] Agape – the highest love.

phileō - to be a friend of, to have affection for (Philadelphia Pennsylvania is known as the city of brotherly love)

Eros – often refers to erotic love.

[7] John 13:37-38 “Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.  (38)  Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.”

John 18:25-27 KJV  “And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.  (26)  One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him?  (27)  Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.”

[8] Phileo – affectionate love. This is no doubt a powerful love, but it is not as perfect as agape.

[9] “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28) from the selection read at liturgy for the Apostles Peter and Paul (2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9)

[10] “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (1John 4:16 KJV) OF COURSE,  the word for love used is “agape”.

[11] The parable of the Good Samaritan. This is read on the 25th Sunday after Pentecost.

“And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  (26)  He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?  (27)  And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.  (28)  And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.  (29)  But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?  (30)  And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  (31)  And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  (32)  And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.  (33)  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,  (34)  And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  (35)  And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.  (36)  Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?  (37)  And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:25-37)

 





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