A Church Without Schism V- The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

From A Sermon of Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo:

Icon of the Feast - Sts. Peter and Paul“Today the Holy Church piously remembers the sufferings of the Holy Glorious and All-Praised Apostles Peter and Paul.

“St. 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 Savior 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 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 the Apostle Paul: ‘Brethren, I do not want ye to be ignorant,’ says the Apostle of Christ, ‘how all our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ’ (1 Cor.10: 1-4). Here is 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 to preach the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardor was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt.10:2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. Therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth: shall be loosed in heaven’ (Mt.16: 19). Therefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these ‘keys’ and the right ‘to bind and loosen.’ And that it was actually 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 all His Apostles, ‘Receive ye the Holy Spirit’ and further after this, ‘Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose soever sins ye retain, are retained’ (John 20: 22-23); or: ‘whatsoever ye bind upon the earth, shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosened in heaven’ (Mt.18:18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational cornerstone, 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. Therefore ‘Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins,’ says Wisdom (Prov 5:22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.

“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’ (John 20:15-17).

“Besides this, the triple appealing of the Savior to Peter and the triple 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 loose,’ bound himself thrice 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. ‘Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock,’ the Apostle Paul urges church presbyters, ‘over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of the God, which He hath purchased with His own blood’ (Acts 20:28); and the Apostle Peter to the elders: ‘Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples 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. ‘Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name 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; John 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 shepherd giveth his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11), entrusted to Him by the chief Shepherd 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, is now glorified throughout all the world.

“The Apostle Paul, 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 out ‘threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts 9:1), he thirsted for blood, but ‘He that dwells in the Heavens shall laugh him to scorn’ (Ps 2:4). When he, ‘having persecuted and vexed’ in such manner ‘the Church of God’ (1Cor.15:9; Acts 8:5), he came near Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why 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, why persecutest thou Me; it is hard for thee to kick against the goad’ (Acts 9:4-5). Saul, however, ‘trembling and frightened’, cried out: ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ The Lord answered him, ‘I am Jesus 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: ‘Arise, and go to the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do’ (Acts 9:6). Here the Lord sends Ananias: ‘Arise and go into the street’ to a man, ‘by the name of Saul,’ and baptize him, ‘for this one is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel’ (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18). This vessel must be filled with My Grace. ‘Ananias, however, answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints in Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on 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 shall show him what great things he must suffer for My name’s sake’ (Acts 9:11, 15-16).

“And actually the Lord did show 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 the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles is celebrated, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, and Paul followed soon after him. Formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed his pride into humility. 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 I have labored more abundantly than all of them: yet not I, but the grace of God, which was 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 ‘we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses’ (Heb 12: 1), having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily passable. First there passed along it ‘the author and finisher of our faith,’ our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Heb 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 Who said, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing’ (John 15: 5).”

From the Great Vespers of the Feast:

The whole world, let us praise as its champions the Disciples of Christ and foundations of the Church, the true pillars and bases, and inspired trumpets of the doctrines and sufferings of Christ, the Princes, Peter and Paul. For they passed through the whole breadth of the earth as with a plough, and sowed the faith, and they made the knowledge of God well up for all, showing forth the understanding of the Trinity. O Peter, rock and foundation, and Paul, vessel of election; the yoked oxen of Christ drew nations, cities and islands to knowledge of God. While they have brought Hebrews again to Christ and the intercede that our souls may be saved.

Pray for the unity of the faith and the reconcilation of our Churches in the love they shared during the First Thousand Years.

Commemorated on June 29


A Church Without Schism IV- We Rend and Divide Christ’s Garment

The Apostle Peter, writing to the Church Militant:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to those good and forbearing, but also to the perverse ones. For this is a grace, if for conscience toward God anyone endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it if you patiently endure while sinning and being buffeted? But if you suffer while doing good, and patiently endure, this is a grace from God. For you were not called to this? For Christ also suffered on our behalf, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps, He who did no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth, who when He was reviled did not revile in return. When He suffered, He did not threaten, but gave Himself up to Him who judges righteously. He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that dying to sins, we might live to righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray, but now you are turned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  – 1 Pe 2:18-25 (MKJV)

The Hieriomartyr Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (3rd century A.D.), from Treatise I, On the Unity of the Church:

St. Cyprian of CarthageThis sacrament of unity, this bond of a concord inseparably cohering, is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received as an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ’s garment, who should rather put on Christ. Holy Scripture speaks, saying, “But of the coat, because it was not sewed, but woven from the top throughout, they said one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots whose it shall be.” (John xix. 23, 24.) That coat bore with it an unity that came down from the top, that is, that came from heaven and the Father, which was not to be at all rent by the receiver and the possessor, but without separation we obtain a whole and substantial entireness. He cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ…But because Christ’s people cannot be rent, His robe, woven and united throughout, is not divided by those who possess it; undivided, united, connected, it shows the coherent concord of our people who put on Christ. By the sacrament and sign of His garment, He has declared the unity of the Church.

“8. Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it—the garment of the Lord—the Church of Christ? He Himself in His Gospel warns us, and teaches, saying, “And there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (“John x. 16.)  And does anyone believe that in one place there can be either many shepherds or many flocks? The Apostle Paul, moreover, urging upon us this same unity, beseeches and exhorts, saying, “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that ye be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”  (1 Cor. i. 10.) And again, he says, “Forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. iv. 3.) Do you think that you can stand and live if you withdraw from the Church, building for yourself other homes and a different dwelling, when it is said to Rahab, in whom was prefigured the Church, “Thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all the house of thy father, thou shalt gather unto thee into thine house; and it shall come to pass, whosoever shall go abroad beyond the door of thine house, his blood shall be upon his own head?”  (Josh. ii. 19.) Also, the sacrament of the Passover contains nothing else in the law of the Exodus than that the lamb which is slain in the figure of Christ should be eaten in one house. God speaks, saying, “In one house shall ye eat it; ye shall not send its flesh abroad from the house.” (Ex. xii. 46.) The flesh of Christ, and the holy of the Lord, cannot be sent abroad, nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church. This home, this household of unanimity, the Holy Spirit designates and points out in the Psalms, saying, “God, who maketh men to dwell with one mind in a house.” (Ps. lxviii. 6.)  In the house of God, in the Church of Christ, men dwell with one mind, and continue in concord and simplicity.

“26. But in us unanimity is diminished in proportion as liberality of working is decayed. Then they used to give for sale houses and estates; and that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, presented to the apostles the price of them, to be distributed for the use of the poor. But now we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store. Thus has the vigor of faith dwindled away among us; thus has the strength of believers grown weak. And therefore the Lord, looking to our days, says in His Gospel, “When the Son of man cometh, think you that He shall find faith on the earth?” (Luke xviii. 8.) We see that what He foretold has come to pass. There is no faith in the fear of God, in the law of righteousness, in love, in labor; none considers the fear of futurity, and none takes to heart the day of the Lord, and the wrath of God, and the punishments to come upon unbelievers, and the eternal torments decreed for the faithless. That which our conscience would fear if it believed, it fears not because it does not at all believe.  But if it believed, it would also take heed; and if it took heed, it would escape.”

The prayer of a servant:

Lord, At my Baptism, the Church called me to become a “reason-endowed sheep.” Instead, I confess that I have become a pride-filled goat. I often fall, believing I can chart the course of my own salvation without direction. I do not follow the example of Christ and his Apostles. My vanity does not want me to bend my stiff neck and see myself as a servant, while my timidity keeps from speaking up as is my right as a member of the Royal Priesthood. My weakness tempts me to flee from conflict and responsibility, while I complain and gossip from the sidelines. I do not work at mending the frays in Christ’s garment; rather I twiddle and pull at loose threads and make a small tear larger.

My Jesus, my Lord and my God, you promise me Christian peace and joy if I follow you, but peace and joy in the midst of suffering and strife and labor. Give me the grace and strength to live with You and stay faithful to Your Church, realizing all Your promises in my own life. May there be less of me, and more of Thee. Son of David, have mercy on me, the sinner.

St. Cyprian, pray for me; pray for the unity of the faith, so dear to you, and for the reconciliation of the Churches. Amen.

A Church Without Schism III- But we Orthodox: are we worthy?

What kind of life within the Church would we live if we inwardly accepted that the divisions that separate our Churches are shadow, not form, and that that the walls that segregate us do not reach to Heaven? Division and tribalism are a product of our worst natures, not the holy nature that Christ calls us to.

Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth:

And I, brothers, could not speak to you as to spiritual ones, but as to fleshly, as to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk and not with solid food, for you were not yet able to bear it; nor are you able even now. For you are yet carnal. For in that there is among you envyings and strife and divisions, are you not carnal, and do you not walk according to men? For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to each? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither is he who plants anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. So he planting, and he watering, are one, and each one shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For of God we are fellow-workers, a field of God, and you are a building of God.          –   1Cor 3:1-9 (MKLV)

St. John Chrysostom (ca. 354-407 A.D.), from his Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians:

“It was the factionalism of the Corinthians that produced jealousy, and that in turn made them carnal. Once they were carnal, they were no longer free to hear truths of a more spiritual kind  . . .  The building does not belong to the workman, but to the master. If you are a building, you must not be split in two, since then the building will collapse. If you are a farm, you must not be divided but rather surrounded with a single fence, the fence of unanimity.”

From the writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I (1886-1972):

But we Orthodox: are we worthy of Orthodoxy?  Up till the efforts we have made in recent years, what kind of example have our Churches given? We are united in faith and united in the chalice, but we have become strangers to one another, sometimes rivals.  And our great tradition, the Fathers, Palamas, the Philokalia: is it living and creative in us?  If we are satisfied to repeat our formulas, hardening them against our fellow Christians, then our inheritance will become something dead. It is sharing, humility, reconciliation which makes us truly Orthodox, holding the faith not for ourselves – if we did that we should simply be affirming yet one more historic confession of faith – but for the union of all, as the selfless witnesses of the undivided Church.”

Pray for the unity of our faith and the reconciliation of our Churches. Please pray with your heart, but also with your hands.

A Church Without Schism II- The Oneness of the Saving Message

What would the life of a hierarch who embraced the New Testament call to maintain the One Body of the Church look like? One could do no better than to emulate the example of Athenagoras I. He represented the communion of the Eastern Orthodox Churches as Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1948 until his death in 1972 (memory eternal!). It was he who joined with Pope Paul VI in 1965 to lift the mutual anathemas that had been wrongfully issued in 1054 A.D. 1964 marked the end of the formal break between the particular institutions of the Vatican and the Phanar. Though the anathemas were lifted, the consequences that rend the entire body of Christ of course live on. But they live on in spite of the efforts of Athenagoras I:

“He was meek, ascetic, tolerant of others, patient, physically as strong as iron, persevering, never yielding to outside influences, prophetic in his visions, a man of prayer, intelligent, and able as a pastor to confront extremely delicate storms and violent oppositions…

“The dangerous tendency to overemphasize differences and to compare traditions and approaches, concluding that the differences are insuperable, is ever present. But Athenagoras was against making such comparisons. He was convinced that, on the whole, Orthodox and non-Orthodox hold the same views on basic issues of Christian faith and live the same Christian experience. East and West are not as divergent as some would believe. Traces of eastern thought can be found in the western mind, and western influence discovered in the East. There is an interpenetration which causes all believers in Christ to face the same spiritual realities. Athenagoras was not just patriarch of a limited See: he belonged to the whole oikoumene. In fact, it was his vision that the whole of Christendom should see the oneness of the saving message of the Gospel through the same eyes. The legacy left to us is to follow his example of seeing with the eyes of Christ in order to ensure that the obstacles to unity do not prove stronger than the will to unite.”

– From a review of the book, A MAN SENT BY GOD: THE LIFE OF PATRIARCH ATHENAGORAS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, by DEMETRIOS TSAKONAS. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977