Tag Archives: SS Peter & Paul

Peter, Paul & Our Tumultuous Times

Sunday, July 12 (OS June 29), 2020: 5th Sunday after Pentecost; Holy, Glorious, and All-Praised Pre-eminent Apostles Peter and Paul.

Epistle: Romans 10:1-10/2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9

Gospel: Matthew 8:28-9:1/Matthew 16:13-19

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Whether Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical, all Christian traditions have offered up martyrs for Christ. Among all those who have died for Christ, there is one tragic class, that I want to focus on to help us understand the significance of today’s celebration of Ss Peter and Paul for our tumultuous times.

Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or Evangelical Christians, all have in our ranks martyrs who suffered for Christ at the hand of other Christians. All Christian traditions include those who not only died for Christ but were killed in His Name.

There is St Peter the Aleut, to name only one Orthodox martyr here in America. Among the Catholics, there is the example of among others of the era, the 6th century English. Among Protestants and Evangelical, there are all those remembered in Fox’s Book of Martyrs.

Tragic though it is that Christians have killed Christians, in a fallen world it is not a surprise. All murder, indeed all violence, since the time of Cain and Abel is in the end fratricide (see Matthew 5:21-22).

And every death, every act of violence, is the result of one person refusing to see the humanity of another. In place of my neighbor for whom Christ suffered and died, I see the representative of an alien cult. Rather than the person who God loves, I see an abstraction. It is this abstraction, this blindness to the presence of a person created in the image of God, that makes violence and ultimately murder possible, reasonable and even desirable.

And it is this tendency to violence and murder that we see around us today.

I’m told again and again, “But Father! You can say Black Lives Matter! They’re all Marxist!” Or, from another quarter, “But Father! Don’t you see? Trump voters are all racists!”

It’s worth pausing at this point and reminding myself that my heart is divided. I never do things for only one reason, good or bad. Even the good things I do, I do for mixed reasons. This is precisely why Jesus tells us in the Beatitude that it is only “the pure of heart” who “shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). And in a fallen world, none of us are pure of heart.

None of us do the right thing for simply the right reason. Or, to out in another way, we all of us are tempted to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

While I might know this about myself I am certain that this is true for others. This is why it is easy for me to dismiss the justice or truth of a person’s complaint or concern by assuming he or she acts or speaks out of malice.

The irony here is overwhelming. Blindness to my own sin makes it all that much easier to see yours.

Because we are unique, because we are different from each other, we will always disagree. We will always look at the same evidence and draw slight–or even dramatically–different conclusions. In the face of this, I am tempted to dismiss not just your views but to assume you’re acting with evil intent.

So what should we do? To answer this, let’s look at the Apostles Peter and Paul.

These two saints frequently clashed. While their disagreements never, thank God, rose to the level of violence, they were often pointed in their criticism of each other.

Paul accuses Peter of hypocrisy and abandoning the Gospel to curry favor with Jewish Christians who saw obedience to the Law of Moses as a pre-condition to faith in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 2:11-13). And if Peter isn’t, quite, as pointed in his criticism of Paul as Paul is of him, he nevertheless warns us that the Apostle to the Gentiles, “our beloved brother,” is often “hard to understand” (see 2 Peter 3:14-16).

And yet when we look at their icons, we realize that for all they clashed the Holy Apostles loved each other. In their icons we see them not only embracing each other in love but that it is their loving embrace that supports the Church.

I mentioned at the beginning that all Christian traditions include martyrs killed in Christ’s name. What I didn’t say then but will now, is that all Christian communities also include among their number, those who in Christ’s name killed their brother or sister in Christ. And, before you ask, yes Orthodox Christians are guilty of this as well.

As Christians, the disagreement, the dissension, and even the violence that we see not only in America but around the world isn’t a surprise. If we who are in Christ have at times succumb to the temptation to allow disagreement to become the occasion for violence why do we think our nation, our state, our city, or for that matter, our friends who don’t know Christ are exempt?

If I who know Christ dismiss my neighbor in his need because his heart–like mine–is impure, then I open the door to the violence that afflicts America, Wisconsin, and Madison.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Jesus tells us the judgment we give, is the judgment we will receive and the measure we use, will “be measured back” to us (see Matthew 7:2).

Let us then give our neighbors the benefit of the doubt. No matter how mixed their motives, let us see the truth of their complaints, the justice of their concerns. We do this for others because Christ has done this for us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

No Peter, No Paul; No Paul, No Peter

June 29, 2017: Feast of Saints Peter & Paul

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

St Paul looms large in the Christian imagination. There are a number of reasons for this. Paul’s letters make up a significant portion of the New Testament. The Pauline epistles are so important that St John Chrysostom devotes some 250 homilies to them.

Nor should we discount, for good and ill, the influence of the Reformation, and especially Martin Luther. For many Christians, St Paul’s writings have come to matter more than the Gospels. It is not uncommon to meet Christians who, while they know Paul, are unfamiliar with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Yet as important as he is, without Peter there is simply no Paul.

As with Paul, our view of Peter is as skewed by later developments in Church history and their supporting polemics. Specifically, I’m thinking of the role St Peter has come to play–again, for good and ill–in the Roman Catholic Church’s understanding of the role fo the Bishop of Rome in the life of the Church. Just as it can be hard to see past Luther to Paul, it can be hard to see past papal polemics (pro and con) to see Peter.

These concerns aside though, the difficulty in finding Peter is that at least relative to Paul, we hear so little from him in the New Testament.

Even while though debate the implications for the life of the Church, Peter’s prominence in the Gospels is unquestioned. But when we step back and look at the whole New Testament we see so little of him. We really meet Peter only at the beginning and end of his ministry.

By the time we meet him in the epistles bearing his name, the brash and at times fickle disciple has become a man of sober faith. It is surprising to realize that is the impulsive young man of the Gospels, is the same person who now, at the end of his life, tells us

…gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16, NKJV).

Over the course of his life as a disciple and apostle, Peter changes. He becomes more thoughtful, discerning, more sober and disciplined.

We begin to see evidence of this transformation when Saul, now called Paul, approaches the Church in Jerusalem. Peter listens carefully to Paul and it is through him that God’s will for the Church is made clear. Despite internal disagreements and external opposition, the Gospel is preached to the Gentiles. The Apostle Paul’s ministry is affirmed. The Christian faith and the life of the Church aren’t exclusive to the Jews; they are for all people.

But, and here we need to avoid the temptation to polemics, Paul’s apostleship to the Gentiles is confirmed precisely because it is an extension of Peter’s, earlier, call: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7, NKJV).

We need to always keep in mind that the charismatic and prophetic dimensions of the Church are not opposed to the hierarchical and traditional dimensions. In fact, and here we can appeal to Acts of the Apostles, it belongs to the hierarchical and traditional dimensions to confirm the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.

For us as Orthodox Christians, this means that while we must always remain open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the work of grace in the human heart, these cannot be opposed to what has gone before. Not only doesn’t Paul trump Peter, it belongs to Peter to bless and confirm the ministry of Paul.

Again, the witness of Paul is dependent upon the ministry of Peter. It belongs to the hierarchy of the Church, to the bishops who profess Peter’s faith and who, as successors of the Apostles sit on the Chair of Peter, to “bind and loosen.” This is not an arbitrary power for the bishop to do as he pleases. It is rather the freedom by grace to do as he ought: To “rightly divide the word of truth,” to discern the will of God and to defend and nourish the bonds of charity that are the life of the Church.

My brothers and sister in Christ! As we celebrate the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, let us not neglect one for the sake of the other. Rather, let us see in each the fulfillment of the other. Because while there is no Paul without Peter, Peter without Paul remains an unfulfilled promise.

Having now received the fulfillment of God’s promise given from before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:4), let us join hands with Peter and Paul and fearless and with joy bear witness to the Risen Lord Jesus Christ and the liberating power of His Gospel!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory