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MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
Our Holy Orthodox Faith and the Holy Apostles
By the Rev. Metropolitan Avgoustinos of Florina, from the weekly bulletin “Kyriaki,” June 30, 2006, translated from Greek by the staff of the Greek Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Poimen.
Our faith, my dear brethren, is the only true faith. It liberates from sin and guides to the everlasting life. What is of further importance is also Holy Orthodoxy’s ability to defend Herself. Those of other faiths, or the heretics, may challenge us: “This only true faith stuff, it is easy for you to say; but what proof do you have?”
Our faith, my brethren, has an over-abundance of proof for all who doubt Her or seek evidence of Her unique validity. One such proof is our Holy Apostles, whom we honor and celebrate each summer. I will thus make an effort to show you how the life, teachings, and manner of death of the Apostles confirm by themselves that our faith is true.
Difficult Work and Poor Means
Their work was immensely difficult while their means were negligible and poor. Our Lord summoned the Holy Apostles for a task that was very difficult. As it is difficult or even impossible to guide a sailboat against a strong current or to uproot a 100-year old sycamore tree, the work of the Apostles was even more difficult. For the task in front of them, in other words the overthrow of the entire old world, what means did Christ utilize? Did he employ kings, generals, philosophers, wealthy individuals, or any “powerful” persons of the world at that time? No, He selected no such collaborators or “partners”; for if He had made such a choice, many would be claiming that it was through their abilities and means that our faith prevailed. On the contrary, our Church was confronted with a myriad of pre-suppositions, all of them negative. And it is for exactly this reason that nobody can ever claim that Her victory was the result of human interventions or worldly support.
St. Paul expresses his sincere admiration and even astonishment on how, with such insignificant means, our Savior challenges and confronts the entire world. He says: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (I Cor 1:27). An ecclesiastical author, Vasilios Selefkias, says: “In the same manner that we often admire how a good doctor, utilizing insignificant means, heals a sick person, likewise, we cannot help but admire how our God, employing such simple, weak, insignificant, and uneducated men, healed the deep-rooted wounds of the fallen man.
A New Creation
A home builder constructing a new house never places any of his building material at random. Every little stone or nail has its own unique use and location. It is likewise for every simple word within the Bible. Every word is uniquely and especially selected and utilized accordingly. Thus, in order for our Holy Bible to describe the creation of the universe, it tells the reader repeatedly in the first chapter of Genesis that God “created” (ἐποίησε) every living creature or being (Gen 1:1, 1:7, 1:16, 1:21, 1:25, 1:27. 1:31). This same word, though, is also utilized in the original NT in Greek, in the Gospel according to St. Mark, where the calling (“ordination” in English) of the Holy Apostles is described: And he ordained (ἐποίησε) twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach (Mark 3:14). Our Lord does not utilize this word by error or by coincidence. The task that He was confronted with was a new creation. Truly, to get hold of a man buried in corruption and to lift him toward a virtuous life constitutes a new creation.
Our Faith is thus man-creating, for it creates true humans. The Holy Apostles were destined to become servants in the fulfillment of this immense task. However, they were not ready for this task; it was necessary that they first were prepared and organized. Thus, the task our Lord fulfilled (among many others) was preparing and developing the Apostles for the subsequent evangelizing of the world. This was more difficult than the creation of the sun and the stars; more difficult because He had to turn these uneducated, simple men into spiritual suns and stars.
There is an old saying that a sculptor laid his sight upon a piece of marble thrown in mud. Even though many walked by and ignored it, the sculptor picked it up, took it home, cleaned it well, and started applying his knowledge upon it. Within a fairly short time period, using his chisel, produced an angel from this one piece of marble. Likewise, Christ bent down and lifted from the ground twelve ignored stones and turned them into twelve pillars / foundations of His Bride, the Church, as Revelations informs us: And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev. 21:14)
A “Taste” of Heaven
The Apostles were enabled to experience God’s Grace, to “taste” Heaven, and this taste they communicated and transmitted to many others. During the time period that they spent near our Lord, they absorbed in a sponge-like manner His truth, they collected His divine aroma. They saw and heard about great and original miracles and unrepeatable teachings, holiness that truly engulfed the heavens: His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise (Habakkuk 3:3). These things, these experiences, enriched their hearts. Furthermore, this divine sweetness that they “came across” and tasted, was not withheld from others but was instead shared with the whole world.
Sampson once discovered honey pouring out of the mouth of a dead lion. He tasted it and so gave some to his parents to taste: And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion. And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat (Judges 14:8-9). The Apostles experienced an equitable event: they found honey within this corrupt world of ours and shared it with everybody willing to taste it. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (Psalms 33:9)
Faith as the Only Motive
If you randomly select 100 people from out in the street and ask them what is their rush, why are they constantly on the go, you will observe that each one of them has some transient, some ephemeral reason or purpose. For one it may be money, for another glory, for a third person his career, and for yet another person it is the dark and moonless madness of wild-desire, the lust for sin (Troparion of Kassiani). And as for the Apostles, what were their motives when they traversed the known world of their time? Was it perhaps money? Let us search their pockets. A crippled man once solicited alms from St. Peter and he replied: Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk (Acts 3:6). And the faithful of our days wonder about today’s clergy; are they capable of saying Silver and gold have I none?
A few years back, a “distinguished” person visited Rome. The pope was displaying the many treasures in the Vatican and proudly asked him: “Did Peter have these type of things?” The visitor replied that “St. Peter had no such things but he possessed something much greater than all of the Vatican treasures; can you repeat the saints words, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk?...”
What was then the Apostles’ motive? Money and material wealth? Surely not. Was it perhaps glory? St. Paul tells us: Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day (I Cor. 4:13). People ignored them, ridiculed them, accused them falsely, struck them, and often mischaracterized them. Were earthly delight or pleasures of the flesh their motive? They were unable to have a decent meal or even a proper night’s rest. St. Paul informs us, But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (I Cor. 9:27). What, then, was their motive? It was their faith alone. Their faith that they teach, their evangelizing message is the one and only Truth!
Signing With Their Own Blood
The faith of the Apostles did not arise through studies and time spent on desks; its source was the furnace of life, the extensive number of trials and tribulations. And in the end, they affirmed this faith with their own blood, through holy martyrdom.
In accordance with our Holy Tradition and the teachings of our Church, St. Peter was crucified on the cross with his head pointing downwards, while St. Paul was beheaded; both of them in Rome. St. Andrew traveled to Byzantium and ended up in Patra (Greece) whereby he was crucified upon a cross in the form of the letter X. St. James, the son of Zebedee, was murdered in Jerusalem by Herod’s knife. St. Philip was crucified in Asia Minor. St. Bartholomew was crucified in India where St. Thomas also became a martyr through the spears of his persecutors. St. Matthew was burned alive in Ierapolis, Syria. St. James, the brother of Alpheus, was crucified by the non-believers. St. Thaddeus, or Levveos, or Judas the son of James, was hung in the city Ararat and was subsequently killed through the many arrows that were thrown upon him. St. Simon or Nathaniel was crucified in Africa while Mathias was martyred in Ethiopia. All of them experienced martyrdom in the end except St. John the Theologian who wrote Revelations while in exile on Patmos. We thus note that all of them affirmed the Truth of our Faith through their lives, teachings, many deeds, and eventual martyrdom.
How Shall We Honor Them?
My brethren, with what type of flower wreaths do we crown them? With what spiritual hymns can we possible praise them? Being at a loss when confronted by their spiritual grandeur, we merely join a teacher of our church and kneeling in front of their icon, we exclaim: Holy Apostles, what can we possibly call you, how do we address you? Bees? Mountains? Rivers? Fruit-bearing Trees? Eagles? Trumpets of Truth? Heavenly Farmers? Lions that exhale spiritual fire? Atlas-like Men?
I, in my limited spiritual state, will point out their resemblance with two separate icons; one is that of fishermen and the other lambs of our Lord Jesus Christ. I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves, the Lord told them (Matt. 10:16). Imagine, my dear brethren, twelve lambs that many pursued to throw within the deepest and steepest canyons. Wolves were chasing them with the aim to not even spare the smallest of bones! However, the wolves not only failed to subdue these lambs of our Lord, but the lambs, through their holiness and true love, converted the wolves into sheep. And thus the holy prophet’s words came to pass: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them (Is. 11:6). Is it possible for the lamb to co-exist and share habitat with the wolf? That is exactly what happened, that is the great miracle of our faith.
Let us thus honor our Holy Apostles. During WWII, when Hitler’s planes threatened London, England was saved by literally a few brave and skilled pilots who were able to push back the German air attacks. It was then that an English politician proclaimed that never before was there so much owed by so many to such few people. However, the words of this politician, while valid for those brave pilots, are even more applicable, perhaps a hundred-fold, for our Holy Apostles. Our human race owes everything to those twelve, simple fishermen of Galilee.
I pray that real mission work, of the type that is befitting our Holy Orthodoxy, becomes soon a reality. Let us all pray that new Peters and Pauls will take on the path of spreading His Name. And may the intercessions of our Holy Apostles be with all of them. Let us all praise the Lord, and highly exalt Him, above all forever. Amen.