Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Firmly established on the Apostolic Faith
Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)
Centennial Celebration
12 July, 2009
2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9 ; Matthew 16:13-19

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today we are celebrating the centennial anniversary of this Temple that is named for the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. This dedication to the Apostles Peter and Paul is a very significant dedication because these two apostles are expressing precisely the purpose of churches such as this one here in Alberta, Canada, at this time, and also for the past 100 years (and the future). In fact, I should say for all time.

We have just heard the Apostle Peter make his confession of faith, proclaiming Who is Christ. Our Saviour is asking : “‘Who do you say that I am?’” The Apostle Peter says directly : “‘You are the Christ’”. We can see, then, that He understands Who is this Man who is healing people, teaching everywhere. This apostle knows Whom he is following. He understands that He is the Anointed One of God who has come into the world to save the world. He does not understand everything that that means, but he does understand Who it is that he is encountering, hearing and seeing every day. For certain, the Apostle Peter recognises that He is the Promised One of God.

What sort of man is Peter, this great apostle ? We know that he was probably an older man. At the time of his being called by the Lord, he was probably middle-aged, but I do not know for sure. I am not certain if the Fathers tell us precisely how old he was. However, he was old enough to be married, and have a family, and perhaps even grandchildren. He was an ordinary man, too, who had doubts, fears, and who second-guessed himself many times. On some occasions the Apostle Peter was full of bravado, very brave and strong-minded. At other times he was “chicken”. This is precisely what the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are showing us about him. He was a normal human being who could be strong sometimes, and who could be weak other times. The Apostle Peter shows us by both this strength and weakness what our life can be like, too.

As we can see in the incident of the Apostle Peter walking on the water towards our Saviour, his whole life was focussed on trusting that Jesus is the Christ and that He is able to save him. When he volunteered to walk on the water towards the Lord, and the Lord said : “‘Come’” (Matthew 14:28), he did walk on the water. As long as he looked at the Lord, he was in fine condition. However, it was a windy day, there were waves, and the Apostle Peter became distracted. As soon as he became distracted by the wind and the waves, he began to sink. As soon as he saw that he was sinking in the water, he immediately called out for help and said : “‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30). The Lord took his hand and lifted him up. He stood again on the water as long as his attention was focussed on our Saviour (see Matthew 14:22-33).

You and I, in passing through our life, have to remember this incident. It is the Saviour who is always ready to save you and me. He is always there for us as long as we reach out, take His hand and keep our eyes on Him. As long as we focus upon ourselves, we become subject to fear. Fear always takes us down. It is fear that makes us quail. It is fear that sometimes made the Apostle Peter to be “chicken”. However, this apostle always repented, and turned away from the fear that sneaked up on him from time-to-time. He turned to our Lord again and said : “‘Lord, save me’”. The Lord always rescued and forgave, right up until the Apostle Peter’s last day when he was crucified upside down, confessing his love for Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Peter is also known for his missionary work (mostly amongst the Jewish people in whose midst he grew up). Many of them became Christians because of his example, because of the wonders of God that were wrought through him, and because of his teaching. We see the wonders of God wrought through the Apostle Peter in the Acts of the Apostles after Pentecost. Even his shadow passing on people would bring the healing of the Lord to them. I think that I understand people well enough to dare to say that people would respond first to the sort of person that he is, second to how the Lord works through him, and third, through what he says. I would say this because people are not any different now. People know that talk is cheap. It is cheaper now than it has ever been. It was already cheap in the apostle’s time. People dare only to follow what is clearly an example of a person who is living in the Truth, and witnessing to the Truth. There is only one Truth, and that is Jesus Christ. Therefore, I would dare to say that it is probably the person, the witness of the wonders of Christ, and this apostle’s teaching that would give confidence in the hearts of his hearers.

It is the same with the Apostle Paul. He grew up as a Jew, and was taught by the great rabbinic teacher, Gamaliel. The Apostle Paul was a very strict enforcer of the Law. He only came to see the truth about the Truth in every way when he encountered our Saviour on the road to Damascus. Our Lord said to him : “‘Why are you persecuting Me?’” (Acts 9:4) What our Lord said to him on the road to Damascus is important for us to keep in mind because Saul of Tarsus (as he was known then) had no idea that he was persecuting Christ. He thought that he was straightening out these unruly people (that is, the Christians).

When our Saviour was asking him : “‘Why are you persecuting Me’”, He was saying, in effect : “You are persecuting My Church”. What is the Church ? It is the Body of Christ. You and I are members of that Body of Christ. When Saul was putting in jail and torturing people who had decided to follow Christ, he did not know that he was, therefore, directly persecuting Christ Himself. However, Saul’s heart (even if it was misdirected at first) was filled with the love of God. He did love God, and that was why he was so zealous to do things right, and to make things right. However, he was distracted by the details of the Law itself. He was an enforcer of the Law itself. I could almost dare to say (just as some people sometimes do) that he neglected to recall Who is the Author of this Law, and what the Law consists of. He was unable to see in these Christians the fact that, by their lives, they were really fulfilling the Law.

The Law itself is founded not on fear, but on love. If we read the Ten Commandments which are the foundation of this Law, they are all concerned with loving God first, loving other people second, and conforming our lives to the love of God. This is the substance of the Ten Commandments. In fact, this nature of divine love and human response to it is the undercurrent of the whole Old Testament. However, we sometimes get lost amidst details.

Saul encountered our Lord on the road to Damascus. After this personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the future Apostle very quickly understood in a few days that He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Promised One. His life changed completely. This is the meaning of repentance. Repentance is a 180 degree turn. We turn away from darkness, and we turn to light. We turn away from death, and we turn to life. We turn away from sin, and we turn to righteousness. We turn away from fear, and we turn to love. That is what repentance means. The Apostle Paul is a prime example of this sort of repentance, and a dramatic repentance his was. He immediately began to bear fruit in one way or another. Being rooted in love for the Saviour, his first inclination was simply to go and be with Him. This is why he went into the desert. He had encountered Love, and he wanted only to be in the presence of that Love, and to be undistracted by anything but being in the presence of that Love, and glorifying that Love, who is Jesus Christ.

However, his work was not done. Even though he tells us today that at some time, he had an experience of the love of the Lord such that he was caught up into Heaven, and heard wonders that are not possible to talk about (because humans do not have sufficient words for it), he, nevertheless, had to go out into the world. He had to share with the rest of the world this truth about Him who is the Truth, and who speaks everything into being in His wisdom and His truth, our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God.

He went away and began to preach the Gospel not only to the Jewish people (although he always went first in every city to a synagogue). Afterwards, he went to the Gentiles, who had no idea at first what he was talking about. He showed them the love of Jesus Christ. That is why we are here today : because of that preaching of the Apostle Paul in the area that is now called Turkey, then in the area that is now called Greece, and in the area that is now called Italy. He probably also went to Spain. We are the product of that preaching, that loving, self-sacrificing labour. He sailed all over the Mediterranean. He was shipwrecked many times. He was beaten many times because of what he was saying and doing, and he almost died a number of times. He was thrown into jail many times, also, just as he said today to us in the Epistle reading.

Some of you may have seen the recent movie, The Passion of Christ, and will recall the scene where Christ is being whipped. What the Apostle Paul received was forty of those lashes, on more than one occasion. He received forty lashes with a cat-of-nine tails. A cat-of-nine tails is made of leather straps having little lead bits in them, which rip the skin right off the person. Now you understand what the Apostle endured for the sake of Christ more than one time. He received more than one time forty lashes like this, from which a person scarcely survives. The Apostle endured all this because of the love of Jesus Christ. He preached in Turkey (it is also called Asia Minor), and all over that area.

The Apostle Andrew went north to Romania, to Georgia, and to what is now Ukraine. He even spent some time in Scotland (according to some people) because he was such a traveller. He shared the Gospel of Christ everywhere he went. We are the product of these missionary journeys because the apostles sowed the seeds, and the Gospel continued to be spread abroad more and more. We, ourselves, in particular, are the result of the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that came finally into Ukraine (Kyiv in particular), and then into all the surrounding parts of what was then Rus’.

Now the same faith of those same apostles is being, has been being, and will be lived here, on the top of this hill, from which we can almost see Edmonton. It is the same faith in the same Saviour, Jesus Christ, whom we embrace with all our heart. It is the same faith in the same Jesus Christ which encompasses the whole of our life, and embraces every part of our life. The Lord blesses the lives, and every part of the lives of all who follow Him. The Lord inspired the man who built this Temple a long time ago here on this site which is the joy of all who see it and come into it. He built this big Temple all by himself. This Temple is not constructed by all sorts of people. It is the work of one believer who was uneducated (he never went to school) but who certainly knew how to build things correctly. This is a solid building built with logs, and that is another reason why it is so comfortable. This man did this by himself, not to make a name for himself, or to be famous, but because he loved (and does love in the Kingdom to this day) our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He built a Temple by himself for our benefit. This labour of love is truly a worthy reason for us to be giving thanks here and now to the Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, our faith in Jesus Christ is not given to us genetically. Our Faith is handed down to us from grandparents to parents to children to grandchildren, and so forth, in the context of a life that is lived in the love of Jesus Christ. We encounter the love of Jesus Christ by seeing the love of Jesus Christ active in our parents, in our relatives, in our friends, in a babushka or a dedushka or in some other person whom we see all the time worshipping in the Temple. It is caught rather than taught. It is caught through personal introduction. I know that this is the case because when I was young (and still a Lutheran), and did not know about the fulness of the Faith in Orthodoxy, I knew a number of truly God-loving persons much older than I. The memories about which I am speaking are from when I was four or five years old up until I was fifteen or so. These same persons, men and women, were always in the Temple praying, praising the Lord and giving thanks. Their witness of love showed me how to love the Saviour.

What loving the Saviour does for a person ! What hope it gives ! It sowed the seeds of love in me. Even if I did not begin my life as an Orthodox Christian, I still understand from my childhood how this works. I have heard from some babushki (who were about seventy years old) stories about how their parents would take them to the Temple all the time. They remembered with joy and love how they would sit on the floor, or sometimes lie half-asleep behind their parents’ legs while the service was going on (as at Pascha, for instance). They remembered the love for the Lord that their parents demonstrated while they were worshipping the Lord. They remembered the beauty of the singing, and they grew up to inherit this same love, this same joy, this same focus and dedication for the Saviour. They lived their lives in the same way as their parents did. Because the Orthodox Church is what it is, this experience of dedicated, Christ-loving persons can be stronger by far than the experience I had as a Lutheran in my childhood.

This love is passed on by example. The example of the Apostle Peter bore fruit thousands of times over. The same thing is true of the example of the Apostle Paul. We are very dependent on the Apostle Paul’s writings. However, the Apostle Paul did not write everything he could have written. What he gave us was only an outline of what we basically need to remember as Christians. It is upon his example that we are founded. That is why it is important for us to turn to him, and ask him to continue his prayerful, loving support for us especially in these days, because there are so many temptations to fall away from Christ in these days. It will do us good to approach these two apostles frequently, asking them for their prayers, so that we will not lose our way, but rather that we will follow their example of faithfulness to Jesus Christ. God forbid that we lose our way. However, should that happen, we would be able through their prayers to repent and to continue in the example of their faithfulness.

How were they faithful ? The Apostles Peter and Paul did different sorts of work, and sometimes they held strongly differing opinions between them. However, they overcame their differences of opinion in the love of Jesus Christ. Even if they disagreed, they still forgave each other and carried on. (We Canadians have to learn about this, because when we have a disagreement, we Canadians have a tendency to think that someone is throwing us away, and we are slow to get around to forgiving). We have lessons to learn from those apostles who forgave each other. Their witness unto death is such that their deaths occurred on the same day in Rome. On the same day, they were put to death by the Emperor Nero by different methods, but with the same result. They lived together in different ways, offering their witness and service to the Lord. They died together on the same day in different ways, but still witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ, His hope, and our life in the Kingdom.

Let us ask the Apostles Peter and Paul to pray for us and support us as we continue to try to follow in their footsteps, being obedient to the love of Jesus Christ, putting the praise and service of Him above everything else in our lives. May we glorify that same Jesus Christ whom they, to this day glorify, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.