Wednesday July 14, 2021 / July 1, 2021
4th Week after Pentecost. Tone two.
Fast. Food with Oil
Holy and Wonderworking Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian, martyrs at Rome. New Hieromartyr Arcadius priest (1918). New Hieromartyr Alexis deacon (1942). Martyr Potitus at Naples (2nd c.). Venerable Peter the Patrician, monk, of Constantinople (854). St. Angelina, despotina of Serbia (16th c.).
The Holy, Glorious and All-praised Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul
Commemorated on June 29
Sermon of Blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (Ipponesia)
On this present day Holy Church piously remembers the suffering of the Holy Glorious and All-Praiseworthy Apostles Peter and Paul.
Saint 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 Saviour 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 how 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 ye the Apostle Paul: “I do not want ye not to know, brethren, – says the Apostle of Christ, – how our fathers were all under a cloud, and all passed through the sea: and all in Moses were baptised in the cloud and in the sea. And all thus eating spiritual food, and all thus drinking spiritual drink: for they did drink from the spiritual accompanying rock: for the rock indeed was Christ” (1 Cor. 10: 1-4). Here is the 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 for preaching the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardour was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt. 10: 2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. And therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession: “And I give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and if thou bindest upon the earth, it will be bound in the Heavens: and if thou loosenest upon the earth, it will be loosened in the Heavens (Mt.16; 19). Wherefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these “keys” and the right “to bind and loosen”. And that actually it was 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 also all His Apostles: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”, – and further after this: “Whoseso sins ye remit, are remitted them: and whoseso sins ye retain, are retained” (Jn. 20: 22-23); or: “with what ye bind upon the earth, will be bound in Heaven: and with what ye loosen upon the earth, will be loosened in the Heavens” (Mt. 18: 18). Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational corner-stone – 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. Wherefore “by the passions of his own sins, – says Wisdom, – is each ensnared” (Prov. 5: 22); and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.
And 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” (Jn. 20: 15-17). Besides this, the thrice appealing of the Saviour to Peter and the thrice 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 loosen”, himself thrice bound himself 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. “Attend yourself to all the flock, – urges the Apostle Paul to church presbyters, – in which the Holy Spirit hath established ye as bishops, to shepherd the Church of the Lord God, acquired by His Blood” (Acts 20: 28); and the Apostle Peter to the elders: “Feed among you the flock of Christ, attending to it not by need, but by will and according to God: not for unrighteous profit, but zealously: not as commanding parables, but be an image 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. “For was Christ divided, or is Paul crucified according to you, or are ye baptised in the name of Peter or 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; Jn. 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 pastor lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10: 11), entrusted to Him by the Prince of pastors 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, now glorified throughout all the world.
And the Apostle Paul, being 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 with rage and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9: 1), he thirsted for blood, but – “the Living One in the Heavens mocked him” (Ps. 2: 4). When he, “having persecuted and vexed” in such manner “the Church of God” (1 Cor. 15: 9; Acts 8: 5), he came nigh to Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him: “Saul, Saul, wherefore 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, wherefore persecutest thou Me; it is terrible to thee to kick against the goad” (Acts 9: 4-5). Saul, however, “trembling and frightened”, cried out: “Who art Thou, Lord?” I am Jesus, – answered the Lord to him, – 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: “Rise up and go to the city, and it will be told thee, what thou ought to do” (Acts 9: 6). Here the Lord sends Ananias: “Rise up go upon the street” to a man, “by the name of Saul”, and baptise him, “for this one is a vessel chosen by Me, to bear My Name before pagans and rulers and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18). This vessel mustneeds be filled with My Grace. “Ananias however answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thine saints in Jerusalem: and to be here to have the authority from the high-priests to seize all calling upon 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 shalt tell him, how much mustneeds be for him to suffer about My Name” (Acts 9: 11, 15-16).
And actually the Lord did direct 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 is done the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, Paul followed soon after him, – formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed in himself his pride into humility, as means also 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 moreso than all I have laboured, yet not I, but the grace of God, which is 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 “how great the cloud of witnesses enveloping us” (Hebr. 12: 1), having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily-passable. First there passed along it “the Founder and Fulfiller of faith” our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Hebr. 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 that said: “Without Me ye are able to do nothing” (Jn. 15: 5).
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.
The young Potitus, his father asked:
“If your Faith is so true,
Would you for it give your life?”
Potitus replied: “The Savior promised
To gird all of His faithful with such strength
That for Him one could easily suffer.
In that also I hope, and I greatly believe
That I could suffer for my Christ.
Father, my God is great and glorious,
Miraculous and mighty, living and life-giving.
He, the young David, helped in battle,
So that he claimed the head of the terrible Goliath.
With me, on the path of suffering, He will be,
So that, dark and bitter death, I can endure.”
When Gilas, the father, heard his son’s answer,
He felt he had, of wisdom, unearthly wine, drunk,
And cried out: “Where are my years?
Behold, from a child truth I have learned!”
He was baptized and numbered among the faithful–
And, in blood, Potitus was baptized a martyr.
Through their prayers and almsgiving for the deceased, Christians show forth the relationship between this world and the world to come. The Church in this world and the Church in the other world are one and the same–one body, one being–as the root of a tree beneath the earth comprise one organism with the trunk and the branches of the tree above the earth. It is clear from this how we, who comprise the Church on earth, can receive help from the saints and the righteous ones in the Heavenly Church, as the deceased sinners in the other world can receive help from us on earth. St. Athanasius says: “As it happens with wine inside a barrel–that when the vineyard blooms in the field, the wine somehow senses it, and blossoms in fragrance itself–so it is with the souls of sinners. They receive some relief from the Bloodless Sacrifice offered for them in charity,” performed for their repose. St. Ephraim the Syrian cites that same example with wine and the vineyard and concludes: “And so, when there exists such mutual sensitivity even among plants, are not prayer and sacrifice felt even more so by the departed ones?”
To contemplate the miraculous changing of water into wine (St. John 2:1-11):
1. How the Lord, at the marriage at Cana, changed the water into wine;
2. How even my soul, if it is wedded to the Living God, transforms its earthly wateriness into a divine beverage.
About how we should rejoice in Christ
“In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6).
Thus speaks St. Peter the Apostle, whose life was filled with many temptations and frequent sorrows. Thus speaks the man who left his home and family and followed Christ; who for the sake of Christ endured many difficulties–from hunger, from thirst, from the Jews, from the Romans, from false prophets, from cruel heathens–and who in the end was crucified on a cross, all for the sake of Christ the Lord. He who in this life was mercilessly scourged with great sorrows and great temptations counsels us to rejoice in Christ, so that this joy may swallow up all our comparatively lesser sorrows and temptations.
But why, brethren, should we rejoice in Christ? Because He revealed and showed us the reality of the greatest and most beautiful hopes and dreams of mankind.
He revealed to us the One Living, Omnipotent, All-wise, and All-merciful God, Who gave us the privilege of calling ourselves His sons.
He revealed and showed us the immortal and eternal life: life incomparably better than this life on earth.
He revealed to us the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of angels and the righteous, the kingdom of all good, of the light of truth and of justice.
He revealed and showed to us the goal of our existence here on earth, and the purpose of all our efforts and sufferings in this transient life.
He revealed to us the ocean of heavenly joy, before which all of our present sorrows and temptations are like drops of muddy water, which are unable to muddy that ocean.
O brethren, what joy awaits us! O brethren, how small a price does our Lord ask of us to purchase this joy, in which the angels bathe and in which the righteous swim! All that is required from us is simply to fulfill a few of His short commandments!
O Lord Jesus, all-miraculous Source of joy, our boast and our pleasure, our glory and our thanks, place Your finger on our mouths and do not let a single drop of muddy sorrow and temptation poison us.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.