Sermon of the Feast of St. Peter and Paul (Part II)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

A PRAYER OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT

+In the Name of the Fathers and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Lord, our God You have given Your peace to mankind; and the gift of the All-Holy Spirit You have sent to Your disciples and apostles, opening their lips with fiery tongues by Your power. Open also the lips of us sinners and teach us how and for what we should pray. Lord, govern our life for You are the calm harbor for those who are storm-tossed. And make know to us the way we should go. Renew a right spirit within us, and establish our spiritual instability with Your governing Spirit. Each day, may we be guided brightly by Your Good Spirit toward what is beneficial for us, being empowered to observe Your Commandments, to remember always Your Glorious Presence, which leads us to see the salvation, accomplished by You for mankind, and not to be deceived by the corrupting pleasures of this world. Strengthen us, Lord, to desire rather the delight of future blessings, for You are truly Blessed and praised among Your Saints unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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On June 30th our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates: The Synaxis of the Holy, Glorious, and All-Famed Twelve Apostles.

The names of the Twelve Holy Apostles are these: Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew, the First-Called; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, who was also the Evangelist and Theologian; Philip, and Bartholomew (see also June 11th); Thomas, and Matthew the publican, who was also called Levi and was an Evangelist; James the son of Alphaeus, and Jude (also called Lebbaeus, and surnamed Thaddaeus), the brother of James, the Brother of God; Simon the Cananite ("the Zealot"), and Matthias, who was elected to fill the place of Judas the traitor (see August 9th).

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Third Tone

O Holy Apostles, intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion Hymn. Second Tone

Now Christ God, the Rock, doth glorify the rock of faith illustriously, the first of the disciples' choir, with great Paul together with all the company of the Twelve today; as we keep their memory with faith, we glorify Him that glorified them all.

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SERMON ON THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, LEADERS OF THE HOLY APOSTLES (Part II)
By Saint Gregory Palamas

The first traitor, who incited the first man to desert God, saw Him Who had earlier made Adam, the father of the human race, later re-creating Peter as the first of all true worshipers. He not only saw, but also heard the Creator saying to Peter: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (St. Matt. 16:18). Once the prince of evil found this out, being the epitome of wicked envy, he tempted Peter, the first leader of God's faithful people, as he had previously tempted Adam, the founder of the race of men. Realizing that Peter was endowed with intelligence and afire with love for Christ, he did not dare to make a direct attack. Instead he came upon him from the right flank, cunningly deceiving him into being excessively eager. At the time of the saving Passion, when the Lord told His disciples: "All ye shall be offended because of me this night" (St. Matthew 26:31), Peter disobediently contradicted Him. He also exalted himself above the others, saying that even if everyone else were offended, he would not be (St. Matthew 26:33). Because he had been beguiled into arrogance, he fell further than the rest, so that by humbling himself more than them he might eventually appear more radiant. Unlike Adam who was tempted, vanquished and completely brought down, Peter, having been tempted and led astray a little, overcome the tempter. How? Through immediate condemnation of himself, his intense sorrow and repentance, and the medicine which brings forgiveness, tears. "A broken and contrite heart", it says, "O God, Thou will not despise" (Psalm 51[50]:17), and "Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of" (2 Corinthians 7:10), and "They that sow their supplications in tears shall joyfully reap forgiveness" (cf. Psalm 126:5).

Anyone who looks at Peter will see that through repentance and painful grief he not only adequately healed the denial into which he which he had been drawn, but he also completely rooted out of his soul that passion which had made him fall behind the others. Wishing to demonstrate this to everyone, the Lord, after His Passion in the flesh for our sake and His rising on the third day, used those words to Peter which we read in today's Gospel, asking him: "Simon, son of Jonah, lovest Me more than these?" (St. John 21:15), meaning, "more than these disciples of mine". But see how much humbler he has become. Whereas before, even without being asked, he set himself above the rest and said that even if all forsook the Lord, he would not; now, on being asked whether he loves Him more than the others do, he affirms that he loves Him, but leaves out the word "more", saying: "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee" (St. John 21:15, 16, cf. 17).

What does the Lord do? Since Peter has shown that he has not lost his love for Him and has now acquired humility as well, He openly fulfills the promise made long before and tells him: "Feed my lambs" (St. John 21:15). When He was referring to the company of believers as a building, He promised to make Peter the foundation stone, saying: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (St. Matt. 16:18). On the other hand, when He was talking in terms of fishing, He made him a fisher of men with the words: "From henceforth thou shalt catch men" (St. Luke 5:10). But when He speaks of His disciples as sheep, He sets Peter over them as a shepherd, saying: "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep" (St. John 21:15-17). It is clear from this that the Lord's desire for us to be saved is so great, that He asks of those who love Him only one thing: to lead us to the pasture and fold of salvation.

Let us long to be saved, and obey those who lead us in that direction through their words and deeds. As long as each of us wishes to take the road leading to salvation, the teacher, prepared by our common Savior, is at hand, together with the Giver of salvation, Who, in His overwhelming love for mankind, is more than ready without being called or beseeched. Christ asks Peter three times so that three times he can reply affirming his faith, thus healing his threefold denial with his threefold confession. Thrice Christ appoints him over His sheep and lambs, placing under him the three categories of those being saved: slaves, hirelings and son, or, alternatively, virgins, chaste widows and those honorable married. But when Peter was asked again and again if he loved Christ, the Scripture tell us he was grieved by the repeated questioning (St. John 21:17), supposing that the Lord did not believe him. Knowing that he loved Christ, aware that his questioner knew him better than he knew himself, and feeling under pressure, Peter not only confessed that he loved Him, but also proclaimed that the Lord he loved was "God over all" (Romans 9:5), by saying, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee", because only "God who is over all" is all-knowing.

Once Peter had made this heartfelt confession, the Lord ordained him Shepherd and Chief Pastor of His whole Church, and also promised to encompass him with such strength, that he who previously was unable even to stand being spoken to an questioned by a young girl (St. John 18:17), would endure unto death, even death on a cross. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou was younger", both physically and spiritually, "thou girdest thyself", meaning, you used your own strength, "and walkest whither thou wouldst", doing what you liked and living according to your natural inclinations. "But when thou shalt be old", having reached the peak of your physical and spiritual age, "thou shalt stretch forth thy hands". With these words, Christ indicates that Peter will die on a cross, and bears witness that his crucifixion will not be involuntary. "Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee", meaning strengthen, "and carry thee whither thou wouldst not", that is to say, out of this life (cf. St. John 21:18). Our nature is unwilling to be dissolved in death, and Peter's superhuman martyrdom also demonstrates our attitude as human beings to life. "Strengthened by Me", Christ tells him, "you will willingly endure all these things for my sake and bear witness to me; for the desire to do so is not natural but supernatural to human nature."

(To be continued)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George