From The Blog

Mission Monthly – June-July 2007

“The grace of the Spirit has enlightened the Apostles of Christ; He has fearfully come down from heaven and set them on fire.”

Tuesday Matins of Pentecost Week

We are indeed blessed to have a longer Apostles Fast this year. Practically speaking, it is simply impressive that Orthodox Christians are directed to make a serious fasting effort to begin the summer. In the land of baseball, bratwurst and the Beach Boys, where “feeling the good vibrations” of summer is the norm, we're being charged to do what? In America? Right!!!

I must honestly admit that the old man in me looks with a hopeful eye to next year's Church calendar, hoping that the month of June isn't solid pink like it is this year! Whatever it may be, the length of the Apostle's Fast is directly related to the date of Pascha. When Pascha falls after late April there will be little or no Apostle's Fast; however, when Pascha falls in early April we could have four to five weeks of fasting leading up to the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. This year we have four weeks, and while the old man in me struggles, the new man in me sees the self-centeredness, immoderation and immodesty of our “good vibration” society and recognizes with full conviction the absolute and urgent need for fasting. For this particular fast challenges head-on the passionate nature of summer and the spirit of this world, which can be summed up by a quote from a popular contemporary pop-culture artist (whose name slips me at the moment),“All I want to do is have some fun.”

Last month I wrote about what it means to be a Christian. To whom do we look to find the greatest examples of those who have followed Christ? Without equivocation we look to the saints; most especially to the most holy Theotokos, St. John the Baptist and to the Holy Apostles, led by the foremost of the Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It is almost beyond comprehension when we consider how the Lord chose His Apostles, His beloved. It is even more awe-inspiring when we contemplate the response of these simple but zealous men and how they ended their earthly lives: Peter was crucified upside-down.

Andrew was crucified. James was beheaded.

John the Theologian died in a wondrous way.

Philip was crucified. Matthew was burned by fire.

Bartholomew was crucified, then flayed and beheaded.

Thomas was pierced with five spears. Thaddeus was crucified.

James the Son of Alphaeus was crucified.

Matthias was stoned, then beheaded with an axe when dead.

Simon the Zealot was crucified. Paul was beheaded.

How is it that these simple men became so holy and selfless?—By the grace of the Holy Spirit. It was grace that prepared them to hear the Word, it was grace that sustained them in their time of fear, and it was grace that eventually rooted within them, on the great day of Pentecost, all that is True, leading them on the irreversible course of apostleship as ambassadors and witnesses to the kingdom of God.

“Come, follow Me” is all Jesus said to these men and they literally dropped what they were doing and followed Him. Our God's invitation is indeed compelling. Nevertheless it took great courage for these men to do what they did, believing the radical story of the remarkable carpenter from Nazareth. Time with our Lord would eventually smooth out the rough edges of any misunderstandings, as these simple men learned little by little that the good news they were hearing had but one purpose: to bring salvation to man through love. These men, like many who heard Jesus speak, had a keen intuition in recognizing the authority in Jesus' words. It didn't take them long to discern the contrast of their God's teaching to the darkness of sin and the hopelessness of death in the world. And though eventually the Disciples of Christ would have to learn, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12), with great faith, they set their faces towards their own “contending”, wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the Gospel.

It is in this light that each of us must look at our own invitation to follow Jesus. Is there an intuition or discernment within us to recognize the authority of Jesus' words? Do we see the spiritual warfare that intensely assaults our lives in this world? Do we understand the love that has been extended to us by God who sent His Son into the world to die for us in order that we might live in newness of life? Do we believe, as obedient followers of Jesus, that we also have been called to love as He loved, and that for the sake of this call we also must be ready for our own “contending” against sin, evil and death? Hopefully the answers to these questions are, “yes” and hopefully we are actively seeking the apostolic life to which we have been called.

Beloved, the same Spirit that enlightened the Apostles and “set them on fire” is present with us today calling us to faith, to obedience, to the arena of spiritual warfare, to a self-sacrificing standard of life and love. As we journey through this Apostle's Fast, preparing ourselves to celebrate the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul, we are once again preparing ourselves to respond to our Lord's invitation, His calling to the apostolic ministry of God's Church. To be a Christian is fundamentally apostolic, our failure to live up to this calling is a distressing sin. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37-38). This is something for each of us to measure ourselves against, and to make changes where changes need to be made! The Apostles were considered insane and foolish by the standards of the world; but to us they are heroic men whose lives, and deaths, are to be honored and emulated. They responded with self-abandonment and soulful-longing, with endurance and eloquence, with tears and uncompromising courage, with the commitment to love and the readiness to die. And for their response they received the fulfillment of our Lord's promise, “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

This is the season of Apostolic renewal; let us “Look carefully then how [we] walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).