Homily of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America

Synaxis of the Holy and Glorious Twelve Apostles
Sunday, June 30, 2019

St. Paul's Cathedral
Hempstead, NY

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers, beloved children in the Lord!

As we already noted last Sunday, the Feast of All Saints, we commenced the lectionary of the Gospel of Matthew. Today, we find ourselves at the second Sunday of Matthew; but since today the Church also celebrates the Synaxis – the festival – of the Apostles, the Readings from the Scripture are prescribed to match the position and labors of the Holy Apostles in the Church.

Today’s feast is an extension of yesterday’s – of the Chiefs of the Apostles Peter and Paul (which is of course the joyous Nameday of this wonderful Church of Saint Paul). This is why the hymnology of the Church is similar for both days in the composition of the hymns for these two days, as the feast continues to focus on the unity of the People of God – both of the Old and the New Covenants – in one common witness of the revelation of God. We hear the Apostle Paul enrolled in the choir of the Eleven Apostles in the fourth hymn of the Lauds (fourth tone):

“Peter and Paul, the husbandmen of the Word, Andrew, Iakovos, and the wise John; Bartholomew and Philip; Thomas, Matthew, Simon, Jude, holy James – honored world wide! The Twelve Apostles, who preached throughout the world the All-Holy Trinity, God – eternal in His nature. You who are the unhewn and immovable pillars and towers of the Church, intercede with the Master of all to save our souls.”

The event of Pentecost is the central point for the position and witness of everyone the Church enrolls – both the Apostle Paul and all Christians, as the hymn says:

“O Apostles, you have received the grace of the Divine Spirit, which truly abides in you; you have apportioned this grace for us, Peter and Paul giving teachings to all the uttermost ends of the whole world.”[1]

Today’s Reading from the Holy Gospel is from the ninth and tenth chapters of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, where the names of the Twelve Disciples are listed in accordance with their original calling, and this includes Judas. The bestowal of authority on the Disciples enables them to cast out unclean spirits and to heal the sickness, physical and spiritual, of their fellow man, in the time after the Fall. Of course, their example of healing was the One who empowered them, the Lord Christ Who came preaching and healing! This first exercise of their Apostolic work by the Disciples is a foretelling of Pentecost.

Christ, as Lord, Creator, and bestower of life grants to every human being the preeminent gift of self-determination and of a continual ascent to advance from glory to glory. But there are people who, having received grace of God’s goodness, cast it away and blacken their souls, as did Judas and the fallen angels. This is true, because God is only good and the source of goodness, whether we, His creation, receive His goodness or not.

The mission – which has the same root as “Apostle” in Greek – of the Disciples from the beginning was to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. We read this in today’s Gospel, and not to the Gentiles, who were the people of idol-worship, nor to the Samaritans, the Israelites who have inter-married with Romans and Greek and were not considered by the others to be genuinely Jewish. Christ did this to instruct his Disciples, to strengthen them for their pastoral work, beginning with the people of Israel who had preserved, even in a corrupted form, the witness of their Prophets concerning the Coming in the Flesh of the Son and Word of God, the Lord of Glory, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, as we hear in the Lord’s Prayer.

Beyond that, at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading, we hear that when Christ beheld the masses, he was deeply moved with compassion, as they were like lost sheep without a shepherd. When, therefore, it says in the Gospels that Christ preached and preformed marvels and all those wondrous deed – the miracles – it was to prepare those who were listening to recognize that He is the Incarnate Son and Word of God, Who spoke to Moses when He delivered to him the Ten Commandments, the Law, connecting them with the covenant and the promise that they were to be the Beloved People. The Lord did all these things “in word and deed,” not in secret, not exclusively in the Synagogues, but out in the open and in the presence of all the people, the masses. He acted among and independently of the Israelites – with Gentiles, Greeks and Romans – because the preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven is a shared blessing for all of humanity, and not just for Israel. The renewal of the human person and the high calling into communion with God and with one’s fellow human beings belongs to everyone, for the Son and Word of God was incarnate for all humanity, and not just one portion.

Thus, from the first calling of the Disciples to preach unto Israel, the Disciples were gradually led in instruction, as they were the eye-witnesses of the work of Christ in the world. As such, they were the recipients of the grace of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and became the shepherds of all the Nations even unto the ends of the earth. Their authority was not to lord over the world, but rather to preach the Resurrection and the Kingdom of Heaven. Setting aside all prejudices, malice, hypocrisy and egotism, let us, like the Apostles, hold fast to the message of the unity and brotherhood of all people, which accords with our common existence and nature.

 

[1] Canon of the Chiefs of the Apostles, first Ode, tone four, third stanza.