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THE APOSTLES AND THE MISSION

THE APOSTLES AND THE MISSION

Synaxis-of-the-Twelve-Apostles02

Metropolitan Avgoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina [1]

Metropolitan Augoustinos Kantiotes of Florina 

The twelve Apostles! These are the twelve foundation stones upon which the Church is built, while Christ himself is the cornerstone; these are the twelve trumpets whose sound goes out to the ends of the earth; these are the twelve stars which illumine the spiritual sky of the Church! I am not here today to show the spiritual film of the lives of the Holy Apostles, but rather I will have to be satisfied with providing a general picture of their work and making a few observations.

The life of the Apostles is divided into two periods: the period before they met Christ and the period following their meeting with him. The day of that meeting was a moment of great change in their lives. Indeed, whoever has met Christ and has repented of his sins has lived this experience; his life too is divided into two epochs, one dark and one light. Do you see your life as being divided in this way? Have you marked that day when you cut your life in two with a knife?

Before the day they met Christ, the Apostles lived a quiet life. Have you been to the islands? Have you seen how the fishermen live? This is roughly how the Apostles lived. They went out fishing at night and when they returned in the morning they sold the fish they had caught; this is how they earned their bread. And, most of them being married, they knew the joy of being the head of a family, of seeing their wives and children gathered around their table.

They did not live their whole lives like this, however. They did not die at home with their families, but instead they abandoned quietude, entered into the great battle, and finished their lives in prison. Why? Why such a change in their lives? How could they leave their homes and get caught up in such an affair? What drew them into this? It is an easy thing for a man to leave his wife, his children, his home and go roaming far away? What was it that changed everything? What happened? Something happened that human words cannot describe!

One day they were throwing out their nets and there appeared before them on the seashore someone unknown to them, someone who today continues to be the Great Unknown! Who is this ‘unknown’? Let us bear his name! Let us go to church and light candles to him! He is unknown. He is Christ! If you ask a thousand people, only one will know Christ. Why? Because if you were to open the hearts of men you will find only three loves: the love of money, the love of pleasure, and the love of glory. If we were to open the hearts of the Apostles however, we would find no such loves. Within them a great fire was lit, a divine fire, a heavenly fire which is called the love of Christ. And what was Christ’s commandment to them? What did he say that caused them to change? “Follow me”![2] And from that time forward they followed him and their life changed.

It is as if I can now see before me these men whose feet we are not worthy to kiss. They are preparing to leave behind their nets, houses, their weeping wives, their homeland, their world. There, as they are about to start out, I approach them and ask, “Who has caused you to get up and go? Where are you going?” And they all answer with one accord, “We are going to subject the world to Christ!” “Who are you to undertake such a thing?” I ask, “And by what power will you accomplish this? Where is your money, your knowledge, your weapons?” “We have none,” they answer. “Our only weapon is our faith in Christ.” And off they go. Blessed is that moment when they set out on the path of the Gospel, flying from hill to hill to preach Christ!

In order that you might understand what a difficult thing it was that they did, I will give you an analogy. Imagine that you took twelve sheep and threw them into a pen full of hungry wolves. Would there be anything left of them? Christ told them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”[3] The Pharisees, the emperors, the officers, the philosophers – all wolves! But now, what do see? What do I hear? The sheep have defeated the wolves! And not only did they defeat them, but they turned the wolves into lambs! They made the wild holy, and the idolaters Christians! How did this happen? If you read the scriptures, you will find a prophesy which says, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb.”[4] This has come to fruition through the Holy Apostles. They have made the wolves into sheep, taming them and making them part of Christ’s flock, too.

A pious emperor, seeking to honor their memory, built the famous Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople and ordered that the manner of death of each be inscribed on a marble plaque so that the whole city might remember and honor them. The Apostles did not die in their homes with their wives by their side; rather, they died scattered at the ends of the earth. They died for us; they are the world’s greatest benefactors. On that plaque is written the following: first, Peter was beheaded at Rome; second, Andrew was crucified on Patra; third, John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, died in exile on Patmos; fourth, James was beheaded like a lamb in Jerusalem; fifth, Bartholomew was martyred in India; sixth, Thomas was run through with spears in India, and so on until the thirteenth, Paul, was beheaded in a Roman prison. Never has the world owed so much to so few!

These, my beloved brethren, were the Apostles. But we today, what are we? Priests, bishops, archbishops, patriarchs, all of us clergy, we are their successors. But I wonder, do we bear the apostolic character? Do we have the Holy Spirit, do we preach, do we live selflessly, innocently, like angels? Now is not the time for me to rebuke the holy clergy, to ask whether they have faith, love, or zeal. I am now addressing the laity and to them I would say the following:

Roughly how many people have come to church today? Maybe a little more, maybe a little less than two hundred? There were only twelve Apostles and they changed the world! What might two-hundred Christians accomplish! I am not saying that you should do what they did, that you should go to far-off Africa, Asia, India, or somewhere else. Let us instead become little apostles. Somewhere nearby there are people who are waiting. There are the poor who do not have bread to eat, there are the sick who are looking for a visit, there are heretics who are suffering in their delusion, there are sinners who have not confessed in decades. What are these waiting for? They are waiting for us! Let us run to them! Assembled here today we are two hundred. Do you want to honour the Apostles? I put on my stole and give you a kanona: you will go to Hell if you do not lead one soul to Christ. Who will be that soul that you bring close to him? Try to free one soul from the nets of the devil this year. A Christian who does not benefit others, who does not bring others close to Christ, is no Christian! Amen.

a representation of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople

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[1]               From the book Εμπνευσμένα Κηρύγματα Ορθοδόξου Ομολογίας και Αγιοπατερικής Πνοής (Orthodoxos Kypseli: Thessaloniki, 2011), 41-45. Translated by Rev Dr John Palmer.

[2]               Matthew 4:19.

[3]               Matthew 10:16.

[4]               Isaiah 11:6.

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