Apostles Feast 2002
by Rev . Fr. John-Brian Paprock, Madison, Wisconsin USA
[originally published in the Indian Orthodox Herald, July 2002]
Why do we still follow the apostles? After almost 2000 years, perhaps a better question is: DO we follow the apostles?
At the end of our creed, at every Qurbana, we say that we believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. In services for almost all occasions, we listen to wise counsel of scripture written by Apostolic writers - the Holy Gospel and the Epistles. We acknowledge (often with great pride) that St. Thomas was the Apostle that established churches in India in the first century. Our sister churches tap apostolic roots at their historic beginnings as well: St. Mark at Egypt, St. Andrew and St. Bartholomew at Armenia, St. Philip at Ethiopia, St. Paul at Antioch - among other saints and fore bearers.
But DO we follow the apostles? Are we "Apostolic"? Apostolic means "of the Apostles." Are we "of the Apostles"? The Holy Apostles were commissioned by Our Lord Jesus Christ to do specific things. There were disciples, those under discipline, who were also given specific instructions by Our Lord. There were also followers of "the way" both when Christ was in ministry for three years and many that have followed since. Apostles, however, were given greater responsibility and greater grace.
The word "apostle" denotes one that has been commissioned. Since most people in our modern litigious society know about contracts, a commission can be considered a broader and more pervasive contract. One can be commissioned into the armed forces as an officer or one can commission a piece of art from an artist. There is contractual expectation and compensation. Promises are made.
If we are of the Holy Apostles, then we, as a church, have entered into those promises. We follow them on "the way" as they followed Christ. We follow the Apostles in the legacy and with the promises that are living elements of our One Holy Universal Church.
But didn't the Apostles establish many churches in different nations, so how is Holy Orthodoxy's view different from protestants who seem to found churches all the time? If the Apostles established only one church, shouldn't we have only one leader, one hierarch above all other hierarchs? Capturing the Orthodox Christian view, John M. Black wrote (June 2002) in an email: "If God wanted the Papal model, the Holy Spirit would have been sent to only one of the Apostles. If God wanted the Protestant model, the Holy Spirit would have been sent to each Apostle separately." We look to Christ as the head of the Body, that is the Apostolic Church, and look to the wisdom of diversity within the One True Apostolic Faith.
What has it been to follow the Apostles? Holy Orthodoxy is the Church of Christ through the Apostles through history, but that is not to say that it exists only as a historic reservoir. One of the easiest mistakes to make about our Church is to forget that the Divine Work of salvation is a contemporary activity - it is here and now. The fact of historic apostolic tradition is only a confirmation of its contemporary status. Indeed, it has existed at each moment of history since Christ breathed the spirit upon the chosen Apostles and gave them the mission to bring the good news of salvation to all nations. The mission is also contemporary, but it is also ancient. The Apostolic Mission is fulfilled and completed in Holy Orthodoxy and, at the same time, it continues as a living purpose in society. Such is the nature of eternal truths, they exist in antiquity and in modernity. Truly we are an ancient church for modern society.
We need to present our faith as a living conscious faith. Holy Qurbana must not be celebrated, because that is the way it has been done before, but because we are living out our faith and have contemporary, modern needs that the ancient rituals of Qurbana fulfill. Our altars are not museum novelties, but places of living spirit and angelic presence. All of the Apostles, Saints and Holy Ones are present with us in the Apostolic Church - here and now! For we know that there is no death to those that know and love the Lord, that have faithfully adhered to the teachings given; with penance and contrition; with joy and forgiveness; with praise and thanksgiving. Let us not forget that Holy Orthodoxy is a spiritual reality.
"The Church, it is true, may not be removed completely from the world, for people enter her who are still living on the earth, and therefore the 'earthly' element in her composition and external organization is unavoidable; yet the less of this 'earthly' element there is, the better it will be for her eternal goals. In any case, this 'earthly' element should not obscure or suppress the purely spiritual element—the matter of salvation of the soul unto eternal life—for the sake of which the Church was both founded and exists." Archbishop Averky, (Orthodox Life, May-June, 1976)
It is this spiritual reality of our salvation, our spiritual health, our wholeness, that is the reason why we still follow the Apostles. And why so many others wish to do so, even if all they have of the Apostles is a contemporary version of the New Testament.
But DO we follow the Apostles? Yes! Holy Orthodoxy is the pearl of great price gifted to all who have found the path made firm by the Apostles. We know the church in her completeness is the fullness of Christ bodily and we, as baptized Orthodox Christians in Holy Communion with the Church, are the fruit of the Apostles. If we walk the path of spiritual development by partaking of the living Church in this present moment, with all that entails, then we follow the Apostles.
"They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers." Acts 2:42
Knowing this, do YOU follow the Apostles?
"Illumined with the holy light of the spiritual sun, O blessed Apostles, you shine in the world like stars with the light of the Godhead and drive away the darkness of error" ancient church hymn