Friday, June 27, 2014


by Fr. Deacon Pedro Fulop

The Acts of the Apostles devotes its first part to the ministry of St Peter in the Holy Land. The second part concentrates on the ministry of St. Paul in Asia Minor and Europe. In the middle we find reports of the first controversy among the Christians: whether Gentile converts must observe the Law of Moses as well as believing in Christ. The original Christian community in Jerusalem, led by James, the Lord’s Brother, was composed of believing Jews. They objected to Peter receiving Gentiles into the Church. Peter defended his actions because the Gentile believers had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Jerusalem believers responded in awe, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 10:18). The controversy erupted again, however, when St Paul was sent by the Church of Antioch to preach Christ in Cyprus and Asia Minor. Although he first taught in the Jewish synagogues he soon gained a greater following among the Gentiles. When Paul returned to Antioch and reported what he had done, news spread to Jerusalem. Jewish believers in Christ from Jerusalem told Paul’s Gentile converts that they also had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses.
St Peter was drawn into the controversy when he came to Antioch, as St Paul describes in Galatians 2: “I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision”(Gal 2:11-12). Ultimately, the dispute was taken to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. There Peter defended Paul, saying “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10) A popular icon shows the reconciled apostles embracing. Finally James issued his ruling as head of the local Church: Gentile converts to Christ need only abstain from “things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29). Here the apostles retained the practice recorded in the story of Noah where God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it” (Genesis 9:4). Since strangled animals do not shed blood they too were forbidden. The ban on consuming blood was frequently repeated during the first centuries for a reason not found in Acts. We continue to observe this ban on fast days. We do not eat meat or fish, which have red blood, but may eat shellfish which do not. St Peter is traditionally said to have remained in Antioch for seven years while St Paul continued on his missionary journeys. Peter’s family is said to have remained there and, as far back as the first century AD, people in Antioch were claiming descent from the chief apostle.


The last chapters of Acts speak of St. Paul’s journey to Rome. Arrested in Jerusalem, he was tried by the Roman procurator, Porcius Festus. Paul, claiming his right as a Roman citizen, appealed to be heard by Caesar himself. The procurator acceded, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go” (Acts 25:12). Acts concludes by saying that, once in Rome St Paul lived under guard “two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 28:30-31). As a Roman citizen, St Paul was ultimately beheaded. St Peter’s connection with Rome is not documented in Scripture, but written evidence from as early as the second century attests that he was thought to have preached there, where he was crucified upside down at his own request, feeling unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus did. Two great churches were built over their burial places in the fourth century by St Constantine the Great. He erected St Peter’s on the Vatican Hill, which was replaced in the sixteenth century by the basilica we see today. Following modern excavations the bones of a man in his 60s was unearthed there and on June 26, 1968 Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been identified.
Constantine also commissioned St Paul’s Outside the Walls which has been enlarged and rebuilt several times in the succeeding centuries. The saint’s body lies in a crypt below the altar, except for his head which is enshrined in the pope’s cathedral, St John Lateran.
Throughout history the Church of Rome has been considered pre-eminent because of the presence of these two apostles. Tertullian perhaps expressed it best: “What a happy Church that is, on which the apostles poured out their whole doctrine with their blood; where Peter had a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John [the Baptist, by being beheaded].”

The Church Praises the Apostles:
With what garlands of praise shall we crown Peter and Paul, the greatest of the heralds of the Word of God, distinct in their person, but one in spirit – the one the chief of the apostles, the other who labored more than all the rest? Christ God, who is most merciful, fittingly crowned them both with diadems of glory and immortality.

What songs of praise could be worthy of Peter and Paul? They are like two wings on which the knowledge of God spreads out to the far ends of the earth and soars aloft to Heaven, two hands from which the Gospel pours forth grace, two feet on which the doctrine of truth travels about the world, two rivers of wisdom, two arms of the cross through which the merciful Christ casts down the pride of demons!
With what spiritual songs shall we praise Peter and Paul? The voices of the fearful Sword of the Spirit, the illustrious ornament of Rome, the delight of the whole world, the God-inspired tablets of the New Testament, conceived and uttered in Sion by Christ, the all-merciful God!


by Fr. Deacon Pedro Fulop

THE HOLY APOSTLE PETER: The son of Jonah and brother of Andrew the First-Called, of the tribe of Simeon and the town of Bethsaida, he was a fisherman and was at first called Simon, but the Lord was pleased to call him Cephas, or Peter (Jn 1:42). He was the first of the disciples to give clear expression to his faith in the Lord Jesus, saying: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Mt 16:16). His love for the Lord was very strong, and his faith in Him went from strength to strength. When the Lord was put on trial, Peter denied him three times, but it needed only one look into the face of the Lord, and Peter's soul was filled with shame and repentance. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter became a fearless and powerful preacher of the Gospel. After his first sermon in Jerusalem, about 3,000 souls were converted to the Faith. He preached the Gospel throughout Palestine and Asia Minor, in Italy and Illyria. He performed many wonders, healing the sick and raising the dead, and even his shadow had the power of healing the sick. He had a major struggle with Simon the Magician, who declared himself to be from God but was actually a servant of the devil. He finally put him to shame and overcame him. Peter was condemned to death on the order of the wicked Emperor Nero, a friend of Simon's. After installing Linus as Bishop of Rome and exhorting and encouraging the flock of Christ there, Peter went to his death with joy. When he saw the cross before him, he asked the executioner to crucify him upside-down, because he felt himself unworthy to die in the same way as his Lord. And so this great servant of the greatest Master went to his rest and received a crown of eternal glory.

 THE HOLY APOSTLE PAUL: Born in Tarsus and of the tribe of Benjamin, he was formerly called Saul and studied under Gamaliel. He was a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians. He was wondrously converted to the Christian faith by the Lord Himself, who appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He was baptized by the Apostle Ananias, named Paul and enrolled in the work of the Great Apostles. He preached the Gospel everywhere with burning zeal, from the borders of Arabia to the land of Spain, among both the Jews and the heathen, and receiving the title of "The Apostle to the Gentiles." His fearful sufferings were matched only by his superhuman endurance. Through all the years of his preaching, he hung from day to day like a thread between life and death. Filling his days and nights with toil and sufferings for Christ, organizing the Church in many places and receiving a high level of perfection, he was able to say: "I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). He was beheaded in Rome in the reign of Nero, at the same time as St. Peter.

O holy apostles, Peter and Paul, I choose you this day and forever to be my special patrons and advocates; thee, St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, because thou art the Rock, upon which Almighty God hath built His Church; thee, St. Paul, because thou was fore-chosen by God as the Vessel of election and the Preacher of truth in the whole world. Obtain for me, I pray you, lively faith, firm hope and burning love; complete detachment from myself, contempt of the world, patience in adversity, humility in prosperity, attention in prayer, purity of heart, a right intention in all my works, diligence in fulfilling the duties of my state of life, constancy in my resolutions, resignation to the will of God and perseverance in the grace of God even unto death; that so, by means of your intercession and your glorious merits, I may be able to overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and may be made worthy to appear before the chief and eternal Shepherd of souls, Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for endless ages, to enjoy His presence and love Him forever. Amen. O God, whose right hand raised up blessed Peter, when he walked upon the water and began to sink, and thrice delivered his fellow-Apostle Paul from the depths of the sea, when he suffered shipwreck: graciously hear us and grant, by the merits of them both, that we also may attain unto everlasting glory: Who lives and reigns world without end. Amen.


by Fr. Deacon Pedro Fulop

“Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Every prayer, as every act of the Christian, is ordained ultimately, not only to his own fulfillment in the “vision of God” in heaven, but also to the transformation and consummation of all things in Christ. In Christ all that is, is full of possibilities for beauty, truth, community and justice. The Christian is vowed to draw out all these possibilities into the realities of this world. All of reality invites him to respond to goodness with goodness of his own. The swaying and sounds and whispers of nature and of man are a continual prayer that brings God to man. The Christian hears within his soul these cries and sighs and longing, and he brings them in an upward movement of praise and glory to God. This vision of the praying Christian is most explicitly clarified in the Litany of Peace, which opens our Divine Liturgy. In this litany, the Christian gathers within himself the public servants: authorities both religious and civil; cities, country places and all those who live in them, the travelers by sea, land and air; the sick and those who suffer and those forgotten brothers who are in prisons. The Christian lives deeply in touch with all the troubles of the world and feels the pain of human life intensely. He brings all the earth and whatever it contains to God for His mercy, and dedicates himself for its healing and welfare.
When Christ ascended the cross, He succeeded in spreading over the whole world more of Himself, more of love and salvation than there will ever be of death, hatred, self-centeredness and sin. The mercy of God is the life-giving perpetuation of the divine energy of the Redeemer’s love, an outpouring of love and goodness that sanctifies and divinizes. The mercy of God is God Himself in His transforming presence. It is He, the Bread broken for all, generously given and completely surrendered. The cry of “Lord, have mercy,” therefore, invokes the divine presence on the whole of creation, upon mankind and matter, upon the whole world thought of as gathered in the one embrace of Christ. Many are the needs. Many, therefore, are the cries for mercy. The rhythm of the intentions and the repetition of the “Lord, have mercy” is the manifestation of the all-embracing concern of Christ and of the Christian’s heart. It teaches the individual and the community their true relation with the world and with all mankind as it makes them go beyond themselves to embrace the whole world, all mankind and every circumstance, and carry them in their prayer and in their daily life.
This litany of intentions is the vibrant acclamation of the Christian that everything and everyone belongs to God’s kingdom, where saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever are at home, and where all share in the peace of God. It proclaims the universality of the embrace of Christ which the Christian makes his own. The praying Christian realizes here that he is the brother of all and responsible for all. This is the kingdom of God!
In the antiphons, Christians witness to the goodness of the Lord and shout their own hopes and joys at the sight of Christ’s action of salvation. Historically speaking, the antiphons were popular demonstrations and processions through the streets and winding roads of a given locality, from church to church, leading to the main Church where the celebration had to take place. These processions were meant to gather on their way the “good and the sinners, inviting every one, believer and unbeliever, to the wedding-feast of the King” (Matt 22:8).
The word antiphon means a refrain to a reading or to a rhetorical declamation often repeated during the course of a procession. Antiphons are devised to provoke in people enthusiasm, and joy, and to help them see the goodness of God who hears the immense desire of humanity. Humanity sighs and longs for the coming of the Savior, and God bends toward the earth, sending His Son to be incarnate. Salvation is then seen as present and already working among us. These street demonstrations, as they are worked out in the antiphons, end in a peaceful and nerve-relaxing hymn which sings the presence of the Son among men:

Only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal as You are! You condescended for our salvation to take flesh of the holy Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, and without undergoing change, You became man. You were crucified, O Christ God, and crushed Death by Your death. You are One of the Holy Trinity, equal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit: save us.

Once we have seen that the promises of God and the expectations of His people have been fulfilled, we understand that the wedding-feast is open to all and in full progress. An excited air runs through the congregation: the Bridegroom is now coming! We prepare to receive Him. The ministers form a great procession with lighted candles, covered with a cloud of incense. The bejeweled Holy Gospel book, which is the symbol and sign of Jesus Christ Himself, is carried high on the head of the celebrant or the deacon.

The whole assembly rises to honor the coming of the Lord, using singing, imagination and all the human emotions. Everyone bows profoundly at the passage of Christ, adoring Him really present in His book of life. By bowing and by many signs of the cross, everyone proclaims his or her readiness to hear his voice and heed the lessons of His love. The Gospel Book is thus brought with solemnity and majesty into the midst of the congregation and finally to the sanctuary. The priest, standing in front of the altar, raises the Gospel Book and shows it to the people, thus symbolizing the manifestation of the Lord, when He began to appear to the multitudes. For the Gospel represents Christ in the same way that the books of the Old Testament are called the Prophets.