My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Once again, we find ourselves at a crossroads on the calendar. Everyone who follows the new calendar is celebrating today the feast of SS Peter and Paul, which marks the end of the Apostles Fast begun this past Monday. According to our diocesan calendar, today we celebrate the Sunday of the Saints of Carpatho-Rus, the holy men and women from the geographic area where the Carpatho-Russian people came from. Right here in our own parish, we celebrate the patronal feast of St. Paul, and since this year marks the 2000th Anniversary of the Birth of St. Paul, a Pauline year began yesterday in Rome, with Solemn Vespers for the Feast of SS Peter & Paul at the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, jointly celebrated by our Holy Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.
Clearly there are several reasons worth celebrating today, and there are choices of what readings are to be taken. In the most Solomon like way, I took both Gospel readings prescribed for today, because I believe that they go hand in hand, for we read of Jesus’ initial call to his disciples, where they left their boats and nets by the seashore and immediately followed Him. As we continued in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we read of Jesus asking His Disciples who they believe the Son of Man is. Peter boldly proclaimed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus, in turn, promoted Peter to the first Disciple, giving him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
Since we’re talking about saints today in general, and since we’re celebrating the feast of SS Peter and Paul, let’s talk a bit about the saints. First of all, what is a saint? There may be several textbook answers, but truthfully, a saint is a sinner with a past and figured out how to change. Our blessed Orthodox church glorifies many saints who were less than perfect, for the saints had their struggles, just like the rest of us ordinary people. Look at St. Peter, for example. Even he ran away from our Lord during his time of suffering and trial. It was a natural reaction for St. Peter to flee, rather than be apprehended by the authorities for being a collaborator with Jesus. But our good St. Peter had a moment for redemption after remembering our Lord’s promise to him, “Before the rooster crows this day, you will deny me three times.” Peter was ashamed of his actions, and he wept bitterly. Peter was now faced with a choice. He could have slithered away, choosing to go back to fishing, carry a grudge, and be an angry man the rest of his days, but he didn’t. Peter couldn’t stand the thought of being separated from Jesus, and instead, he rose up and did what was required of him as a Servant of God. When he heard from the women that they had seen Jesus, he ran to the tomb to see for himself. He rejoined the Disciples, and became their leader, just as our Lord Himself rewarded Him in today’s Gospel reading. Peter was honored with the title as the first Vicar of Christ on earth. He was a zealous preacher and defender of the Gospel, and ultimately, he died as a martyr for the faith. In fact, tradition tells us he was also crucified, but he begged to be crucified upside down, as he felt unworthy to die in the same way as did Jesus. Peter had a good start, then he fell, but was forgiven, and he worked hard the rest of his days for a cause much greater than himself.
Along with the story of St. Peter, we have the story of our blessed patron,
It was on the road to
And what about the Saints of Carpatho-Rus, as we see them depicted in the icon on the tetrapod this morning? Similar type stories can be told of each one, in that they had ordinary lives, and at some point, they too were smacked by the grace of God to understand there were more important things then themselves. God had a mission for them – he wanted to use them as examples to the faithful.
One such person depicted on this icon, as well as in a separate icon on the tetrapod is St. Alexis Toth, a Greek Catholic priest in the late 1800’s, who endured the ignorance of a Latin rite Bishop who wanted to suppress and eventually eliminate Eastern Christianity among the church in
Do you see the pattern here, my brothers and sisters? All of our saints had a past. Some of these saints whom we glorify did dastardly things. They cursed their fellow man, they robbed, stole, beat, cheated, even killed. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them, each in His own way, enlightened them, and made them to realize that something was missing in their lives. That something is God. The grace of God in His forgiveness allowed them to change into beings on fire for Christ. That grace of the Holy Spirit enabled them as ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
God also interacted with the victims of these dastardly people, too. Go back again to the Acts of the Apostles, when Paul was instructed to meet Ananias. The Lord instructed him, “Rise and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of
As our saints all had a past, all of us have a past too. We have all done things, or said things that are regrettable and unfortunate. But, just as we have a past, we also have a future. If God will forgive us through the grace of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of Confession for the wrongs we have done, for the cruel words spoken, for all of the evil set before us by the devil himself in this world, then surely, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are capable of forgiving each other. Certainly, we should be just as capable as our early church fathers to forgive, to trust, and to move on and become zealous laborers for the Lord. Truly, this is how the saints lived their lives, and it is exactly what God expects of us if we want to be counted among His Disciples, for He told us Himself, if you would be my disciple, you must first deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.
So my brothers and sisters in Christ, think about this and reflect upon it today as we commemorate these saintly people depicted in icons on our tetrapod. And let me be the first to say, with all humility, if I have offended you, or treated you badly in any way, I beg your forgiveness, as a Disciple of Christ. Amen.