Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Above, top four images: Russian Orthodox faithful in various churches this past week in Moscow.
Bottom image, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, who turns 53 on July 24, celebrates the Divine Liturgy at the Moscow representation of the Serbian Orthodox Church on July 12, 2019
“When in ancient churches we see icons showing the Apostles having Communion, usually depicted in the Altar, we find St. Peter and five Apostles approaching the Lord from one side, and then St. Paul and five Apostles approaching Him from the other side. There is no depiction of Judas, who was present at the Last Supper, nor of Matthias, who was elected to replace Judas, but there is Paul, who joined the Apostolic community by the providence of God and who, as we heard in the Apostolic reading today, had himself said that he “worked harder than others in preaching the Gospel of Christ.” —Metropolitan Hilarion Alefeyev, in a July 12 homily for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul at a liturgy in Moscow, in which he explained the greatness of St. Paul, who began as a persecutor of the Church, then was converted and became the Apostle to the Gentiles
I write this letter at 2:33 a.m. from Lviv, Ukraine — the beautiful, flourishing cultural and spiritual heart of western Ukraine.
Tomorrow the members of our Urbi et Orbi Foundation delegation will have meetings here to discuss the religious situation in Ukraine.
But there are still many images and impressions in my mind from six days in Moscow — and I wanted to share one or two of these before they fade from my memory.
Of course, in these six days we spoke often of the challenge facing any Christian today — Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant — in a world that has become, in many ways, post-Christian, profoundly indifferent to Christianity.
And, of course, we spoke also of ecclesial developments, and of international cultural and political trends.
But these conversations paled into insignificance before the indelible impression left by the people themselves.
The harmony of the singing… the intense piety in prayer… the lighting of a candle, the kissing reverently of an icon… the careful wheeling of a handicapped man in a wheel-chair to receive communion… the bent heads of faithful confessing their sins… the attentiveness of dozens and dozens standing for long hours in reverent veneration as the ancient Byzantine liturgy, in memory of Christ but also to make Christ present today in the Eucharist, was celebrated.
When I asked, as I often do, whether these external signs of religious faith mean that there has been a renewal of religious faith in Russia, no one said that the faith is everywhere triumphant. Not at all.
Russian Orthodox piety is maintained vigorously by only a small percentage of the population. Many Russian Orthodox do not ever, or only once a year, attend a church.
And yet, there are signs of life I cannot set aside as irrelevant, or feigned.
We attended a Scripture study led by the studious and articulate assistant of Metropolitan Hilarion, Philip Champion (who studied at Cambridge). There were 30 or 40 young Russians of about age 18-30 attending. And all seemed to take very seriously the search to discern the meaning of St. Paul’s epistles to people living today.
We spoke to those young people, and they testified to us, with sincerity and cheerfulness, that the knowledge of the life and work and teaching of Jesus Christ is central to their lives.
This is in the heart of Moscow, in the heart of the former capital of the militantly atheist Soviet Union.
Make of it what you will. I try only to relay some of the things I have seen and heard.
Homily on Peter and Paul
During my visit to Moscow, our delegation was invited to attend a Russian Orthodox liturgy on the morning of July 12. The liturgy was held at the Church of St. Peter on the Yauza River, which stands on the property of the Moscow representation of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
July 12 in the Orthodox world is the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The feast falls on June 29 in the Gregorian calendar used in the west, but two weeks later, on July 12, in the Julian calendar, still used in the east.
Our presence of a delegation from the Urbi et Orbi Foundation at the liturgy was noted on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate (link).
Metropolitan Hilarion addressed the congregation with the following sermon:
The Apostles Peter and Paul
By Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
Today, the Church commemorates the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. They are called “Chief Apostles,” and we often see their images at the right hand and at the left hand of our Lord Jesus Christ.
They had a very different fate.
We hear a lot about the holy Apostle Peter in the Gospels. It is not only that all four Gospels mention him, but they also contain episodes from his life, describing how he reacted to the words and deeds of his Teacher – the Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel reading, we heard that when the Lord asked, “Who do people say that I am?”
His disciples answered: “Some say Elijah; others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
So when the Lord asked them directly: “But who do you say that I am?” it was only Peter – because he alone believed at the time or because he spoke on behalf of the whole group – who answered and said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And the Lord replied to him, saying: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19)
As we see, already during the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ, the holy Apostle Peter became the leader of 12 disciples.
He was the chief Apostle of the group, and after the Lord Jesus Christ had resurrected and ascended to heaven, it was Peter who was destined to lead this community for some time.
It was Peter who, as we read in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, was the one to initiate the election of the 12th Apostle to replace Judas the traitor who had fallen away.
And under St. Peter’s chairmanship this election took place.
What is surprising is that we read about this election in the Book of Acts and we know who was elected — a man named Matthias — but this person is never again mentioned in this book; he was chosen, and he seemed to have disappeared.
And a completely different person who was not a member of the Apostolic community, was not one of the 12 disciples of Christ, but who, moreover, was a persecutor of the Church, appears in the Book of Acts after several chapters.
A young man, who was apparently 10 to 15 years younger than the other Apostles and differed from them in education and culture: they were mostly illiterate Galilean fishermen, while he was an educated person, an expert in the Law of Moses, who studied at the feet of the distinguished Rabbi Gamaliel.
It was this man who was called by the Lord to the apostleship in a miraculous way.
He acquired letters against Christians in Damascus in order to organize the same kind of persecution that he had previously organized against the Jerusalem Christian community.
When he was approaching Damascus (we know which place is associated with that amazing event), the Lord appeared to him and asked: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”
And the man said, “Who are You, Lord?”
And the Lord answered, “I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting (Acts 9. 5-6).
This epiphany was such a shock to Saul that he was completely reborn.
He lost his physical sight for some time, but his spiritual eyes had opened.
The Lord then sent one of His disciples to him so that he would be baptized and instructed in the basics of the Christian faith.
And then, as the Apostle Paul himself said, without conferring with flesh and blood (Gal. 1.16), he went and began to preach the crucified and risen Christ.
His sermons were met with mistrust in the Apostolic community — no one could believe that a man who was yesterday a persecutor of Christianity had suddenly become an Apostle.
So when Paul came to Jerusalem and tried to join the Apostolic community, they did not want to accept him, because they thought that he was willing to destroy the Church from within. Paul, however, continued his Apostolic ministry.
He met with the Apostle Peter and they spent 15 days together.
We do not know what they were talking about, but one can imagine that the Apostle Peter was talking about Christ, and Paul seemed to have absorbed all these stories.
However, he did not absorb them to simply retell to other people.
He never just paraphrased what he heard from the Apostles, but always preached what he had received from the Lord Himself, as we learn from his Epistles.
So when Paul heard Peter’s stories, he understood that Jesus Christ, who appeared to him on the way to Damascus, was not a mere man, but God Himself who became human.
The Apostle Paul was the first to realize the wonderful and tremendous fact that Jesus Christ is not one of the prophets, not Jeremiah or Elijah, but that He is the Incarnate Son of God.
St. Paul is credited as being the person who created the Christian theology and reflected in theological terms and categories on the story recorded by the Evangelists.
Even before the Gospels were written, St. Paul began to send out his Epistles — to the Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, Galatians, Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, Hebrews.
In these epistles, Paul did not just admonish the Christians of various cities, but created a theological system that was expressed it terms which would later be used by the Church and included in its theological dictionary once and for all.
Without even realizing it, when we today are talking about Jesus Christ, we use the language created by Paul.
When reading the liturgical prayers, especially the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, we see that they are all woven from words and expressions borrowed from the Epistles of the Apostle Paul.
Surprisingly, during their lifetime the Apostles Peter and Paul were not close.
We never read about them traveling or preaching together.
Peter and John preached together for some time, they even performed miracles together.
But Peter and Paul first met for 15 days in Jerusalem, then in Antioch, where they had a conflict described in the book of Acts, and then apparently their paths diverged and, perhaps, never crossed again, because they preached in different parts of the world.
We know very little about where Peter went and preached, but we know very well where Paul traveled to share the Gospel.
Open up any edition of the New Testament, published by the Publishing House of the Moscow Patriarchate, and at the end of the book you will find the map of St. Paul’s missionary travels.
Look at this map, follow the travel routes – they are known today and people use them to travel.
But if now we can overcome such distances in two or three hours by plane, the Apostle Paul had to cross those dusty roads on foot, and not in sports shoes, but in light sandals.
He traveled tens, hundreds and thousands of miles to preach the crucified and risen Christ.
How did the Church mark his feat?
He was not only added to number of the 12 Apostles, but was placed right next to Christ, just like St. Peter.
The Church called Paul one of the two Chief Apostles.
When we look at the icon of the Pentecost, we see that there are 12 Apostles depicted in it, and one of them is Paul, although, of course, he was not present there physically, for at that time he was still a persecutor of Christ’s Church.
And when in ancient churches we see icons showing the Apostles having Communion, usually depicted in the Altar, we find St. Peter and five Apostles approaching the Lord from one side, and then St. Paul and five Apostles approaching Him from the other side.
There is no depiction of Judas, who was present at the Last Supper, nor of Matthias, who was elected to replace of Judas, but there is Paul, who joined the Apostolic community by the providence of God and who, as we heard in the Apostolic reading today, had himself said that he “worked harder than others in preaching the Gospel of Christ.”
Our Meeting on July 15
The Moscow Patriarchate web site also published a brief account of our delegation’s visit on July 15 with Metropolitan Hilarion (link).
The account states: “Discussed at the meeting held in a friendly atmosphere were a number of topics of mutual interest, for instance, the development of bilateral cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The guests thanked Metropolitan Hilarion for the hospitality and expressed willingness to develop relations between the Urbi et Orbi Foundation and the Russian Orthodox Church in cultural, scientific and social areas.”
(end, Letter #41: Peter and Paul)
A book containing several days of interviews I conducted with Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary has just been published by TAN (Thomas A. Nelson) Books, which specializes in the important work of reprinting traditional Catholic works now out of print. To purchase a copy of my new book with Cardinal Erdo, you may do one of three things:
(1) Go to the publisher’s website (link)
(2) Go to the Amazon website and order the book there: (link)
(3) Write back to me by return email, including a complete mailing address and phone number, tell me how many copies you would like, and I will send you one or more signed copies at the cover price of $27.95, plus shipping and handling (about $5 inside the US, but considerably more, up to $26 or more, outside of the US).—R
Where is the Catholic Church going?
Guarding the Flame: The Challenges Facing the Church in the Twenty-First Century: A Conversation With Cardinal Peter Erdő
By Robert Moynihan and Viktoria Somogyi
How will the Church face the challenges of the 21st century? Do the recent advances in modern technology pose a threat to the human soul?
In this wide-ranging, candid conversation, Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Budapest, Hungary, one of the most respected cardinals in the Catholic Church, speaks with Dr. Robert Moynihan, founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, about the Catholic Church’s place in an increasingly secularized world.
As the two-time president of the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe, Erdő is the leading bishop of Europe. And as Europe has descended into a deep secularism—more pronounced and rapid even than in the United States—Erdő is uniquely positioned and qualified to identify and tackle the issues that secularism presents.
Here, for the first time in in one place, the cardinal speaks forthrightly about the need to “guard the flame” of the traditional Christian faith in the face of all temptations and obstacles. Guarding the Flame is a courageous call to remain faithful to the faith handed down from the Apostles, whatever the cost.
Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary, was born in Budapest on 25 June 1952, the first of six children. He was created Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He has published more 250 articles and 25 books on Canon Law, as well as other spiritual works.
Robert Moynihan (Harvard College, B.A.,1977 and Yale University, Ph.D., 1988) founded Inside the Vatican magazine in 1993. He has covered the Vatican and Church affairs for more than 30 years and is the author of books on Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Viktoria Somogyi, born in Hungary, has lived and worked in Rome at the Hungarian language desk of Vatican Radio. She studied International Relations at the University of Rome.
Special Note to Readers: Consider sponsoring the Moynihan Letters as the need for an independent view (my view) on events in the Church is becoming increasingly important, as today’s news shows (here is a link to the donation page: link). Your support is the only way I can stay independent. A monthly donation of even just $2.50 — a cup of coffee — would be deeply appreciated, and helpful. —RM
JOIN DR. ROBERT MOYNIHAN FOR AN EXTRAORDINARY PILGRIMAGE IN IRELAND IN AUGUST…
An invitation to walk down the Appian Way outside of Rome, where Peter met Christ and said to him, “Quo vadis, Domine?”…
Visit our new pilgrimage website for a complete list of our pilgrimages:
What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.