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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
The Holy Orthodox Church has celebrated in this past week the memory of the Holy Apostles. Last Saturday, we had the feast of the chiefs of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul. And on Sunday we had the feast of the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles all together, in which we glorified and thanked our Lord God for this phenomenon of the Holy Apostles. For indeed it is through these Holy Apostles that we have heard the Gospel unto salvation.
It is because of these twelve men, and because of the men who were around them--the twelve and the seventy apostles, the narrower circle of the apostles, and then the wider circle of the apostles--that we were given, we heard the Gospel of our salvation in Christ Jesus. These men, attending to the commandment of Christ, Go ye therefore unto the nations teaching them all those things which I have commanded you, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, gave heed to that commandment of Christ, and through the strength of the Holy Spirit which imbued them with a strength that was superhuman, they went forward into the world.
In those days there were neither the means of transportation nor the means of information that we have nowadays. It was necessary for everyone who was going to hear the Gospel of Christ to actually hear it from the mouth of an Apostle. It was necessary for everyone who was to come to Jesus Christ to come to Him by hearing the preaching of one of our Savior's disciples. And so great was the power of the Holy Spirit in these men, so totally did they give themselves over to the movement of the Holy Spirit, that we see that in one generation, a few decades, the preaching of Jesus Christ had been heard throughout the whole, then-known inhabited world. And so it is that we see the preaching of Christ in England, in the British Isles, possibly up into Scandinavia, down through the Iberian Peninsula, through Gaul and Italy, all of the North African coast, and deep into the interior, into those lands of the Middle East, across Mesopotamia, across those mountains and valleys and difficult terrain, even to the coast of India and possibly to the borders of China, for we know that the Holy Apostle Saint Thomas was active that far east. An incredible, incredible feat. Walking in caravans, sailing in the very fragile little boats that sailed the Mediterranean in those years, those fragile little ships tossed about through many, many hardships the description of which the Holy Apostle Paul has left for us, not as a complaint, but as a description of how the Apostles reached the ears of all of those people whom they evangelized and gave to understand the Gospel of Christ.
They left to us a wonderful inheritance, the inheritance of the Apostolic preaching; and such was their zeal, that perhaps all of the Apostles sealed their preaching with the blood of martyrdom, except for Saint John the Theologian, who reposed at great, great age, still preaching the Gospel. That inheritance of the Apostolic succession which was recognized from earliest times as being the seal of authenticity of the preaching, the seal of correctness, of purity of doctrine, the seal of the continuation of the Holy Mysteries; for part of the Apostolic succession is the Orthodox confession of faith, and the other part is the succession of true disciples ordained generation after generation by the Apostles and then by their successors and on even into our days. The seal of the Apostolic succession is the seal of authenticity of both the preaching and the mysteries, for Orthodoxy is par excellance liturgical, and transmits grace, yes to some extent through the spoken word, but mostly through the grace of the Holy Mysteries.
And so it is of primary importance that the Apostolic succession, that is, the authentic chain, the golden chain of Orthodox bishops back to the Holy Apostles be genuine and unbroken. This Apostolic succession, which as I said has two parts, not only the tactile placing of hands of a lineal, historical descendant of the Holy Apostles, but also the purity of the Apostolic preaching is the greatest of our joys, the greatest of our boasts, the greatest comfort that we have and consolation that we are Christians. For it is through the Apostolic succession that we are baptized, that we are chrismated, that we receive the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ without which we have no life in us according to the words of our Savior Himself. It is through this Apostolic succession that we cooperating with the grace of God have the hope of our salvation.
And so it is that we come to today, we come to our times and we have to say that the institution of Apostolic succession is in a critical situation. And I'm not speaking here of the false claimants of Apostolic succession. I'm speaking here of within the Church. I'm speaking here of the scarcity of the clergy; I'm speaking here of the scarcity of men who are candidates for holy ordination, and women who are candidates to be wives in the very difficult ministry of being a presbytera. I'm speaking here of the necessity that we understand our part in the priesthood of the Church.
For you must understand that everyone, every baptized Orthodox Christian has a ministry within the priesthood of the Church. Everyone one of you has a service to perform; every one of you has a place, something to offer, by chanting, by serving at the altar, by cleaning and beautifying the Church, by supporting the Church, by making the prosphora, by providing the various things needful for the ceremonies and rituals of the Church. All of these things are ministries of the priesthood. Without them there can be no services. Without your cooperation and your participation, when the priest says Let us pray to the Lord, there is no one to say Lord have mercy; when the priest gives a blessing, and there's no one to say And with your spirit; when the priest prays and there's no one to say Amen, there can be no services.
Nevertheless Orthodoxy is liturgical, and it is absolutely necessary that we have the liturgical ministers of the priesthood, those who are ordained by the bishops, so that they can participate in, they can offer the services of the Church. And when a time comes and we don't have enough priests, then it is a critical time. When it necessary for a priest to travel as I did this past weekend, not only to serve the Divine Liturgy and to bring Holy Communion to people who might not otherwise be able to receive it, but even to baptize a child -- for they waited till I could come down to Augusta to baptize this little boy, whom I commend to your prayers, Konstantinos -- then we are in a critical situation. When it is necessary for my brother priest on the other coast, for Father Steven, to travel to California and to Texas in order to bring the Holy Mysteries to the people there; or it is necessary for you to travel two and three hundred miles to find a priest, then we are in a critical situation.
I'm not saying, and it is too early to say that the Apostolic succession is in danger, but I am saying that it is critical. What can we do? You must understand that the clergy are not a separate species. They are not something other; they are people; they are the fruits of parishes, the fruits of families. And so it is that it is important for each of us to create an environment within our parish, within our families for children who know the services, who love the services, who respect the clergy, who see this ministry as something that is perhaps difficult but not impossible, something that is necessary, and something that someone must take on his shoulders so that this Apostolic succession can continue.
It is important that we raise our children with the fear of God, with familiarity with Church, that we raise them in purity and chastity, so that if the Spirit of God moves in a young man, the Spirit of God moves in a young woman, that they will be able to take upon themselves this ministry, this Apostolic ministry, this liturgical priesthood without which we are denied the Holy Mysteries in our parishes.
We see even in our homeland in Greece that we have been taking priestmonks out of their monasteries to serve the needs of parishes. And sometimes the monasteries themselves remain without the Liturgy so that the priest monks who in ordinary times should never leave their monasteries can serve. And they are pressed into services as parish priests to do baptisms, and weddings, and all of those things that pertain to parish life, which they left in order to save their souls according to the calling that they had as monastics. Our Lord God foresaw this. This is not something that is out of the providence of God, for nothing is out of the providence of God. For our Savior Christ even in His own time saw as we all know in God that this critical situation would come. And He said I have pity on the sheep, for they are confused and without a leader. There's a great harvest, but there are very few workers. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers to the harvest.
And so it is that our first response to this crises must be prayer, that our Lord send laborers to the harvest. And then we must actively within our families, within our parishes, cultivate this desire to be priests, to be presbyteras. We must actively cultivate among our children the piety and the purity that they must have so that they can respond to the call of God to the priesthood. For Apostolic succession is that which is the greatest of gifts of the Church. And our cooperation and our contribution to this Apostolic succession, by giving ourselves and our children to the ministry of the priesthood, we help to insure and to continue the Apostolic work of the Holy Apostles whom we laud and we glorify. For they have given to us the preaching of Christ Jesus unto our salvation. To Him therefore, and to His Father, and to the Holy Spirit, to the Holy Trinity which has saved us, be glory and honor unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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