Dear Parish Faithful,
"Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (PHIL. 3:8)
"Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls." (I PET. 1:8-9)
The Apostles Fast is drawing to a close as we prepare to commemorate the Feast of the Apostles Peter & Paul on Sunday, June 29. As a liturgical principle, a great and meaningful commemoration is preceded by a period of fasting - as we prepare for Nativity, Pascha, Dormition. The Apostles Peter & Paul are perhaps the two greatest figures in the spread of the Gospel in the early decades of the Church's existence. They "sealed" their respective apostolic ministries by giving their lives as a witness to Christ. Thus, they died as two of the earliest and greatest martyrs of the Church. The most reliable witness to this comes from St. Clement, bishop of Rome, in his Epistle to the Corinthians (known today as I Clement) from around the year 96 A.D. St. Clement writes the following:
Let us have the good apostles before our eyes. Peter through wicked jealously endured not one or two hardships but many, and after having thus borne witness went on the place of glory which was his due. On account of envy and strife Paul gave an example of the prize of endurance: seven times imprisoned, driven into exile, stoned: he preached in the East and in the West, and won noble renown for his faith. He taught righteousness to the whole world and went to the western limit of the earth. He bore witness before the rulers, and then passed out of the world and went on to the holy place, having proved himself the greatest pattern of endurance. I Clement, v-vi.
From then to this day we keep the sacred memory of these great apostles on June 29. Since the feast falls on a Sunday this year, the commemoration will be all the greater.
Yet, the liturgical cycle of the Feast begins with Great Vespers on Saturday evening. It is in this service that the majority of the hymnography to the apostles will be sung; and it is at this service that we will bless the five loaves and then be anointed with the blessed oil, signifying the joy of the feast.
I encourage everyone to venerate the two great apostles Peter & Paul by making every effort to participate in the full celebration of the feast, beginning with Great Vespers on the eve. Honor the apostles by your presence. Choir members have the added responsibility in their ministry to the parish of helping to make the feast days as festal as possible by "singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart."
I am aware of the fact that many churches have their summer festivals at this time of the year, including the upcoming weekend. But for the Orthodox (and for Roman Catholics) this is the weekend of commemorating the two great apostles. This is where our focus belongs. If you make the choice of attending such a festival for "food, fun and entertainment" (or anything else of like nature) while the celebration for the apostles is going on in the church, then you are not prepared to receive Holy Communion on Sunday morning, and it is my pastoral position that you do not approach the Chalice. Choices have consequences.
However, I am confident that the church will be filled for the full cycle of services and that we will "keep the Tradition" by offering our veneration, respect and love to the holy Apostles Peter & Paul.
Saturday - Great Vespers with the blessing of loaves and oil at 6:00 p.m.
Sunday - Hours at 9:10 a.m. Liturgy at 9:30 a.m.