Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Saturday 8th April, 4pm - keeping Palm Sunday
To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.
To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.
The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
"Praise the name of the Lord, give praise, O servants of the Lord. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for he is great. Thy name, O Lord, endures forever, thy renown, O Lord, throughout the ages. Alleluia."
Venerable Brothers, Illustrious Gentlemen and Ladies, Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We have just heard in a sublime melody the words of Psalm 135, which interpret our sentiments of praise and gratitude to the Lord, as well as our intense interior joy for this moment of meeting and friendship with our beloved brothers of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
On the occasion of my birthday and of the fifth anniversary of my election as Successor of Peter, His Holiness Kirill I, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, wished to offer me, along with the most appreciated words of his message, this extraordinary musical moment, presented by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, and author of the symphony that has just been performed.
Hence, my profound gratitude goes first of all to His Holiness patriarch Kirill. I address to him my fraternal and cordial greeting, hoping profoundly that praise to the Lord and commitment to the progress of peace and harmony between pe oples will increasingly unite us and make us grow in harmony of intentions and actions. Hence, my heartfelt thanks to Metropolitan Hilarion, for the greeting he addressed to me, congratulating him for his artistic creativity, which we have been able to appreciate. With him I greet with profound affection the delegation of the Patriarchate of Moscow and the illustrious representatives of the government of the Russian Federation. I address my cordial greeting to the cardinals and bishops here present, in particular Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and to Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who, with their dicasteries and in close collaboration with the representatives of the patriarchate, organized the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican." Moreover, I greet the illustrious ambassadors, the distinguished authorities and all of you, dear friends, brothers a nd sisters, particularly the Russian communities present in Rome and in Italy, who are participating in this moment of joy and celebration.
Sealed on this occasion in a truly exceptional and thought-provoking way is the music, the music of Russia yesterday and today, which was proposed to us with great mastery by the National Orchestra of Russia, directed by maestro Carlo Ponti, by the Synodal Choir of Moscow, and by the Horn Capella of St. Petersburg. I am profoundly grateful to all the artists for the talent, commitment and passion with which they present to the whole world the masterpieces of the Russian musical tradition.
Present in a profound way in these works, of which today we have heard significant passages, is the soul of the Russian people, and with it the Christian faith, which find an extraordinary expression precisely in the Divine Liturgy and the liturgical singing that always accompanies it. There is, in fact, a profound original bond , between Russian music and liturgical singing: In the liturgy and from the liturgy is unleashed and begins to a great extent the artistic creativity of Russian musicians to create masterpieces that merit being better known in the Western world. Today we have had the joy of hearing passages of great Russian artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. These composers, in particular the latter, have been able to take recourse to the musical-liturgical patrimony of the Russian tradition, elaborating it again and harmonizing it with musical motifs and experiences of the West and closer to modernity. In this line, I believe, should also be situated the work of Metropolitan Hilarion.
In music, therefore, already anticipated and in a certain sense realized is the encounter, the dialogue, the synergy between East and West, as well as between tradition and modernity. The Venerable John Paul II thought in fact of a similar unitarian and harmonious vision of Europe when, in presenting again the image suggested by Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov of the "two lungs" with which Europe must breathe again, he hoped that there would be renewed awareness of the profound and common cultural and religious roots of the European Continent, without which today's Europe would be deprived of a soul and marked by a reductive and partial vision. In fact to reflect these problems better a Symposium was held yesterday, organized by the Patriarchate of Moscow, by the dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and by that of Culture, on the subject "Orthodox and Catholics in Today's Europe. The Christian Roots and Common Cultural Patrimony of East and West."
As I have stated on several occasions, contemporary culture, particularly European culture, runs the risk of amnesia, of forgetfulness and, therefore, of abandonment of the extraordinary patrimony fostered and inspired by the Christian faith, which constitutes the essential vertebral column of European culture, and not only of European culture. The Christian roots of Europe, in fact, are constituted not only by religious life and the testimony of so many generations of believers, but also by the inestimable cultural and artistic patrimony, pride and precious resource of the peoples and countries in which the Christian faith, in its different manifestations, has dialogued with cultures and art, has animated and inspired them, fostering and promoting as never before the creativity of the human genius.
Today, also, these roots are alive and fecund, in the East and West, and they can, more than that, must inspire a new humanism, a new season of authentic human progress, to respond effectively to the numerous and at times crucial challenges that our Christian communities and our societies must face, beginning with secularization, which not only leads to doing without God and his plan, but w hich ends by denying human dignity itself, in a society regulated solely by egotistical interests.
Let us make Europe breathe with its two lungs again, let us again give a soul not only to believers but to all peoples of the Continent, let us promote confidence and hope again, rooting them in the age-old experience of the Christian faith! At this moment, the consistent, generous and courageous witness of believers cannot be lacking so that together we can look at our common future, a future in which liberty and the dignity of every man and woman are recognized as a fundamental value and that openness to the Transcendent is valued, the experience of faith as constitutive dimension of the person.
In the passage by Mussorgsky, entitled "The Angel Declared," we have heard the words addressed by the Angel to Mary and, hence, addressed also to us: "Rejoice!" The reason for joy is clear: Christ has resurrected from the sepulcher " ;and has risen from the dead." Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of the risen Christ animates and encourages us and supports us in our journey of faith and Christian witness to offer authentic joy and solid hope to the world, to offer valid reasons for confidence to humanity, to the peoples of Europe, whom I entrust to the maternal and powerful intercession of the Virgin Mary.
[Speaking in Russian, he said:]
I renew my gratitude to patriarch Kirill, to Metropolitan Hilarion, to the Russian representatives, to the orchestra, to the choirs, to the organizers and to all those present.
[In Italian, he concluded:]
May the Lord's abundant blessings descend on all of you and on your loved ones.
The Middle Eastern Synod in its Geopolitical and Pastoral Context: Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
"In Egypt, the rise of political Islam on the one hand and the, in part, forced disengagement of Christians from the civil so ciety on the other, make their lives subject to intolerance, inequality and injustice. In addition, by means of the media and the schools this Islamization penetrates into Christian family life, modifying their mentality so that they unconsciously conform to an Islamic world view." (Instrumentum laboris).
- The genocide of one million and half Armenians in Turkey in 1915;
- The genocide against the Maronites in 1860 and the Lebanese Civil War caused the exodus of many Christians;
- The constant emigration of Christians from the Holy Land for more than a century.
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Your Holiness, Beloved Brother in Christ,
Eminences, Excellencies, Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
My heartfelt greetings to Your Holiness, as well as to all the participants in the concert of Russian sacred music, organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoti ng Christian Unity, by the Pontifical Council for Culture, and by the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow.
For the first time in history, three exceptional music groups -- the Russian National Orchestra, the Synodal Choir of Moscow and the Horns Chapel of Saint Petersburg -- meet today in Paul VI Hall, in the Vatican, to perform works of great Russian composers. Present in the Hall are the head of the Catholic Church, representatives of the episcopate and clergy, monks and nuns, laymen. All this makes the moment you are living an event of great importance in the history of cultural exchanges between our Churches.
Music is a particular language that gives us the possibility to communicate with our hearts. Music is able to transmit sentiments of the human spirit and spiritual states that words cannot describe.
To understand a people, it is necessary to listen to its music. And this applies not only to Or thodox liturgical music, of which today some of the best realizations will be performed, but also to the work of the Russian composers written for concert halls. In the years of persecutions against the Church and of the dominance of State atheism, when the majority of the population did not have access to sacred music, these works, together with the master works of Russian literature and figurative art, contributed to take the evangelical proclamation, proposing to the secular world ideals of great moral and spiritual depth. "Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!" (Psalm 150: 3-4). These words of the Psalm, which will also resonate today in your Hall, enable us to see that music can be permeated with the spirit of prayer and contemplation of God. Even secular music can transmit a spiritual content.
I pray for God's support to Your Holiness and to all the guests and participants in the concert.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Benedict XVI appointed Jesuit Father James McCann, head of the U.S. bishops' conference Office to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, as rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute.
The bishops' conference announced the appointment today of Father McCann, 61, who is expected to take up his position at the Rome institute in September.
The conference's general secretary, Monsignor David Malloy, affirmed that "Father McCann has shown dedication to efforts of U.S. Catholics to help the church in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe."
The secretary continued: "He has represented the bishops well both here and abroad.
"With clear vision and a keen observance of need, he has seen that funds collected for the church in Russi a, Central and Eastern Europe are wisely spent on rebuilding the Church where it is most challenged and has been instrumental in educating men and women, especially through the priesthood and religious life, for Church ministry."
James McCann was born in Chicago. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1967 and was ordained a priest in 1979.
The priest has a licentiate in theology from Centre Sèvres in Paris, a master's degree in Russian and Eastern European Studies from Yale University, and a doctorate in Politics with a specialization in Russia and Eastern Europe from Princeton University.
He has worked in Germany, Russia and Kazakhstan. The conference communiqué noted that the priest "brings significant understanding to his position of service to the oriental churches, which are the focus of the Pontifical Oriental Institute."
The institute was established for the study of Eastern Christianity in 1917 by Pope Benedict XV, and entrusted to the Society of Jesus in 1922 by Pope Pius XI.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
The Vatican Publishing House is publishing a book by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and of All Russia.
This gesture follows a similar move of the Moscow Patriarchate, which last December published a book with texts from Benedict XVI regarding European culture.
Now, the Italian-language book with addresses by the Russian Orthodox patriarch, titled "Liberta e Responsabilita alla Ricerca dell'Armonia" (Liberty and Responsibility in the Search of Harmony) will be officially presented on Monday at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.
The work brings together the most important addresses on human rights given by Patriarch Kirill. In it, he wrote, "We have a common vision with the Pope on the protection of the dignity of man in Europe."
For this reason, he said, "today the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are the only ones naturally allied in the hard struggle against the liberalist and secularist ideology."
"In the West there is the desire to relegate the faith to the private realm in a way that is almost worse than the Soviet regime did in our country," the patriarch wrote.
To overcome it, he added, the Church will have to enter "into a serious dialogue, devoid of prejudices, with lay and liberal humanism," but without falling into the temptation of "unilateralism."
"It is a harsh analysis but full of hope," stressed Pierluca Azzaro, professor of politics at the university and the book's editor. "Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill exhort Christians of East and West not to be conformed to the mentality of this century."
"They invite all of us to profess our creed in the Church founded by Christ the Savior, to defend liberty as an indisputable but not unlimited value: by its most profound nature, liberty is, and always will be, linked to truth," Azzaro said.
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who signed the volume's introduction, stated, Patriarch Kirill "puts one on guard in an incisive and passionate way against a 'new generation of rights' that shelter in their interior true and genuine degenerations of the authentic dignity of the person."
The volume will be presented by Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan and president of the Giuseppe Toniolo Institute of Higher Studies, and Adriano Roccucci of the Roma Tre University.
Addresses will be given by Lorenzo Ornaghi, rector of the Sacred Heart university; Anatoly Torkunov, rector of the Moscow St ate Institute of International Relations of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry; Edmondo Caruana, publishing director of the Vatican Publishing House; Giuseppina Cardillo Azzaro, president of the international association "Sophia: Russian Idea, Idea of Europe."
The presentation will end with a speech by the chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk.
The publication of the book also leads up to the May 20 inauguration in Rome of the Italian-Russian Academy "Sapientia et Scientia."
The project has received the blessing of the Holy See and of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the official approval of the Italian and Russian States.
The Academy - which aims to be a stable meeting place for representatives of the Church and of the civil societies of Italy and Russia - will carry out its activities at the Villa Sciarra in Rome.
This will take place in the academic space of Heythrop College, University of London. It will be the opening event of their new Centre for the Study of the Eastern Churches, whose founding director will be Anthony O'Mahoney.
But the conference itself is sponsored and supported by the Society of St John Chrysostom, the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge and the Monastic East-West meetings hosted by Minster Abbey.
The key conference participants will be
- Our president, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols
- Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia
- Anthony O'Mahoney, director of the new Centre for the Study of the Eastern Churches
- Mother Nicola of St Mildred's Priory, Minster Abbey
- Archimandrite Demetrios Sharbaq of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (whose paper on the Petrine Primacy in the current edition of One in Christ is well worth reading)
- Dr Aidan Nichols OP, of Blackfriars, Cambridge
- Dr Iwan Dacko, President of the Centre for Ecumenical Studies, Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv
- Dr Simon Marincak, Director. Michael Lacko Centre for East-West Spirituality, Kosice, Slovakia
- Dr Marcus Plested, Academic Director, Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge
The aim of the day is to 'capture' in an academic space the progress, challenges and achievements of Orthodox-Catholic relations since Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI began the current move towards reconciliation in the 1960s, and the progress of the joint theological commission, especially in its present phase. We will also look at the particular contexts for Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical engagement and moves towards recovering full communion, in Antioch, Ukraine and the interpenetration of the Latin Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox and Greek Catholic diaspora.
Participation is by invitation owing to restrictions on space. If you would like to be invited, please email the Society
Monday, 10 May 2010
Friday, 7 May 2010
VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org
The time is now for the Orthodox and Catholic Churches to take a step toward unity, and for Benedict XVI and the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow to meet, says the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus.
Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Sluck said this Tuesday at the international conference held in Rome on "The Poor Are the Precious Treasure of the Church: Orthodox and Catholics Together on the Path of Charity."
During the conference, which was promoted by the Sant'Egidio Community, participants reflected on the reception of the most frail in our societies, the testimony of the Fathers of the Church, and the challenges dictated by new social problems.
According to Metropolitan Filaret, the time has come to take decisive steps toward unity, reported the country's Catholic news service.
The Orthodox leader added that both Churches seek to establish full unity, and stressed that he has come to this conclusion based on the fraternal dialogue and the meetings that they have held with representatives of the Catholic Church.
If Benedict XVI and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia were to meet, it would be a first for the two pastors of Rome and Moscow.
Metropolitan Filaret's statements coincide with the announcement of the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican," which will be held May 19-20, and which will culminate with a concert offered to Benedict XVI by Kirill I.
The musical event will include compositions of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for Foreign Relations of the Patriarchy of Moscow.
On Wednesday, Metropolitan Filaret visited the Holy Shroud of Turin and Cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin.
"The impression is so profound that one cannot express the joy one feels," commented the Orthodox representative after seeing the Shroud.
Metropolitan Filaret, in this post since 1978, received the recognition of "Hero of Belarus" in 2006, by decision of president Alexander Lukashenko, in recognition of the service to the spirituality of his country
Thursday, 6 May 2010
Four people were killed and 171 were wounded Sunday when a bus convoy carrying Christian students to the University of Mosul was attacked.
Chaldean Archbishop Emil Nona told the Italian bishops' news service about the "devastating" explosion.
There was first an explosive device and then a car bomb that reached three of the buses. Each bus takes about 50 students, ranging in age from 18 to 26.
After the explosions, dozens of the young people were taken to hospitals in Erbil. Seventeen continued in graved condition.
"We are seeing another, the umpteenth, attack against Christians," Archbishop Nona said. "The violence continues without relief."
An auxiliary of the Chaldean Patriarch, Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, lamented today that no one in the administration had spoken out to express solidarity with the Christian community.
"Truly, we do not know what to do with this violence," he said.
Redemptorist Father Bashar Warda lamented that the attack was particularly shocking because it was not against soldiers or the military, "but just students, who had their books, their pens and their dreams to grow up and serve their county."
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
The third meeting of the council for the Middle East of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops was held April 23-24 in Rome, the Vatican press office reported today.
It noted that "the objective of the Special Assembly for the Middle East is twofold: to confirm and reinforce Christians in their identity through the Word of God and the sacraments, and to revive ecclesial communion between the particular Churches, so that they can offer a genuine Christian witness, in contact with the other Churches and ecclesial communities."
Quoting St. John's Gospel, the communiqué added: "Hence the urgency of a convinced ecumenical commitment, 'that all may be one, so that the world will believe.'"
It pointed out that, "despite the difficulties of the present moment," the Church in the Middle East, "trusting in Divine Providence, remains confident in a future of peace, of justice and respectful collaboration with those belonging to Judaism and Islam, for the good of all the inhabitants of the region."
In this preparatory meeting of the synod for the Middle East, which will be held October 10-24 in the Vatican, participants continued to fix the foundations for the reflection that will take place on different questions, among them the Christian witness in Muslim-majority societies.
In this sense, the communiqué explained that "the future synod will also be a precious occasion to examine thoroughly the religious and social situation, to give Christians a clear vision of the meaning of their being active witnesses of Christ, in the context of societies of Muslim majority."
It added, "An attempt will be made, therefore, to proceed to a reflection on the present situation, not easy given the conflicts and instability which cause the exodus of the population, including not a few Christians."
The members of the pre-synodal council highlighted the "joy and gratitude" with which they received the invitation to participate in the Eucharistic Celebration presided over by Benedict XVI in Nicosia, during his June 4-6 trip to Cyprus.
During the celebration of that Mass, the Pope will distribute the Instrumentum laboris of the synod to the pastors of the Mideast Churches.
The communiqué explained that the two-day meeting was attended by all the m embers of the pre-synodal council for the Special Assembly for the Middle East except for Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Chaldean patriarch of Babylon, Iraq.
The secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, opened the meeting. Other members of the council gave addresses on the ecclesial situation in the socio-political context of the regions of the Middle East.
As well, the council worked on an outline of the Instrumentum laboris, the assembly's working document.
The members worked to integrate the various contributions of the Eastern Churches, the episcopal conferences, the Vatican dicasteries and several religious institutions into an "organic scheme."
"Once written in its definitive form," the scheme "will serve the Synodal Fathers as a study document and order of the day for the debate in the Synod Hall," explained the communiqué.
Thirte en ecclesiastical authorities form part of the pre-synodal council. These include: Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Lebanon; Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The council also includes: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches; Patriarch Antonios Naguib, patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Egypt; Patriarch Ignace Youssif III Younan, patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Lebanon; Gregorios III Laham, patriarch of Antioch for the Greek Melkite Church; Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Catholic patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, Lebanon; Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem; Archbishop Ramzi Garmou, archbishop of Teheran of the Chaldeans and president of the Ir anian episcopal conference; Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the Turkish episcopal conference and apostolic vicar of Anatolia; and Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly.
The synod's theme is "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. 'Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul' (Acts 4: 32)."
Saturday, 1 May 2010
Bova, Bova Marina, Condofuri, Chorio di Roccaforte, Chorio Roghudi, Roghudi, Amendolea, Roccaforte del Greco and finally Galliciano.
Another large Greek speaking village, Pentedattilo, which has the same name as the mountain range in Cyprus, has been abandoned.The total Grecanico population of all the villages is about 9,000. Of these, very few understand the Grecanico language and even fewer speak it. Of all the Greek speaking villages, Galliciano has preserved and retained many aspects of the Greek cultural heritage. It is the place where the language of Homer is still spoken, and where many cultural traditions trace themselves back to Greece. Perhaps the fact that it is the most isolated of all the villages which make up the Greek speaking zone of Calabria is an indication of that.
Sadly the Greek language spoken in this region for thousands of years is rapidly dying off. The village of Galliciano is the last stronghold of this ancient culture and it is called the Acropolis of Hellenism in Calabria. Recently a Greek Orthodox church was build in the village and it was also visited by the Orthodox ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 2001.
On April 8, 2010, at the press conference Prospects of Establishing One National Church in New Political Conditions, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, Patriarch Filaret, expressed his opinion that the unification of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) with Ukrainian Orthodox Church is quite possible and likely.
He believes, however, that it can happen only when the three branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy—the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church—unite as one national church recognized by the world, reports Ukrinform. According to the patriarch, today "good relations have been established between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church." He noted that there are quite powerful forces in the Greek Catholic environment which would like to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. According to the hierarch, serious grounds for such unification must be ripe first of all among the believers of the UGCC.
By God’s Grace Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
From our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Our most holy Orthodox Church today commemorates its own feast day, and – from this historical and martyric See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – the Mother Church of Constantinople directs its blessing, love and concern to all of its faithful and dedicated spiritual children throughout the world, inviting them to concelebrate in prayer.
by Deacon Gregory Roeber, Professor of Early Modern History and Religious Studies, Department of History, Penn State University
The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is very ancient, and at the same time, the last historically to be preceded by preparation with a lengthy fast. The Feast is described, in the Byzantine tradition, technically as a "third class/ Vigil rank commemoration" — and in the West as the " Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul." Though it does not rank with Pascha, Nativity, Theophany or Pentecost, it is still very important, as it is the patronal feast of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Most Christians, however, identify Saints Peter and Paul with the city – Rome –where they were martyred, according to tradition. Why Rome? And why does the city and its bishop, and the memory of the two Apostles, matter?.
The Akathist Hymn to the Holy Apostles gives us an important clue, incorporating what we find in the Scriptures as well: Saint Peter is given the place of honor. The Hymn addresses the Head of the Church first – Christ, the Good Shepherd, who "said unto thee, O first-enthroned Peter: If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep." The same Christ admonishes the other apostles about the suitability of the former persecutor Saul of Tarsus (quoting here Acts 9:15); Christ confirmed "thee, O preeminent Apostle Paul: He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear my name before the gentiles." But Christ then addresses the entire college of the apostles with the universal commission of the Gospel of Matthew – to preach to all the nations.
The commemoration of the apostles’ deaths began around the year 258 during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Valerius. Oral tradition held that the apostles had perished under the emperor Nero sometime in the 60s. Given his Roman citizenship, Paul was granted the privilege of execution by beheading, but Peter, as a Jewish Christian deemed an enemy to the cult of imperial worship was crucified first, according to tradition. The site on the Vatican Hill was, from before the time of Constantine, believed to be the place where Peter’s relics had been hidden. Over an earlier structure whose ruins were excavated in the 1940s beneath the present Renaissance building, the emperor Constantine had constructed that first basilica. The Basilica of Saint Peter is not the cathedral church of the bishop of Rome, but a memorial church where the apostle’s relics have been revered since the fourth century. In 258 the remains of the two apostles had been moved to prevent the persecutors from desecrating them, and a common date chosen to honor them both. By ancient oral tradition, it was Peter who suffered death first, and Paul perhaps a day later. According to Farmer and Kereszty’s Peter and Paul in the Church of Rome, that tradition has left traces in "graffiti on the walls of San Sebastiano near the via Appia [that] show that the cult of Peter and Paul was firmly established there in the first half of the third century," (that is, by the early 200s).
The Scriptures make no attempt to disguise the disagreements between the first and the last of the Apostles that reflected deep division within the broader Church. In Acts Chapters 10 and 11, Luke records Peter’s vision prior to the arrival of Cornelius in which he was instructed not to call unclean anything God has made clean. Tensions and disagreements about the relationship of the Church of the Circumcised to the Uncircumcised persisted, and had to be resolved by conciliar meetings, quite obviously tense and probably unpleasant. Paul says bluntly that he opposed Peter "to his face" (Galatians 2:11) on the question of converted Gentiles being circumcised and observing the Mosaic Law. That this former Pharisee who confessed that he was "zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:14) should become the defender of the Gentiles as equal heirs of the promises made to ancient Israel figures as one of the more astonishing reminders that God acts in strange ways. The Scriptures point to Paul’s acknowledgment of Peter’s primacy among the apostles, do not hide disagreements between them, and note the important consensus among the "pillars" of the Church in Jerusalem, and the resolution of conflict in the college of the apostles.
It is not this scriptural relationship, however, that actually attracted the attention of the Church fathers. As Farmer and Kereszty note, "the most important early patristic texts which speak of the martyrdom of Peter, and his role in the foundation of the church of Rome (1 Clement, the Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans and the Letter of Bishop Dionysius of Corinth to the Bishop of Rome) do not speak about Peter alone. Paul is always joined with Peter. The two are associated as apostles, martyrs, and the founders of the church of Rome. The two most prominent theologians of the second century, Ireneaus and Tertullian, continue this early tradition."
Were the Church fathers trying hard to get beyond the obvious disagreements by insisting on pairing these two giant personalities as martyr-founders? It would seem so. Having been in Rome himself in 177 AD, Irenaeus informs us in his Against Heresies that it would take too long to "enumerate the successions of all the churches," but he emphasizes instead the tradition – that which was handed down – about "that very great, oldest, and well-known church, founded and established at Rome by those two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, received from the apostles, and the faith she has announced to men, which comes down to us through the successions of bishops … ."
Irenaeus and the other fathers knew their Scriptures, and they did not mean to imply that Peter and Paul "literally" founded the many house churches that may have sprang from the synagogues in pagan Rome. Paul’s Letter to the Romans addresses no particular bishop or elder in the imperial capital and that fact was as well known to Saint Ireneaus as it is to us. Instead, as the Montanist writer Tertullian of North Africa, like Irenaeus, concluded, what everyone remembered was their common witness – that the two apostles "poured their whole teaching along with their blood" into what gradually became a unified church in that city under one overseer or episkopos, his deacons and presbyters. As Allen Brent in his Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order observes, what Irenaeus, along with St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Cyprian and other early writers emphasized, was a connection of bishops "in communion with all other father bishops … [and] the See of Rome … as a focus of unity. The Catholic Church thus became an alternative imperium, presided over by bishops in communion with each other, which now stands in stark contrast to pagan Imperial Order."
The post-apostolic writers were not, therefore, much interested in the historical founding of Christianity in Rome. Rather, theirs is a theological meditation about the importance of martyrdom – the witness of the faith – and it is this apostolic faith that is the key to the two apostles’ importance: they shed their blood along with countless others in the very heart of the pagan empire. That point, recognized by Tertullian in the 200s, informs a sermon delivered in the early 400s by another North African, St. Augustine of Hippo (Sermon 295). St. Augustine notes that the Apostles share the same feast even though they suffered on different days: "Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith."
Placing the confession of faith first and last in his list – giving it, in classic Latin oratorical style, the place of honor – the Bishop of Hippo points to the central and important aspect of the feast. This same emphasis can be seen in a sermon by Pope Leo the Great, who reminded his listeners that "Rome owes its high position to these Apostles. The whole world, dearly beloved, does indeed take part in all holy anniversaries, and loyalty to the one Faith demands that whatever is recorded as one for all men’s salvation should be everywhere celebrated with common rejoicings. But … it is to be honored with special and peculiar exultation in our city, that there may be a predominance of gladness on the day of their martyrdom in the place where the chief of the Apostles met their glorious end … through whom the light of Christ’s gospel shone on thee, O Rome, and through whom thou, who wast the teacher of error, wast made the disciple of Truth." Leo concludes by insisting that "no distinction must be drawn between the merits of the two … because they were equal in election, alike in their toils, undivided in their death."
Instead, Rome, rather than Antioch, came to be revered for a more somber reason. Had the Christian community in Jerusalem, for example, been martyred for the faith, instead of being warned not to perish alongside their rebellious neighbors in the year 70, presumably Jerusalem, had it not been totally destroyed, could also have claimed a preeminently "apostolic" witness. The martyrdom of the Apostle James in that city already counted for much. Instead, as Christianity became first tolerated, and then gradually the official faith of the Empire, Rome acquired the preeminence that is reflected in all of the ecumenical councils’ surviving documents and canons. The gradual displacement of Alexandria by New Rome between the first Council of Nicea in 325 and the reaffirmation of the new capital see’s status of honor by Chalcedon in 451 never cast doubts on Rome’s primacy and orthodoxy. Saint Athanasius the Great fled westward to the bishop of Rome’s protection against his Arian enemies, and Rome continued to witness even at the risk of imperial displeasure, a fact acknowledged by no less an eastern saint than Maximus the Confessor. It was no accident that he made his way to the Lateran Synod of 649 to aid in the condemnation of heresies whose toleration was being promoted by the emperor. Though never personally present at any of the great councils held in the East, the bishops of Rome through their legates played a critical role in articulating the confession of faith – spelling out the implications of Peter’s assertion of what flesh and blood had not revealed to him but the Father: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:17).
If we take seriously the primacy of Peter and his ministry, we are constantly reminded of Peter’s frailty, and the brashness of his faith because of his loving relationship with Jesus. Warned that Satan desired to sift him like wheat, Peter must have reflected often later in life on Jesus’ words that, nonetheless, "I have prayed for you so that when you return to me, you will strengthen your brethren." St. John’s Gospel not only reaffirms that Christ appeared first to Peter after his resurrection – as Paul reminded his readers as well – but that Jesus predicted Peter’s martyrdom: "When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish" (John 21:18).
It is the degree to which Peter – and any bishop of the church anywhere in the world – is willing, like the Good Shepherd, to lay down his life for his sheep that explains the veneration in which the ancient church held both of the apostles, the place where they witnessed, and those who came after them. The persecutions in Rome were, in the last half of the third and the beginning of the fourth century, particularly harrowing. Each of the bishops and their deacons was systematically hunted down and killed by imperial authorities. As a result, a kind of "succession crisis" in the wake of these deaths led the priest Novatian to expect election to the bishopric, only to be passed over. In the resulting conflicts that produced letters exchanged with Cyprian of Carthage in North Africa, one important point emerged: the honor in which Rome was held was an honor based on that Church’s history of heroic martyrdom. Both then and subsequently, regional councils pursued their own business and did not wait for Rome’s approval to deal with their own local disciplinary matters; furthermore, appeals to Rome, including appeals from Christians in the East, stemmed from the universal conviction that Rome was a martyr church, not primarily that it had a legal or juridical claim. The identification of Peter and Paul with Rome is a theological one, and their deaths there, their ultimate confession of faith, is the foundation of "apostolicity" in Orthodox Catholic Christianity, then, and now. (See J. E. Merdinger’s Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine for a good survey of the relationship of the African Church to Rome.)
Any "definition" of a "primacy" in the universal Church begins and ends as the Akathist Hymn does – addressing the "most glorious Apostles who laid down your lives for Christ and beautified His pasture with your blood." The definition of primacy must focus on who most closely resembles the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, as the Apostles and Martyrs did. That is why many Orthodox theologians have said that among the many accumulated titles now attached to the bishop of Rome, the most appropriate and theologically correct is also one of the most ancient: "the servant of the servants of God," the title adopted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, the Dialogist (590–604).
What the continuing dialogues between the Orthodox and the separated bishop of Rome will eventually produce is known only to God. Within the Orthodox community itself, a universal honor of Saints Peter and Paul begins with our own examination of how we, both individually, and collectively, centered on the Eucharist, reflect, or fail to reflect the confession of faith handed down from Peter and Paul with all the holy Apostles. If we are inclined to become dismayed at the absence of the original "first see" from the Orthodox communion, or downhearted about the Primus who struggles to survive in semi-captivity in Istanbul, or troubled by any absence of servanthood among bishops in North America, we should take heart. We have the witness of the Church’s own first apostle – the stumbling, but always penitent Peter who was willing to listen to the sometimes abrasive Paul, and who in the end fulfilled the prophecy Christ made about his laying down his life to strengthen the faith of all the brethren. That peculiar charge of suffering servanthood is given to all the bishops of the Church, but it is not theirs to bear alone. We also, by virtue of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, are given the power by the Holy Spirit, whatever our calling in life, to be His witnesses and to rejoice in the communion of all the saints.
1. For a succinct summary of the claim that Rome’s primacy was either of divine origin (Pope Damasus’ Decretum Gelesianum) versus the claim that it was purely honorific in terms of the size and centrality of the imperial capital, see John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church 450-680 A.D. (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989), 59-66.