By Fr. Stephen Freeman
We have learned from no others the plan of our salvation than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down (tradiderunt) to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith… Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome, and laying the foundations for the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish the Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the Law and the Prophets; and one Christ the Son of God.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 3.1.1-2
The above quotation, taken from John Behr’s The Way to Nicaea, underscores the Gospel as the faith of the Apostles. That what the Apostles taught was doubtless the teaching of Christ is made sure in the common witness they share, described by Irenaeus as the “Apostolic Hypothesis.” Scholars, looking for a notch in their belt, can allow themselves to be caught up in the delusional notions of multiple Christianities, suppressed by an all-powerful Catholic Church (the anachronisms involved in such notions are beyond credulity). That some disparate groups taught various things and attached them to the name of Jesus is certainly true. Irenaeus was writing to refute them. What is lacking in these disparate groups is an inner unity or any connection to the Scriptures of Israel.
The Apostolic preaching bears common witness to an interpretation of the Scriptures which, they said, was fulfilled in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. That interpretation, rooted in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, tells the world the story of a loving God, whose love is manifest in His willingness to empty Himself and enter the depths of Hades, conquering death by death, and raising humanity together with His Divinity to the very right hand of the Father.
In the Orthodox Church, the better part of June (new calendar) will be taken up with the Apostles’ Fast, ending on June 29, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It is easy amidst the riches of the Church’s life, to forget that what we have, is the Apostolic faith. Their witness, almost unanimously ratified by their martyrdoms, is indeed the pillar and ground of Truth – for their witness was and is the living community of the Body of Christ, the Church.
The miracle of the Church (and it must be called nothing less than a miracle) is that it received such teaching, and maintained such teaching, rejecting all attempts to change what had been given once and for all. I speak of this as a miracle because the New Testament describes Churches that were as weak and sin-laden in their beginnings as is the Church of the 21st century. This same Church, despite every weakness and sin, survived Emperors (I think many of them to have been as at least as dangerous as many heretics), persecutions, attacks from within and without. And despite the nightmare of the Dhimmitude, Communist oppression and assaults by modern philosophies, the Church and its Apostolic faith abides.
To keep this fast and pray for the grace that kept the Apostles to keep us as well today, is a fast well kept and prayed. There are probably more temptations and trials ahead of the Church than there are behind us. As has been true for much of history – this is a difficult age in which to hold the faith intact. This faith alone upholds the dignity of human nature, created in the image of God. Every assault on the Apostolic faith is equally an assault on humanity. The modern world, in the name of humanity, would settle for so much less.
O Lord, You have taken up to eternal rest and to the enjoyment of Your blessings the two divinely-inspired preachers, the leaders of the Apostles, for You have accepted their labors and deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, for You alone know what lies in the hearts of men.
Kontakion of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
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