June 29, 2013

The Apostle Paul as Preacher and Orthodox Ecumenist

Below is the homily of His Eminence Metropolitan Jeremiah of Gortinos and Megalopolis, delivered in the Holy Church of Saint Paul in Psarron during the celebration of the festive multi-hierarchical Liturgy, on 29 June 2013.

1. Today our Holy Church has a great feast and celebration. Today we celebrate the memory of the foremost Apostles, Peter and Paul. Particularly we Greeks revere very much the Apostle Paul and we are grateful to him, because with much labor, even with much risk, he came to our country and preached here the Gospel of Christ, at the same time establishing churches in various cities. He is the founder of our Greek Church.

The Apostle Paul, my beloved, was an "obsessed lover" of Christ, as Chrysostom says, and, motivated by this divine eros, he went everywhere preaching the Holy Gospel. He was a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1) and he has a commonality with the characterization of the Patriarch Jacob, when he blessed his son Benjamin. He said to him prophetically: "Benjamin, you are a wild wolf, who in the morning comes to catch and in the evening divides his prey." This was Paul, my beloved, in a figurative sense. He was a strong lion and "a lion with all boldness", according to divine Chrysostom, who all day, from the morning went out "to catch" the spoils of the enemy and give them to Christ, and in the evening he was planning his work for the next day!

In this humble and short sermon, which I will offer with the command and blessing of His Beatitude our Archbishop and the Holy Synod of our Church, I want to present the great Apostle we celebrate today, as a preacher of the Gospel, who must become the model and example of all sacred preachers.

2. First, my beloved, I want to say that the Apostle Paul had the conditions that made him a worthy and successful preacher of the Gospel. He had the divine calling for this work. He was not self-chosen, but God-chosen. He was like the prophets of the Old Testament, who, before taking on their prophetic work, had a vision of God and heard the voice of God, Who invited them to become preachers of His word to the people. So also the Apostle Paul, as he was traveling to persecute Christians, heard the voice of God, which told him to stop this destruction of his own work, because "it is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 9:5; 26:14). 

Second, the Apostle Paul, before his divine call, acquired a great education, which is also necessary for the preaching of the Gospel. He had a rich education and even a Greek education, which he received in his youth in Tarsus of Cilicia, where he was from. "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city," (Acts 21:39) he boasted. Tarsus rivaled Alexandria which rivaled Athens as the first in education. Yet the Apostle, as a Jew, had theological knowledge, because he studied very well the Old Testament at the feet of the great teacher of the Law Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), grandson of the famous Hillel. 

Third, as a necessary condition for divine preaching, the Apostle passed through the school of hesychasm. For after his calling he did not go to the capital, Jerusalem, nor did he consort with people, but he went to Arabia for prayer, for contemplation and for study. There in Arabia, as the interpreters say, Paul studied the Old Testament Christologically, reviewing what he had learned up until then of the Jewish interpretation, which said the coming Messiah would be a secular leader, to bring back the fallen house of David. And this Christological interpretation of the Old Testament, which Paul did by himself with the illumination of the Holy Spirit there in the desert of Arabia, we see pervasively in his sacred letters.

3. I come now, my beloved, to this preaching of the Apostle Paul. His sermon, as we see from his journeys, had two types, depending on his audience. His first type of preaching was aimed towards an idolatrous audience, and the other type for a Jewish audience. Both sermons however centered on Christ, on the Crucified and Risen Christ, who is the only Savior and Redeemer. This is the Gospel of Paul, my beloved. But it was shameful, even for that particular era, to preach about a God and Savior who hung on the wood of a Cross.

But Paul was not ashamed of this preaching, which is why he said: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" (Rom. 1:16), the preaching, that is, of the Crucified Christ. However, for the idolaters such preaching was "foolishness", nonsense, and for the Jews it was a "scandal" (1 Cor. 1:23). It was a strange teaching, because it showed the Messiah to be weak, having been nailed to a Cross. Paul however, antithetical to both, said firmly: "I do not want to preach anything else, but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). This preaching of the Apostle he believed to be the "power of God" and the "wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). Paul did not preach things he "made up" with human wisdom, in order not to lose the significance of the crucified death of Christ.

He did not preach a "truncated" Gospel. I "preach the gospel, not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (1 Cor. 1:17). For the truth of his preaching, the Apostle Paul underwent battles, fierce battles, with the Judaizing Christians who taught, also strongly, that the Sacrifice of Christ was not enough, but, together with it, implementation of the Law of Moses was needed. The issue was serious, because this teaching of the Judaizers presented the salvation wrought by the crucified death of Christ as weak. Paul took this issue to a Synod, in which he conquered, because everyone recognized his preaching (Acts. 15). He went on to oversee for himself, to determine whether or not the decisions of the Synod were implemented (see Gal. 2).

He was anxious that the truth of the Gospel not be distorted. With this preaching, my beloved, our Apostle Paul taught that our preaching also should have the same content. In today's world, which is lost and drowning in sin, which is "pouring forth" on the earth according to the prophet (Hosea 5:9), for the salvation of mankind from this drowning, we must preach a simple but powerful message that Christ was crucified for us. That the Blood of Jesus Christ washes and erases our sins. To the agonizing questions of today's people, we must proclaim the salvific message of the Apostle Paul: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you and your household will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

4. For the evangelization of the people the Apostle Paul was very tired, night and day, because his journeys were not easy. But for this "obsessed lover" of Christ, who wanted to make many believe in Christ, nothing was difficult. He, out of love for his preaching, dared to pass with discomfort over two or three months the Taurus Mountains. The Taurus is only for merchants out of fury for profit, and thieves with a predatory passion, and only Paul passed it out of his desire and passion to preach Christ to the inhabitants beyond the mountains in Galatia.

What did he eat, where did he sleep, where did he rest? Apart from these difficulties, of those times especially, the preaching of the Apostle had a polemic against pseudo-brethren. These preached an anti-Gospel, an anti-Orthodox message, as we would say today, a sermon "seasoned" with human sophistry, which is why it took hold. Against these Paul attacked vehemently, and wherever in his epistles he writes of the distortion of the correct preaching by these pseudo-apostles and pseudo-prophets, there is thunder and lightning. He writes: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which you have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8-9).

The journeys of the Apostle Paul were not comfortable, but this preaching of his, which brought him so many difficulties, was blessed by God, but it was a correct and right sermon. It is noticed, my brethren, even from the Old Testament and the entire history of the Church afterwards, that the correct preaching is not delivered with comfort, but it is persecuted. Saint John Chrysostom said it clearly: "A sermon delivered for everyone's comfort, is not a sermon." Hence the correct and right preaching, as Chrysostom says again, "is given by brave men, who can endure pain and are ready for death." Such was the Apostle Paul: brave, pain enduring, and willing to die for Christ and His Gospel.

5. Finally, I want to present the Apostle Paul as an ecumenist, an Orthodox ecumenist and a model for us, so that we also may preach an Ecumenism like his. This "obsessed lover" of Christ and the Gospel, my beloved, motivated by divine eros, "soared throughout the ecumene, running about everywhere", according to divine Chrysostom.

The world then was made up of Gentile and Jewish people. The Apostle Paul went to both and even attended their places of worship, because there he would see them assembled. He went to these places however in order to speak with them of their falsehood and their error and to preach the truth clearly: the truth that the redemption they sought would be found in the Crucified and Risen Christ alone. They would find this only in the Churches he himself and the other Apostles established, that is, in the Orthodox Church. As some passages in the divine writings tell us, both the Gentiles and Jews expelled the Apostle Paul from among them with shouts and cries, and even with beatings, for what he said (Acts 13:45; 14:4). But what of this?

Paul had the joy of preaching even to those afar the correct Gospel, without distorting or camouflaging or hiding it. This, my beloved, is Orthodox Ecumenism. For this Paul was blessed richly by God for his movements and dealings with those found outside the Church. He became the Apostle to the Nations. He truly united East and West and brought to realization the prophecy of the Lord: "Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11).

This Ecumenism is accepted by our Orthodox Church and for such an Ecumenism we pray in our divine worship, saying: "And for the union of all." The other kind of ecumenical movement, that is, the approaching of heretical Papists and other faiths who are outside our Orthodox faith and religion, without telling them clearly that they are heretics and in error, but instead we embrace them with great love and pray with them and even call them "Holiness", these movements, I say, do not create unity, but bring division and turbulence to our House. Our House, which is the Church of the Living God, "the pillar and ground of truth" (1 Tim. 3:15), as the Apostle Paul beautifully calls it, the founder of our Greek Church, whom we celebrate today. 

O holy Apostle Paul, you are so great, you dwell in the heavens, who can reach you! We beg you, however, to supplicate Christ, that we may be like you, even to a small degree. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos