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June 30, 2014

The Holy Twelve Apostles as Models for our Lives

Holy Twelve Apostles (Feast Day - June 30)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The birthday of a saint, on which the Church celebrates their memory, is considered the day of their death, because it is at the same time and day as their birth in the Kingdom of God. Thus, while each of the Twelve Apostles of Christ celebrates on different days, nevertheless for the Church to honor them and show the unity between them, it determined to celebrate the Twelve on June 30th every year. Besides the Twelve Apostles, Christ had a wider chorus of Apostles, seventy in number. The Twelve Apostles were His closest associates, who followed Him everywhere. After the deduction of Judas Iscariot from the chorus of the Twelve Apostles, his place was taken by Matthias. The names of the Twelve Apostles are: Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew (Nathanael), Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Jude the Brother of God and Matthias.

On the day of Pentecost the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and became fervent preachers of the Gospel to the ends of the inhabited world. They suffered for the propagation of the Gospel and all had a martyric end, except the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, who was "perfected in peace", because he experienced martyrdom by the side of Christ throughout the duration of His Passion and sacrifice on the Cross. They were poor in material goods, like Christ, but they enriched many, since they "had nothing yet possessed all things".

The joint celebration of the Twelve Apostles gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the Apostles of Christ after Pentecost showed great self-denial and self-sacrifice and preached the Gospel throughout the world. These cowards, who throughout the duration of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ were hidden in the Upper Room "for fear of the Jews", after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and especially after Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit, became true lions. They set their fear aside, gained strength and spiritual courage, braved all the difficulties, even unto death, which they exceeded in the limits of their personal life.

Pentecost was a historical event, but it is also a mystery which is repeated in the life of every true member of the Church, who are the saints. All the saints experienced their own personal Pentecost that altered them internally and transferred courage and strength to them to endure all sorrows, torments, temptations and difficulties with admirable fortitude and patience. But the feats of the saints, which "the powers of heaven wondered at", did not take place only with their poor human strength, but especially by the Grace and power of the Holy Spirit, which strengthens, supports and comforts the "pious fighters". Of course, the Apostles, like the Martyrs, Venerable Ones and all the saints, fought with admirable self-denial and superhuman patience, but if they did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them throughout their existence and strengthening them, it would have been impossible for them to have endured what they endured and succeeded in what they succeeded. But genuine "pious fighters" exist also today in the cities and the deserts. And certainly they could not have endured the "heat of the day and frost of night" without heavenly strength and consolation. Fr. Paisios said of an Athonite ascetic, who lived the entire winter without need of clothing or food and especially without heat, that "to sit in his cell with such deprivation meant that he had the consolation of God".

Experiencing the mystery of Pentecost is made possible within the Church after a persistent and arduous struggle, humility and patience. The Holy Spirit, who "blows where He wills", loves to set his camp in the humble, who sacrificially love Christ and keep His words.

Second, the material poverty of the Apostles was the natural result of their way of life. That is, the Apostles had their minds and hearts turned towards God, praying unceasingly, truly loving God and men, and so it was not possible to accumulate material wealth. According to Saint Gregory Palamas, he who has love does not have money and whoever has money does not have love. Indeed he stresses that they are deluded who think that they can both have money and love, just as it is impossible to pray while accumulating money. He says: "'Anyone who has love', said one of God’s friends, 'has dispersed his money. The man who says he possesses both love and money is deluded. He is either bereft of money, or bereft of love, that is to say, of God.' God is love, and He declares to us, 'Ye cannot serve God and mammon' (Matt. 6:24), using the word 'mammon' to mean everything we have to excess: gold, or silver, or anything else. He shows us that it is impossible for anyone who keeps money to pray, 'for where', He says, 'your treasure is, there will your mind be also' (cf. Matt. 6:21), but not in prayer. The Lord also says of such men, 'This people honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me' (Matt. 15:8-9). For that reason God’s beloved thunder proclaims, 'Whoso hath this world’s goods, and does not give to his brethren what they need, the love of God is not in him'" (cf. I John 3:17).

Of course, anyone who has a family is obligated to care for them and therefore it is natural to have some money and estate, but they should not put their hope in them. Saint Gregory Palamas, who said the above, wants to prevent us from having attachment to material possessions, which are the root of sensuality and avarice. When the heart is given to God, then a person has their hope in God. They manage their material goods, but they don't idolize them or become attached to them.

If we truly love the Apostles, we must, as Saint Gregory Palamas urges, show it in practice. That is, we should become their imitators, namely "practitioners" of their words and works and "not only listeners". He then stresses: "If you cannot, like the Apostles, speak, teach, rebuke and exhort to virtue, you can however become good workers of the Gospel and teachers of yourselves and others by your works and example."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Σύναξη τών Δώδεκα Αποστόλων", May 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.