Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”
The Church commemorates today two of her most important saints – Apostles – upon whom the Church of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, has been and is built. This feast is an ancient one – along with its fast – dating to somewhere in the 4th century. We might wonder why these two saints have been chosen. It is not, however, to the exclusion of the others. The Synaxis of the 12 Apostles will be commemorated on 30 June. We know from reading the Holy Gospels that our Lord had an inner core of Disciples from among the others whom Jesus had personally handpicked: James, John, and Peter were His close confidants during His earthly sojourn. Frequently, they are invited to go with Jesus when the others are not, especially key moments and moments of intimacy such as The Transfiguration.
And yet, of these three, our Lord identifies Peter as the chief steward of His apostolic band (Is. 22:22). Peter frequently is their spokesman, just as we find today when the Disciples are asked by our Lord what the populace is saying about Him. It is in response to our Lord’s more pointed question as to Who the Disciples say Jesus is that Peter pipes up on their behalf, “’Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’” at which point Jesus blesses Simon Bar-Jonah, that is, Simon the son of John, saying that his confession is one of divine revelation coming from the Father in Heaven, and not from man. Our Lord, then, goes on to say to Peter regarding his rock-solid confession, “’Thou art Peter [whose name means “rock”], and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’” Our Lord clearly identifies Peter, his divinely revealed confession of the Truth, with the building of the death-defying Church. It is clearly to Peter here that our Lord furthermore gives what has come to be called “The Keys.” “’And I will give unto thee [Peter] the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.’”
Protestants, on one hand, are very uncomfortable that a man would have such authority and that the Church would be founded on such a man. And yet, our Lord’s words are indisputably clear: what He says and to whom. This discomfort is the basis of the Protestant rejection of the Mystery of Confession and Repentance, using the same argument of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day that God alone forgives sins (Mt. 9:1-8; Mk. 2:1-12; Lk. 5:17-26)! Of course, a lot of shapeshifting and wrangling gets done when we hear our Lord say quite plainly to the Apostles after His Resurrection that they, on His behalf, have the very power to forgive or retain sins (Jn. 20:22-23).
On the other hand, this pericope from the Gospel becomes the point of disagreement between our brothers and sisters of Rome and the Orthodox. And, we all have been around long enough to know just what that bone of contention is. Outside of the unilateral change to the Nicene Creed by inserting the filioque clause [“and the Son”], the debate over whether the Roman See of Peter has universal jurisdiction over the whole Church is probably the next most problematic to reunion between the Church of the East and the Church of the West.
To cut to the chase, the Orthodox Church and her Fathers have always held that Peter is the chief Apostle, the Apostle of the Apostles, the eldest son and the big brother, the first among equals. But, he is not the boss. He is held in deference as holding first place in the Lord’s catholic family, but he does not rule single-handedly. His authority is that of love and servanthood, an authority shared equally by all the other Holy Apostles. The Keys entrusted to our beloved Peter are the very same Keys entrusted to the others two chapters later in this Gospel. In fact, if looked at closely the authority is bestowed as well upon the Church. The whole Church has this apostolic authority, with the Apostles in particular, along with those who stand in Apostolic Succession – our Bishops and those whom they ordain to the priesthood. This binding and loosing, however, isn’t restricted to the forgiveness of sins. It also embodies teaching authority as well as the governance of the Church. When Sacred Scripture speaks of those “who rule over you” and the obedience we owe them (Hb. 13:7, 17), this ruling over is not one of lording it over others, but of the servanthood of love and humility – living and speaking the saving Truth in love (Ep. 4:15).
Peter, and his brother Apostles, share the same rock-solid Faith “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Ju. 1:3). It is the Faith of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, that sustains and nourishes all believers who confess the same Faith, the same Jesus Christ – “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hb. 13:8). It is the Faith that withstands the very powers of sin, death, and the devil because the Rock is Christ – immovable – upon Whom the wise build and before Whom the very powers of Hell tremble (Mt. 7:24-27).
If put another way, we would say with St. Paul in his Epistle that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is the Chief Cornerstone with the Apostles and the Prophets as the foundation of the Church (Ep. 2:19-22). St. Peter in his Epistle concurs with his brother Apostle (Ac. 4:8-12; 1 Pe. 2:4-8). Together, then, they give voice to the rock-solid Faith of “the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth” (1 Tm. 3:15) and the Mediator of divine revelation (Ep. 3:10). The Faith of Peter is the Faith of the Apostles; the Faith of the Apostles is the Faith of Peter and, eventually, the Faith of Paul who is as “one born out of due time,” he says (1 Cr. 15:8). The Faith of Peter and Paul, and all the other Apostles is the Faith of the Church which is the Body of Christ God, “the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” (Ep. 1:22-23). “’[A]nd the gates of Hades shall not prevail against [her].’”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
1 Pe. 1:3-9 2 Cr. 11:21-12:9
1 Pe. 1:13-19 Mt. 16:13-19
1 Pe. 2:11-24