June 29, 2012

Saints Peter and Paul: Embracing Change

Blessed feast of Saints Peter and Paul! The most common icon of the two saints shows them embracing. I find this especially comforting because in life they had some dramatic differences over whether, or how openly, to bring Gentiles into the fold of what had been a Jewish movement. If Peter was a bit reticent on this point, Paul had no qualms and when he blasted the Galatians he also called Peter out for hypocrisy. Peter was acting one way with the Gentiles when alone with them—speaking and eating with them—but then as soon as traditionalist Jews came around he pretended to have nothing to do with them (see Gal 2:11-21). St John Chrysostom was so scandalized by this apparent break between the apostles that he makes it go away, and says—not very convincingly—that it was only a bit of staged play-acting between the apostles.

The fact is, bringing the Gentiles in was a massive change, the single most important change that Christianity ever faced. Throughout Paul’s letters we see the trouble this provoked as the universalism of the gospel clashed with the exclusivist position of Jewish Christians (and many Gentile converts) who wanted to keep what they regarded as the full gospel of Jewish tradition. Peter’s own encounter with this question comes in the person of Cornelius (Acts 10-11). Here is this Gentile who miraculously is brought to Christ and experiences the Holy Spirit: what are we to do with him? Thankfully, the early church decisively moved in the direction of embracing Cornelius and the Gentiles and the changes this brought (Acts 15). It wasn’t easy, it took time, even apostles had second thoughts from time to time, but it ensured that the message of Christ was for everyone.

On the Road

This morning after singing at the Liturgy for Saints Peter and Paul in St Sergius chapel (Fr Eric Tosi will serve), I will get on the road to Ottawa. I will be teaching a workshop on “Praying the Psalms” as part of the Sheptytsky Institute Study Days this weekend.  The theme is The Bible – A Timeless Text for Today? and the main speakers include three New Testament scholars: Dr. Edith Humphrey (of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a member of the Antiochian Orthodox Church), Fr Andrew Onuferko of the Sheptytsky Institute (Ukrainian Catholic) and Fr Andrea Spatafora, Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul University (Roman Catholic).

On Sunday I’ll serve at the OCA’s Annunciation Cathedral and then, God willing, drive to Portland, Maine for the funeral on Monday of Prof Veselin Kesich, who inspired me and so many others with his love and knowledge of the scriptures during his years of teaching at St Vladimir’s Seminary. May his memory be eternal!