"Rediscovering Our Apostolic Identity in the 21st Century"
REDISCOVERING OUR APOSTOLIC IDENTITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY
by Archbishop Dr. Anastasios (Yannoulatos) of Tirana and All Albania
Professor Emeritus of the University of Athens
No one questions it in theory. On the contrary, we confess it solemnly and repeat it nearly every time we gather to worship. We profess our belief in "one holy, catholic and apostolic Church" and proclaim our membership in it. But in practice, it would seem that many Orthodox believers, and even many local Churches, commonly embrace a rather limited definition of "apostolic".
Handbooks on Dogmatics in the majority of the Orthodox Churches in Europe and the Middle East, (e.g. P. Trembelas, I. Karmiris, N. Moutsopoulou, K. Skouteris, and Chr. Krikonis) the tools by which new generations of Orthodox clerics and lay people are formed, emphasize as a rule three main points: 1) that the Church is apostolic in that it was established by Christ and its foundations laid by the Apostles; 2) that the Church preserves intact and unchanged the teaching of the apostles, the apostolic faith and tradition; and 3) that the Church is erected firmly upon the unbroken succession of Bishops from the Apostles.
These are incontrovertible truths, whose details have already been vividly described by others. But there is another fundamental dimension, an essential shading to this colorful portrait of apostolicity, that I would like to focus on today. Our guide to a deeper understanding of our theme will be the New Testament.
The idea of a divine mission also appears in other religions (take, for example. Zoroaster. Muhammad. Nanak, and in the Greek world, Epictetus and Hermes Trismegistus.) In Biblical revelation, however, this idea is intimately linked to the salvation of the whole world and is expressed in language that draws especially from the basic verb "apostello", "I send out" and its related forms.
Christ's awareness that he had been sent by the Father is vividly portrayed in the Gospels. He is he "whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (Jn 10:36; cf. "the Father has sent me" - Jn 5:36; 5.38; 6:29; 6:57; "I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, ... and he sent me" - Jn 7 :28-29; cf. Jn 8:42). In the Gospel of John, in particular, we encounter this truth forty times, like an inspiring refrain. The absolute unity of the Father and Son is such that the attitude one takes towards Jesus projects to the Father. (John 5:23, 12:45)
This witness constitutes the fundamental principle of the message of the Apostles: "and we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world" .
From the beginning, others were also called to participate in the work of announcing the salvation that was completed in Christ. At the time of Jesus, many different groups seeking perfection flourished as did various groups of pious seekers. The well-known Essene community comes to mind, as does the circle of disciples that gathered round John the Baptist. Such groups usually were localized geographically. Early in his ministry, Jesus sent out those whom he had called to Himself. "And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons;" (Mk 3:14-15) Christ Himself gave the name of apostle (apostolos) to His disciples. "He called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles;" (Lk 6:13). Jesus did not found a static community that withdrew from the world. Nor did he attach himself to one particular place. He traveled from city to city, town to town; and was always on the move. He sent out His disciples, still imperfect beings with weaknesses and shortcomings, who were at once his "disciples" and his "apostles". The community He established had mission - a sending-out - as its inner force. The work of this apostolic community had a centrifugal energy, moving outward from the Lord, the Teacher, to the others. At the same time, a single person, the person of Christ, provided a steady, centripetal attraction.
As His earthly deeds drew to a close, Christ associated His own mission with that of His Apostles. This theme is pronounced in his high priestly prayer: "As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." (Jn17: 18). When Christ completed His salvific work, through His sacrifice on the cross and Resurrection, the mission of His disciples was made explicitly clear.
The Risen Lord appeared to them while they were still terrified and shaken by the tragic events, and entrusted to them the continuation of His work. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:21-22). He declared to them that their mission would be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. After Christ's Ascension, He again reassured them, "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8).
The view was formulated that apostolic identity was limited exclusively to the Twelve who were eye witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Naturally, the Twelve hold a unique position in the life of the Church. They are the bedrock of the New Israel and will be her judges at the end of time (Mt 19:28). The election of a twelfth disciple, in the place of Judas, was made in order to maintain the symbolic power of the New Israel that had been born. (Acts 1:15-26). But at the same time, the election of Matthias demonstrated the recognition that others too had borne witness to the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. The Twelve are the eternal foundation of the Church. ("And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.") (Rev 21:14). Nevertheless, apostolic obligation is not limited to the activities of the Twelve. These in turn transmitted to others the work of their apostolic calling.
Already in the Gospel of Luke we find the tradition according to which Jesus "appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two" (Lk 10:1). The aim expressed here, to send them out into the world, was the same as that assigned to the Twelve. Both instances have the same, formal characteristic. "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Lk 10:16; cf.. Mt 10:40). Consequently, the work of those who are sent out, apostolic work, is not limited to the apostleship given to the Twelve. Besides the Twelve and the Seventy, the Risen Lord also sent out Paul - with a special, heaven-sent calling.
Paul's vocation widened the apostolic circle and the nature of apostolic work. Paul insists again and again that he is "a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1; cf. Eph 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; "an apostle to the Gentiles" Rom 11:13; a.o.). The manner in which Paul himself conceives of his apostleship reveals that a specific mission from the Lord can be entrusted to still others as well. In the New Testament, the name "apostle" is also given to other less eminent personalities: Barnabas, Sosthenes, Epaphroditus, Timotheus, Titus.
Broadly speaking, apostolic activity is the work of every disciple who is "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" (Mt 5:13-14). The Churches of Antioch and Rome came into being when the leaders of the Church reached them. (see Xavier Leon-Dufour et autres (ed.), Vocabulaire de theologie biblique, 3eme ed., Cerf, Paris 1974:apotres).
Of course, apostolic tradition rests upon the witness of the original Apostles. But the purpose of apostleship did not die out with the generation of the first Twelve. The Lord's final commandment to the eleven (Judas had by then excluded himself from their circle) did not concern only those particular disciples. In the same way, Christ's teaching and the other commandments that he gave to other groups of His followers, both large and small, did not concern those particular audiences exclusively, but were of relevance to the entire Church.
Let us consider how absurd it would be to interpret in such an exclusive fashion the Lord's words at the Last Supper, when he said to His Twelve disciples "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22: 19). Would it be possible to support the proposition that this commandment was of exclusive concern to His circle of Twelve? If that were the case, there would be no Church. Instead, the commandment concerns the entire lifespan of the Church. Likewise, the final commandment given to the Eleven is determinative not only for those Eleven, but for all who believe in the Gospel message, for the entire body of the Church that would come into being from the seeds of the first apostles' words and deeds. One could say that apostleship is a basic element in the genetic make-up of the Church.
The Lord's last commandment, as it is preserved in the Gospel of Matthew, defines the Church's scope and character. From the stirring words with which the Risen Christ directs His disciples emerge three main themes that constitute a seamless, organic whole. The first is a statement of universal importance: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me". The second, a final commandment: "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you". And with the third comes a promise "And (kai), lo I am with you always, to the close of the age." The conjunctions oun/therefore and kai/and emphasize the cohesion of thought. These three sentences are interlinked, intertwined like the muscular, circulatory and nervous systems of our bodies. They make up an organic, indivisible whole. They determine the origin, the orientation and strength of apostleship.
Many people prefer to focus their attention on the last sentence: "And, lo I am with you always, to the close of the age", which reinforces intellectually and emotionally the certainty of Christ's presence in our everyday life. No doubts have been expressed as to whether the first, as well as the last, verses refer to the fullness of the Church, that is to say, to all believers, without exception. But it is peculiar and inconsistent to consider that the middle link, the verse "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations", refers exclusively to the Twelve. If we take away the conjunctions oun and kai, the logical connections are lost. The revelation that "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given" to Christ implies a specific obligation on the part of the apostles and their successors. This obligation is the consequence of the great truth described in the first verse. Upon the fulfillment of their apostolic duty, they will have the guarantee of Christ's presence. Without the kai, the promise of Christ's constant presence is left hanging.
The obligation belongs to the whole Body of the Church. The Church, as the Eucharistic community of the Resurrection, shoulders the responsibility to proclaim the Mystery of the Triune God, the Divine Oikonomia in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
A basic characteristic of apostolicity is that the disciples are obliged to go out. Their lives will unfold on a wide open horizon, with challenges, dangers, successes and failures - forever in motion. No frontiers should bind them. Their duty is to go out and teach "all nations" - without exception. From the very start, the universal character of the Church's mission was expressed clearly.
The advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost witnessed a dynamic drawing together of the new community of disciples and strengthened it for the task of going out to "all nations". The commandment is firmly bound up with the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent that was given by Christ. And the Holy Spirit comes for the inauguration of a universal mission. The gift of tongues was not given, of course, as proof of linguistic prowess. It was a tool for their apostleship and work among foreign peoples with different languages and means of communication.
Christ completed His salvific work. The transmittal - both literal and figurative - of His message to all the world was not to be His own work. He entrusted the responsibility to his Apostles (the Church He founded). And the Apostles in turn entrusted the continuation of their work to their successors. This spiritual relay race continues in the hands of the Church as a whole until the Lord comes again. This characteristic of apostleship is indelibly wrought in the very nature of the Church and should be lived in every age, under new conditions and against new challenges. Mission is part of the Church's genetic material, a fixed element in its DNA. It is a gift of grace organically fused to the Church, nourished as it is by the Eucharistic community; and the Church is, in turn, constantly renewed by the apostolic calling. And this calling will be realized with the continual presence and energy of the Holy Spirit, until the end of time. We are dealing here with a process that has both historical and eschatological dimensions.
Nevertheless, there are some additional nuances of the term "apostolic", to which we shall refer at the end of this paper. For the time being, let us summarize my point: I believe that the perpetuation of the apostolic dynamic in historical time, in other words, the preservation of the apostles' flame and spirit, is a distinguishing feature of the Church in its entirety. An awareness of the magnitude of apostleship is utterly essential for our understanding of the very nature of the Church.
Circumstances in the world at the dawn of the third millennium after Christ are certainly not the same as those of the first or second. So much has intervened to shape and consolidate a whole range of situations. How then shall the Church's apostolic identity be lived out in our age?
1. To begin with, it is necessary to stimulate our slumbering awareness that we belong to a Church that is "apostolic", in the sense that we have elaborated so far, and that this apostolic vocation belongs to the entire Church. Each one of us personally, as a living cell of this organic whole, bears some part of the responsibility. Interest in apostleship, in mission, is not the specialty of particular groups or individuals. It is designated as the occupation of the Church. It is the sine qua non of its life.
Through the grace of God, significant progress has been made in this direction over the past forty years. We have witnessed this progress in the apostolic renaissance springing from the Orthodox Youth Organization "Syndesmos", with its publication "Porefthentes - Go Ye", as well as from the activity of the Porefthentes Centre and its influence in theological and ecclesiastical circles.
I had finished writing this paper, having in mind basically the classical dogmatic handbooks, when I read with joy a sermon by Fr. Alexander Schmemann that summarizes with clarity my assurance: "In saying that the Church is apostolic, we confess first that it was founded upon, and forever
remains founded upon the witness, teaching, and preaching of those apostles chosen and instructed by Christ Himself. And secondly, we affirm that the Church is always sent into the world, to people, to the whole creation, that it always remains missionary, i.e., doing the work of Christ in the world." (Alexander Schmemann, The Celebration of Faith. I Believe, Sermons, St.
Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1991, p.1l8.) The theological discussions and fermentation about Orthodox mission, that started after 1959 in the Orthodox circles, found strong advocates in the persons of Frs. A. Schmemann, J. Meyendorff, T. Hopko.
Today, many Churches - the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Moscow, the Churches of Greece and of Cyprus - have adopted apostolic positions and programs. Here in America, the commendable work of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center is well known. I would also add that the accomplishments in Africa and Albania over the past decades are also the fruits of groundwork laid by this apostolic renaissance. Still we find ourselves today at the early stages of the new Orthodox missionary era, at the very dawn of the Orthodox apostolic awakening in the twenty-first century.
Many Orthodox believe that the local Church to which they belong fulfills the obligation stated in Christ's last commandment through pastoral care of her flock, or, at the most, through reaching out to those sheep who have strayed in order to bring them back into the fold to which they were born. Through a certain carelessness, this activity has been called "internal mission", without the recognition on the part of most people that this term has been adopted from pietistic Protestant terminology. The consequence of taking on board what is immediately at hand has been an indifference to that part of the Church's obligation that extends beyond the local to the universal. Let us make here a short parenthesis in order to consider a working hypothesis. If humanity had waited for Orthodox Christians to make a move toward mission to "all nations", innumerable areas - Africa for example - would have been lost to Christianity. And the great victor would have been Islam.
Many local Orthodox Churches, with thousands of clerics and monks, are circumscribed within their ethnic boundaries. They dare not, rather, they do not even consider sending a handful of properly prepared missionaries, trained with correct ecclesiastical understanding to work in other places, to strengthen the already existing, often small, cells of Orthodox believers. But the exclusive, inward-turning to one land or one people simply does not correspond to the meaning of apostleship, of mission, as it is defined in the New Testament.
Here in North America especially, the Orthodox mission thrives within a dynamic society with universal interests. Something substantially new and important ought to arise from this situation. We live in an age of extraordinary human creativity, the fruits of which are especially apparent in the realm of science and scholarship. As creatures made in the image of God, we are endowed with the fundamental characteristic of creativity, which together with freedom, intellect and love, is one of our most distinctive qualities. In each new generation, with its unique challenges, we are called to offer the eternal that the Church has, thinking and acting creatively, but in organic continuity with the original, the "apostolic".
Of course, what we do not need are a few, isolated missionary activities in distant lands. It would be a great mistake to restrict apostolic awakening in our generation to the exotic escapades of a handful of zealots and others - to consider mission as the peculiar, marginal activity of a few romantic types with a craving for adventure. Nor do we need to propagate the rumor that missionary work represents Protestant influence on Orthodoxy, whereas the true Orthodox spirit is expressed through asceticism and monasticism. Christ did not create a monastic group; he created an apostolic group. Instead, firm foundations must be laid first of all through serious theological study; secondly through probing deeply into the dynamic meaning of the Church's apostolic identity; thirdly, through educating the ecclesiastical congregation, both clarifying and invigorating the apostolic awareness of the faithful; fourthly, through honest self-criticism as to the direction Orthodoxy is taking and should take, while disposing ourselves toward repentance. Finally, we must always be sensitive to the contemporary world, to its new challenges and inclinations.
The world "outside" the Church - that preeminent mission ground – is inconceivably complex. One must be constantly charting new ground, drawing new maps, staying alert to new developments. Such mission also demands creative thinking about how best to execute and make viable the apostolic ideal within each context.
It is enough to mention just a few characteristics of our age: the amazing speed with which information circulates around the globe; the technological revolution and continuous advances that hasten further the spread of news surpassing often even the speed of light; the pursuit and, at the same time, the undermining of Christian unity; and on a day-to-day basis, the political, social and educational co-existence with people of different faiths, or no faith at all.
One could also mention the penetration of the western world by ideas from the religious traditions of India; or the restoration and isolation of firmly-sealed religious communities, whose proprietors appeal to the need for security, the preservation of ethnic self-consciousness and cultural identity.
One could include the many-faceted revival of Islam whose dynamic presence is assuming a central place on the world stage. A basic feature of this revival is the growing attempt, using intensive proselytism and the mobilization of violent means, to resist the so-called Christian world. And finally, people everywhere are waking up to the tragedy wreaked across most of the planet by poverty and illness at epidemic levels, as in the case of AIDS.
Amidst this constant flux, these endless shifts of the oikoumene, how can we discern the path toward "all nations"? Clearly, not on the basis of the old geographical representations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that assume the existence of a "Christian oikoumene", from which heralds of the Gospels can be sent out to other nations. Frontiers are no longer defined geographically - between the Christian and the non-Christian worlds. Just as the boundaries between good and evil do not lie outside us, but are drawn across the hearts of each individual - and these are shifting boundaries - so we must realize that in the same way the boundaries between Christian and non-Christian should be sought within those countless people who are Christian in name. Among many peoples with a Christian tradition, vast swathes of the populace are either ignorant about or indifferent to religion. These people exist in the "land outside the Church". Amidst peoples whose majority embraces other religions, islets of Christianity still rise above sea level and need encouragement and reinforcement.
The mission of the Church must keep clearly on its horizon all nations, without exception. This includes the nations that have barely heard of Christ or are completely ignorant of his teachings; the peoples of America and Europe, many of whom persecuted Christ during the twentieth century; and those people who have pushed Him to the fringes by their arrogance and indifference, preferring in His place the worship of their own gods - money, sex, convenience.
In geographical terms, those who lie "outside" the Church may be close at hand, or far away. But neither can be ignored for reasons of ease. Apostleship is the obligation of the entire Church and there is no justification for focusing solely on those who belong to our nation or resemble ourselves. The field of responsibility and action is the whole world and that cannot change. The Lord's commandment is "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mk 16:15).
We must realize that responsibility also for those "outside" is incumbent upon all of us. It is not a matter of disinterest for the faithful. Rather, it is of direct concern to the apostolic Church, of which we are members. The Church ought to be present constantly through its emissaries.
Apostolicity requires that the Church - and I stress the whole Church not limit itself to pastoral care of those "within", to cultivating what comes easily, what is beautiful and spiritually inspiring for the benefit of those who are "within" the flock. The Church is called constantly to hazard one exit one way.
Above all, the present century of surprises is going to demand from us an exit from established structures, ways of thought and mentalities. The exhortation "Go ye" means departure from the place where we are now, where we feel comfortable. Naturally, the road to unfamiliar places is not easy. Dangers may lurk along the way. And a journey to "all nations" is, of course, associated with unforeseen ordeals and endless adventures. Present circumstances have ushered in a new distribution of technological knowledge, political power, material wealth, but also have brought new manifestations of poverty, deprivation, injustice and violence - not just so-called terrorism, recently intertwined with religious ideas, but all forms of violence. This situation demands that we Christians reconsider our responsibility and the possibility of a creative mobilization on our part in the face of world events.
We are called to go out from the confines of our closed, entrenched communities, to transcend our prejudices, misgivings, and fears and to bear witness together - to the best of our abilities - to the Risen Lord. We are called to meet our contemporaries where they are grappling with the most pressing problems. Not that we should align ourselves with the world, but in order to help in its reorientation toward the sacramental grace of the Church and the power of its truth. We must do this with earnest respect for the distinctiveness of every people and culture, for the freedom and dignity of each human being, and with genuine love for the whole person.
Many prefer to limit the Church's activity exclusively to the private, religious sphere. But the Church's horizon embraces all humanity and all creation. The defining term in Christ's final words is "all" - pas, pasa, panta. "All authority. .. all nations... to observe all that I have commanded you. .. all the days" (Mt 28:18,..20).
The issue is not that the Church win all nations, but that the Church teach all nations; that she share with all nations the knowledge, salvation and experience she possesses; and that she continue with love and hope, at the global level, the service of the word, the mysteries and reconciliation. Every individual, every people, is free to receive or reject the Gospel message. They deserve, however, to be informed responsibly about it - not catch it in bits and pieces, or from dubious sources, but from the apostolic Church.
I would like to underline just two essential elements of our contemporary apostolic responsibility. First, we must be present as individuals, conscious members of the Church, and, where possible, as a Eucharistic community proclaiming in peace the kingdom of God; present in the countryside, in cities, wherever those who are "outside" gather; present as living members of the Church, at colloquia, at meetings both intra-Christian and inter-faith, but also at scholarly, scientific, political, and economic conferences, as a calm and humble presence of the Orthodox view and witness, helping to find worthy solutions to vexing problems. In our day, divine providence has opened for the Orthodox windows onto areas that were previously hermetically sealed. The Orthodox witness should by all means be proclaimed in these instances.
I was really surprised when I was recently informed that some phrases of mine - I believe orthodox- from a sermon delivered at the 75th anniversary gathering of Faith and Order (Lausanne August 25, 2002) have been translated into 58 different languages (including 23 from Asia), through a text of the Taize community (see: "A God who simply loves - Letter 2003"). Really an unbelievable range for an Orthodox meditation.
Secondly, we must share with others whatever we have, whatever possessions God has granted us, both material and spiritual: knowledge, sacred and profane, means, capabilities, talents and aspirations, the experience and power of love, or peace "which passes all understanding". To such "sharing" belong the innovative ideas and programs for the development of areas dominated by grinding poverty. In Albania e.g. in conjuction with the restoration of the ruined Orthodox Church, we tried to be a Eucharistic community, open, sharing what we have, and contributing to a suffering society through pilot social programs in health care, education, development and relief efforts, culture, and the environment.
The presence of every member of the Church who is alive in Christ radiates not only thoughts and ideas, but also divine grace, borne within the true believer. The apostolic vocation remains the duty of the Eucharistic community. It must be bound to that community and live through the community. The Church as a community, and I emphasize, the whole Church, in order to remain faithful to her apostolic self-awareness has no right to be absorbed in introspection, in her internal problems. In each generation, the right people must be sought out and sent out to the exterior world - both in geographical and social terms, both faraway and close by.
Those who are chosen for the particular task of mission to the "outside" world - understood in its geographical, social and ideological meanings – would be well-advised to leave behind simplifications and naive romanticism. As soon as possible, they must get used to being "strangers in a strange land". It will be their lot to be the "other", to live as minorities, sometimes enveloped in a cloud of suspicion and circumspection.
We must also all free ourselves from the concern for immediate and large scale results. Throughout history, the attempt to establish the Christian ideal has produced two solutions: "the flight to the desert and the creation of the Christian empire". As Fr. Georges Florovsky pointed out: "We are well aware that these two solutions were shown to be unsuccessful because it was never possible for everyone to escape to the desert, and the Christianity of the emperors was never anything but nominal" (The Body of the Living Christ. An Orthodox Interpretation of the Church (translated from the French)). Nonetheless, the Church continues to impart the message of salvation and the grace of the mysteries to all nations; she continues to give meaning to life and death and to the history of the world. Her mission preserves both its historical and eschatological dimensions. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come." (Mt 24:14) "The failure of all utopian hopes cannot overshadow the Christian message and the Christian hope. The King came, the Lord Jesus, and His Kingdom shall come" (G. Florovsky. Ibid).
The Orthodox Church is called to be an apostolic people, the light and salt of the world, that offers an unending, living witness to the living God.
2. A revival of the Church's apostolic consciousness means also a rediscovery and a living-out of apostolic vision, apostolic flame and apostolic ethos.
a) With an eye to all the world's peoples, as the Risen Lord had directed in his last commandment, the Apostles possessed a global vision. But this vision had nothing to do with today's globalization of the economic market. The mission of Christ's disciples to all nations had in view the universalization of the love that elevates the human being toward the theanthropos, creating him anew. That vision lives on as the goal of the Eucharistic community, made up of those joined by the Holy Spirit in each and every place. Our mission is to create a community of solidarity, a community of free persons filled with this love. The Apostle Paul refers to the honor, glory and power granted to the Risen Lord and emphasizes that "all things" (ta panta) are within his sway. (Col. 1:16-21; Eph.l:21-22) This vision extends not only to the entire universe, but reaches even unto the last things, preparing the way for the fullness of time, "to unite all things in him" (Eph 1:10).
b) The zeal that typifies the Apostles' dynamic work cannot be understood simply as something exterior to them, a straightforward task they were obliged to complete. Their work welled-up unceasingly from the depths of their beings. It was a need, something essential to their inner state. "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting...." states the Apostle Paul "For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." (1 Cor 9:16). This need applies to the Church as a whole. Paul's burning love for Christ - from which nothing could part him and through which he conquered all things (Rom. 8:37-39) - had to find expression. He yearns to share with others the divine gifts he received, not to impose them. This love is a flame that is nourished by the fire of Pentecost and must be conveyed to other souls capable of receiving it. (see 2 Tim 2:2).
c) The apostolic ethos is described in some astounding lines preserved in Paul's letters. The description is based on his understanding of the unique treasure given to the apostles by grace, and not thanks to any particular worth or strength of their own. They preserve this treasure intact and amidst the most adverse conditions. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels," writes Paul, "to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us ..." (2 Cor 4:7-10).
The apostle's worth and power does not derive from his personal virtue or knowledge. "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me." (1 Cor 15:10). This grace is experienced, rather, in the sense of personal sinfulness, even in a state of utter powerlessness.
Paul tackles with particular candor the subtle problem of the Apostles' disparagement from some contemporary self-confident religious people. "I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; ...We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. ... When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate;" (1 Cor 4:9-13).
He summarizes the apostolic ethos in an extraordinary manner in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. Here I will read just a few verses: "as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, ... by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God… as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything".
Finally, throughout the entire course of the apostles' work there prevails a distinct awareness of Christ's presence. "And lo, I am with you always" (I prefer the translation "all the days" – pasas tas imeras", which we can understand "in all sort of days"). This presence enlightens their existence, whatever difficulties each day may bring. This awareness has emboldened apostles across the ages to confront even the most painful moments. It brings them comfort and peace along the most tortuous paths they must walk, at times of sorrow and suffering. It fills them with constant rejoicing and the light of tranquility. This is not something graspable by the mind, something belonging to the realm of abstract thought. Rather, we are confronted with the radiance of grace pouring out from the Holy Spirit that penetrates and enlightens all existence. This is what it means to live and work in Christ. (Cf. Gal. 2:20).
We belong to a Church which we believe to be "one, holy, catholic and apostolic". When we summarize the views about the Church's apostolicity we discern these main features: our Church is apostolic because a) it was established by the one sent by God, His Son, Jesus Christ, and its foundations were laid by the Apostles; b) it understands itself as directly identified with the apostolic community as it was described in the New Testament and in Holy Tradition, the womb from which was born also the canon of the New Testament; c) it preserves intact and unchanged the teaching of the Apostles with an unswerving consciousness of its uninterrupted continuation throughout history and its faithfulness to the word of God, as it was understood in the apostolic age and was preserved across the course of time, guided by the Holy Spirit; d) it is rooted in the celebration of the Mysteries, as Christ ordained and as was passed down by the Apostles; it is unshakably erected on the unbroken apostolic succession of bishops and the clergy they themselves have consecrated.
Today I have tried to bring out, to emphasize another aspect of this apostolic identity, namely, a) that our Church is apostolic because it continues in an on-going mission toward the renewal and re-formation of the world. This mission is a basic element in the DNA of our Church; b) it is necessary, in that case, that the whole Church, walking in the footsteps and tradition of the Apostles, continue to proclaim the Gospel to the whole of humanity until the end of the world; c) our local Churches, but also each and every one of us, should as members of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" take up our corresponding share of the apostolic calling. We should do this with consistency and with the use of our creativity, in both thought and deed. And finally d) once we have recognized our apostolic identity, we ought then to carry on the "diaconia of the logos" (service of the word), of the mysteries and of reconciliation with apostolic vision, zeal and ethos. The whole world is our stage, throughout the course of history that remains until the coming of the Lord.