St. Peter and the Church: part 1

Perhaps the most important misconception one must see when considering the Roman Catholic claims is this idea that the greater the divine role of St. Peter in the Church, the stronger their claims are. In fact the opposite is true. St. Peter’s role is so great that it cannot possibly pertain to Rome alone. St. Peter is an essential part of the foundation of the Church: and though he is capable of withstanding this weight, Rome is not. The primacy of Peter (whatever that may be) and the primacy of Rome (which is also up for discussion) are two very different things.

Whence the idea of the primacy of Rome? One looks at the council of Chalcedon in the fifth century, where Canon 28 grants Rome privilege among the sees for non-theological reasons. The Council “accorded privileges to old Rome, for this city was the seat of the Emperor and Senate…” Therefore it is for imperial considerations that Rome was initially given the place of first among equals.

This understanding was firmly entrenched in Byzantium, so much so that there is little controversy and ink spilled on the topic. Therefore, it was not surprising when we see it surface about six hundred years later when the Emperor’s Alexius Comnenus’ daughter Anna matter-of-factly writes, “The truth is that when power was transferred from Rome to our country and to our Queen of Cities (that would be Constantinople), not to mention the senate and the whole administration, the order of seniority between the thrones was also changed. Henceforth, the emperors bestowed primacy to the throne of Constantinople”. That is to say – that for completely non-doctrinal reasons – primacy was transferred away from Rome, but not away from Peter. While, of course, more could be said of Rome’s historical place and St. Ignatius’ claims of their “preimmanence in love” it remains pertinent and clear that the understanding of Rome’s place was clear and consistently held within most of the Church during the time leading up to the Great Schism.

Because of this non-divine – and thus impermanent nature of primacy – Hadrien IV, a bishop from Ephesus, said in 1155 that “the throne of Constantinople is superior to that of Rome.” In our contemporary context we must wonder what will happen now that Constantinople is being chocked out by Islam. But this question, though sad and sobering, is more logistical than it is dogmatic.

So we can see that the equivocation of Peter with Rome is foreign to the Church’s historical consciousness, but how did it come about? It seems to stem from a simple analogy. Scripture and the Fathers are comfortable calling Peter the “first” of the apostle’s; and as we have seen, councils of the Church along with emperors were comfortable calling the bishop of Rome “first” among equals. Thus the analogy between the role of St. Peter among the apostles and the role of Rome among the ecclesiastical hierarchs comes into view. While this analogy seems apparent – and indeed, is undisputed – one must agree that it does not provide much leverage in terms of argument, and it does not uncover a privileged connection of the see of Rome to Peter, or a clear depiction of Petrine succession. The analogy between whomever is serving as the privileged bishop and the role of the “first” of the apostles provides nothing for the Roman Catholic position.

Leaving aside the troublesome topics of apostolic succession and what the succession of Blessed Peter is; it is worth pointing out some facts about St. Peter’s life that we should keep in mind. First, we don’t know what his role was in the Church in Rome, and it seems very unlikely that he founded it. We certainly know that we wasn’t a bishop there. Linus was Rome’s first bishop, and then Clement, and so forth on down the road. We do know however that he had strong ties to the Church in Jerusalem (of whom St. James was bishop) and to the Church in Antioch. If exclusive claims as the “see of Peter” could be made by a local bishop, these are certainly the cities with the strongest claims, not Rome.


The Church and the Kingdom of Heaven

From The Brother’s Karamazov:  This was said during a debate about the separation of Church and State.

“I have read the book which you have answered,” he added, addressing Ivan, “and was astounded at the words ‘The Church is a kingdom not of this world. ‘If it is not of this world, then it cannot exist on earth at all. In the Gospel, the words ‘not of this world’ are not used in that sense. To play with such words is indefensible. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to set up the Church upon earth. The Kingdom of Heaven, of course, is not of this world, but in Heaven; but it is only entered through the Church which has been founded and established upon earth. And so a frivolous play upon words in such a connection is unpardonable and improper. The Church is, in truth, a kingdom and ordained to rule, and in the end must undoubtedly become the kingdom ruling over all the earth. For that we have the divine promise.”

Education and St. Ephraim the Syrian

St. Ephraim the Syrian, was one of the most eloquent and profound of the saints whose ability to express his emotions and thoughts avoided narcissism and pointed towards reliance on Christ.  He’s one of the Church’s most brilliant poets: of the same line as King David and St. Nicolai of South Canaan.  His hymns cover a wealth of topics, and seem rather timeless.  Consider for instance, this hymn about education, written in the 4th century.


Those who educate by blinding rather than by enlightening –what will You do with them, O Lord?

They turn Your children away from You, and prevent them from approaching Your Grace, for they say: “‘The Lord’ is an archaic term of your dead grandparents. It is an old amulet, which your grandparents used to wear but they have died off. We shall teach you how to till the earth, how to fatten the body, and how to dig for gold, which shines more brilliantly than the dead Lord.” What will You do with these corrupters of Your children, O Lord?

“I shall do nothing to them, for they have done everything to curse their own seed and breed. Truly, they have prepared a worse judgment for themselves and their people than the scribes and Sadducees. For they had the example of these latter, and failed to learn from it.

“In their old age, they will hear sabers rattling at their threshold, and will be dying of hunger, bald and gaunt, and they will not dare to poke their heads out of their door to warn their students. How will they warn them, when My name has been expelled from their brigand hearts? What will they even say to warn them, since they prepared their students for this in their own abysmal stupidity, which accompanies everyone whom I do not accompany?” What will happen to them, O Lord?

“It will be worse for them than for the Babylonians, when in their might they used to worship blood and gold, and used to teach their children to worship them also.

“First will come hunger, such as even Babylon never knew. And then war, for the sake of plundering bread, from which they will return defeated. And then an internecine slaughter and burning of cities and towns. And then diseases, which the hands of physicians will not dare to touch. And the teachers will be flogged with whips and goaded to be the gravediggers of their students, whose stenchful corpses fill all the road-ways.”

Those who lead the people are not leading the people, but are misleading the people — what will You do with them, O my Lord? “They are leading the people astray for the sake of their own profit, and once the people arise and rise up, these leaders will step down from power and consume their ill-gotten gains in peace. They accuse their adversaries, and yet follow in their steps. Their clamor prevents a wise man from getting a word in edgeways.

“They flatter idiots and bullies just to attain the first places. They write books daily and expose the wickedness of their kinsmen, in order to conceal their own wickedness.

“They do not teach the people the truth, but feed them lies the year round.

“They are incapable of doing the people justice, so instead they intimidate them by scaring them with a worse injustice of times past.

“They pillage for themselves and their friends, for they know that they are not long for this world.”

What will You do with them, O righteous Lord?

“They have done everything themselves, and I have nothing to do, except to leave them to themselves. Truly, they will not consume their gains in peace, but will spend it on the funeral feasts of their relatives.

“They will be impoverished, and mice will scurry through their torn shirts. They will dream of rebellions by those who have been deluded and looted, and they will arise at midnight, terrified and soaked with sweat. Their life will be long, so that their punishment may be longer.

“They will live to see their house in flames, and will flee their own land, hungry and sickly, and will not dare to utter their own names in the presence of anyone.

“They will see foreigners in their land, and will beg them for a piece of bread.

“It will be worse for their country than it was for the Roman Empire. For they had Rome for an example, and did not learn from it.

“It will be worse for their nation which was born of them, than it was for the Jewish nation. For they had the example of the Jewish nation, and did not learn from it.

“They will hear their names being cursed, and will not dare to poke their heads out the window.

“They will see their people, being led away bound in columns, and will be afraid for themselves.

“And they will hear, both when asleep and when awake, their name being cursed, and they will shiver — they will shiver but will be unable to die.”

O Great and Fearful Lord, all Your ways are grace and truth. What will You do with those who were blinded, misled, deceived and despoiled?

“I wait, to see who will cry out to Me — and I will respond.

“As long as there is crying out on earth, there will also be an echo in heaven.

“I am the One who is closest to everyone on earth. I give Myself to everyone who desires Me; I withdraw Myself from everyone who does not acknowledge Me. Without Me the world is a pile of ashes. And without Me people are feebler than ashes.”

Charity Work in Georgia

Take about 10 minutes and listen to AFR’s program on the conflict between Russia and Georgia. They talk with IOCC’s longstanding work in this section of the former Soviet Union, which has recently been kicked into high-gear. IOCC is an interesting and effective charity organization because of the organization of the local churches and their organic link between parishes and the need on the ground. For this reason it is no reason that both the Russian hierarchs and Georgian hierarchs are involved in the relief work. IOCC is able to use local resources to help those in need because of their connection with local parishes and the cooperation of the different autocephalous churches. Such a different way of helping out the less fortunate than we are used to: dropping packaged goods from places and distributing condoms to the thirsty and malnourished.

Stem Cells Revisited

For years it has been the case that “Stem Cells” were black words for the religiously conservative; just like “Abortion”. But that all might change, since Japanese scientists have been able to harvest stem cells from dentally extracted wisdom teeth. It was previously discovered that stem cells could be harvested from skin, but where would we get a wealth of skin? On the other hand we discard thousands and thousands of wisdom teeth a year. Just think: in about five years it looks like we can help people without killing babies.

Japanese scientists said Friday they had derived stem cells from wisdom teeth, opening another way to study deadly diseases without the ethical controversy of using embryos.Researchers at the government-backed National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology said they created stem cells of the type found in human embryos using the removed wisdom teeth of a 10-year-old girl.

“This is significant in two ways,” team leader Hajime Ogushi told AFP. “One is that we can avoid the ethical issues of stem cells because wisdom teeth are destined to be thrown away anyway.

“Also, we used teeth that had been extracted three years ago and had been preserved in a freezer. That means that it’s easy for us to stock this source of stem cells.”

The Wrong Way?

Everyone notices that Orthodox Christians cross themselves differently from the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians.  People often describe it as “backwards” or “the wrong way”, because they move the cross from the right shoulder to the left shoulder.

Not that this is a matter of great theological dispute, it is a matter of historical interest.  How did the two different ways of crossing yourself become distinct?   Is there a right or wrong direction to cross yourself?

Well there certainly is a traditional way: and that is (drum roll please) the Orthodox way.  Even as late as the 13th century Pope Innocent III described the sign of the cross as moving from right to left, the Orthodox way.  He  mentioned that some very western Christians had started the odd practice of crossing themselves from left to right – with two fingers.

Pope Innocent III explained the sign in a manner familiar to Orthodox believers.

“The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Trinity. This is how it is done: from above to below, and from the right to the left, because Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) he passed to the Gentiles (left).”

It’s Official…

It hasn’t been much of a secret, but now it’s official – Archimandrite Jonah Paffhausen will be consecrated as Auxiliary Bishop to the Diocese of the South.  Fr. Jonah has been serving as the Abbot at the Monastery of St. John of San Francisco in Manton CA., and has reportedly turned down an opportunity to be Bishop of another region to serve as the Auxiliary to the 85 year old Archbishop DMITRI.  He plans to bring a couple monks with him to Dallas, where he will work in the Chancery office and assist at St. Seraphim Cathedral.

This was announced officially after Vespers on Wednesday by Archbishop DMITRI.  Though I was serving in the altar on Wednesday with Fr. Jonah, I haven’t had much time to get to know him yet.