The Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles

On June 29 of every year the Church celebrates the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The following day is the Synaxis (gathering together) of the twelve Apostles, when all twelve are commemorated. The day’s gospel reading is taken from St. Matthew 10: 1 – 8, and we are informed that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits (to cast them out), and to heal every disease and illness. We learn of their names: “Simon (who is called Peter), his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James, son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Ischariot, who betrayed him” (10: 2 – 4). Jesus then sent and commissioned them to go to the perishing sheep of the House of Israel. They were to proclaim that “the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.” They were to heal diseases, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. As they received freely, so they were to give (10: 6 – 8).

This was only the beginning of their apostolic commissions. After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to them.

Therefore, Jesus again said to them: ‘Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I also send you.’ And after he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit! If you should forgive any their sins, their sins are forgiven; if you hold their sins unforgiven, they are held unforgiven (John 20: 21 – 22).

Thus, they were given their place and authority in the sacrament of confession. Elsewhere in St, John’s Gospel, the apostles are given their commissioning as ministers in the sacrament of the Eucharist. We find this in this in the sixth chapter of his gospel where we are given St. John’s account of the miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand — he presents it as a type of the Eucharist. St. John 6: 12 – 13 reads,

Now, as they were filled, he says to his disciples, “Gather together the leftover pieces, so that they might not perish. Therefore, they gathered them together and filled twelve baskets filled with fragments of the barley loaves which were leftover by those who were fed.

This compares to St. Marks brief account: “And they (the disciples) took up twelve baskets full of pieces and of fish” (Mark 6:43). Here, St. Mark simply comments on the miracle — not only were more than 5,000 fed, but that with so great a miracle there were leftovers. St. John, on the other hand, gives significance to the leftover pieces of bread. He has the disciples gather up the pieces into twelve baskets that they would be preserved (“…that they might not perish”). The twelve baskets of leftover miraculous bread belong to the twelve Apostles. Jesus gives the leftovers to them to remain in their care. They were given into their care to feed even more with the miraculous bread which will be his Body as will be given to all who follow in their apostolic ministry. By them, and the bishops who follow in their authority over the centuries, this miracle is perpetuated in the Eucharist!

Jesus founded a Church, and the Apostles were to form and lead it. They were to shepherd and minister Christ the his Church. And the Apostles passed their authority on to their successors — the bishops of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and the priests and deacons they ordain to extend their ministry.

Last week, on June 23, 2019, we commemorated All Saints Day. We celebrate all the saints who were made holy by the Apostles’ ongoing work. Today, we all continue and live in the Church, this Body of Christ, itself a sacrament of Christ’s ministry. Christ is still present in his Church, and the Holy Spirit continues to work in the Church. The holy angels and the saints also pray and work among us. They do so that we might follow in the ways of Christ and be vivified by the Holy Spirit to be holy in our days in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus.

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