Monday, 22 February 2021 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, celebrating with the entire Universal Church the Primacy and Authority of St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ and the representative of the Head of the Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we focus our attention on the centrality of the role of St. Peter and his successors, the Popes, in the governance and leadership of the entire Church.

We may find it weird that we are celebrating the feast on a ‘Chair’ but the meaning and significance of the ‘Chair of St. Peter’ are in fact very great if we understand fully the importance of chair in the matter of governance and leadership, especially in the context of the early Christians. Chair is often the symbol and visible sign and proof of authority, the seat of the leader and the physical proof of the authority the leader held over the group he was in charge of.

For example, Pontius Pilate, as the Roman Procurator or Governor of Judea has his judgment seat, called the Gabbatha, when he was about to proclaim judgment on the case of the Lord during His Passion. It was from that seat that Pontius Pilate, representing the Roman Emperor, proclaimed his judgment that the Lord Jesus was to be condemned to death and be crucified.

The High Priests of old and other leaders also had their seats of authority, and for the kings and lords, these are called thrones, and even up to this day, thrones are symbol of the monarchical, royal and governmental power. Similarly therefore, for the bishops of the Church, their authority and power, entrusted to them by the Lord, are represented by their ‘seat of authority’, called the Cathedra. And aptly, the church where this Cathedra is located at, is called the Cathedral, the heart of the bishop’s diocese and the mother of all the churches in the diocese.

Therefore, that seat of the bishop symbolises not just the authority of the bishop over his diocese, but also the unity of the whole local Church and the Christian community to the bishop and therefore to the Universal Church, as then symbolises by the Chair of St. Peter, the Seat of the Pope as the Successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ, as the leader of the entire Universal Church, the whole One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

By this virtue, the Pope has been entrusted with the care of the whole community of the faithful, to safeguard the truth and the teachings of the Lord, His commandments and laws as passed down faithfully through the generations. He also spoke with the authority of the Lord, as we have heard from our first reading today, in the Epistle of St. Peter, in which St. Peter spoke exhorting the bishops and leaders of the Church to be responsible and faithful in the exercise of their mission.

St. Peter reminded the bishops, then known as elders and overseers in the earliest days of the Church, that they ought to be exemplary in their conduct and faith, so that by their faith and obedience to God, they might be faithful and be good examples for their flock, helping and leading them down the right path towards God. Otherwise, they would be leading them down the wrong path, and then, much blame will be on them.

That is why some Church traditions held that the famous St. John Chrysostom, the Doctor of the Church and one of the most influential Church fathers, himself also a bishop of the Church, spoke of how the road to hell is paved with the skulls and bones of errant and terrible priests and especially bishops who led the faithful astray down the wrong path, either through their own immoral and unfaithful life, or through false teachings and ideas.

Today, all of us are called to pray for our bishops, as well as our priests, and first and foremost of all, for our Pope, the successor of St. Peter, that in the heavy responsibilities they held, they might remain strong in faith, and firm in their conviction and their beliefs, so as not to be overwhelmed by the many temptations and pressures surrounding them, or be swayed by false teachings and ideas that can lead them astray, and then lead all the flock astray as well.

Let us all give them our prayers, our support and love, brothers and sisters in Christ, that our Pope first of all, then the other bishops may imitate the faith and examples of St. Peter, whose faith in the Lord was unwavering to the end, and whose humility was indeed exemplary. Although St. Peter himself did make mistakes and famously denied the Lord three times, but in his imperfections, he remained filled with love for God, and was genuinely remorseful for his actions.

The kind of courage and faith, the genuine love that St. Peter had in loving God, in declaring His faith and dedication to the Lord, is something that all of us Christians should also have, and are especially important for the leaders of the Church, the shepherds entrusted with the care of the faithful. Therefore, as we celebrate together this Feast of Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, let us all renew our support and obedience to the Magisterium of the Church in our Pope and the bishops, and especially to our Pope, Francis, as the successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ.

May the Lord continue to bless the Church, our Pope and the bishops, our own respective diocesan bishops and all others entrusted with the positions of leadership within the Church, that He will continue to guide them and protect them, and give them the wisdom and strength to lead and guide, to show the way to us, the flock of the Lord, that together as one Church, we may come to the Lord’s salvation, grace and eternal glory with Him. Amen.

Monday, 22 February 2021 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Matthew 16 : 13-19

At that time, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They said, “For some of them You are John the Baptist, for others Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Jesus asked them, “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “It is well for you, Simon Bar-Jona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.”

“And now I say to you : You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven : whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.”

Monday, 22 February 2021 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 22 : 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

He guides me through the right paths for His Name’s sake. Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are beside me : Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of my foes. You anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing.

Goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

Monday, 22 February 2021 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 Peter 5 : 1-4

I now address myself to those elders among you; I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, hoping to share the Glory that is to be revealed.

Shepherd the flock which God has entrusted to you, guarding it not out of obligation but willingly for God’s sake; not as one looking for a reward but with a generous heart; do not lord it over those in your care, rather be an example to your flock.

Then, when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will be given a crown of unfading glory.

Text of the Joint Declaration of the Vicar of Christ and Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople

http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/text-of-joint-declaration-signed-by-pope-and-ecumenical-patriarch

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We, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, express our profound gratitude to God for the gift of this new encounter enabling us, in the presence of the members of the Holy Synod, the clergy and the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to celebrate together the feast of Saint Andrew, the first–called and brother of the Apostle Peter. Our remembrance of the Apostles, who proclaimed the good news of the Gospel to the world through their preaching and their witness of martyrdom, strengthens in us the aspiration to continue to walk together in order to overcome, in love and in truth, the obstacles that divide us.

On the occasion of our meeting in Jerusalem last May, in which we remembered the historical embrace of our venerable predecessors Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, we signed a joint declaration. Today on the happy occasion of this further fraternal encounter, we wish to re–affirm together our shared intentions and concerns.

We express our sincere and firm resolution, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians, and above all between Catholics and Orthodox. As well, we intend to support the theological dialogue promoted by the Joint International Commission, instituted exactly thirty–five years ago by the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios and Pope John Paul II here at the Phanar, and which is currently dealing with the most difficult questions that have marked the history of our division and that require careful and detailed study. To this end, we offer the assurance of our fervent prayer as Pastors of the Church, asking our faithful to join us in praying “that all may be one, that the world may believe” (Jn17:21).

We express our common concern for the current situation in Iraq, Syria and the whole Middle East. We are united in the desire for peace and stability and in the will to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and reconciliation. While recognizing the efforts already being made to offer assistance to the region, at the same time, we call on all those who bear responsibility for the destiny of peoples to deepen their commitment to suffering communities, and to enable them, including the Christian ones, to remain in their native land. We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes.It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many. As Saint Paul reminds us, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). This is the law of the Christian life, and in this sense we can say that there is also an ecumenism of suffering. Just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, so too the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity. The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer, but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community.

The grave challenges facing the world in the present situation require the solidarity of all people of good will, and so we also recognize the importance of promoting a constructive dialogue with Islam based on mutual respect and friendship. Inspired by common values and strengthened by genuine fraternal sentiments, Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice, peace and respect for the dignity and rights of every person, especially in those regions where they once lived for centuries in peaceful coexistence and now tragically suffer together the horrors of war. Moreover, as Christian leaders, we call on all religious leaders to pursue and to strengthen interreligious dialogue and to make every effort to build a culture of peace and solidarity between persons and between peoples. We also remember all the people who experience the sufferings of war. In particular, we pray for peace in Ukraine, a country of ancient Christian tradition, while we call upon all parties involved to pursue the path of dialogue and of respect for international law in order to bring an end to the conflict and allow all Ukrainians to live in harmony.

Our thoughts turn to all the faithful of our Churches throughout the world, whom we greet, entrusting them to Christ our Saviour, that they may be untiring witnesses to the love of God. We raise our fervent prayer that the Lord may grant the gift of peace in love and unity to the entire human family.

“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thess 3:16).

From the Phanar, 30 November 2014