The household asleep, I wandered into the night. We live just outside the city, and with the moon rising late, the stars are stunning. As I walked, words of Psalm 19 tumbled into my mind—but perhaps not the verses one would expect:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the
universe (v. 4).”
We Orthodox sing this verse every time there is a feast of the holy Apostles. Yet, this Psalm actually begins not with people who glorify God, but rather the very cosmos itself; in midst of our singing, the reader intones verse 2:
“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His
This is a strangely beautiful juxtaposition: the so-called natural revelation of God in the glory of his creation on the one hand, and the special revelation of God in the Good News proclaimed by Apostles. Nevertheless, this isn’t some blithe invention of Orthodox worship; the Psalmist himself weaves together such a tapestry of the glorification of God. Of course, the Apostles are not named, per se, in the Psalm; rather, it is both the heavens and the Law of God that are his messengers. The glory of God is written in both the parchment of creation—the heavens—as well as on tables of stone in the Law of God. Today, we sing the Psalm with New Covenant hearts awakened with the eyes of New Creation—a vision only possible with the Apostolic proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The chorus of nature is itself joined by God’s special servants, all proclaiming the glory of God.
Who were these Apostles, whom holy tradition identifies with the brilliance of the starry night? How are they like the heavens? How are they like the blessed Law of God?
In short, they are undeniable guides, filled with divine beauty.
The world has its own stars, of whom we know too much, to be sure. Even the varied traditions of Protestant Christianity looks to its own such luminaries. Far be it for me to pick on somebody or take a cheap shot, but one of the more ludicrous or humorous features (you pick) of Evangelicalism is the use of star athletes and “the power teams” as foils (no pun intended…I think) for evangelistic outreach or youth ministry. No megachurch Father’s Day weekend would be complete unless there was a “father-son” event featuring such studly spirituality. The brilliant glory of such “stars” draw our attention, it is hoped, to the glory of the gospel. Somehow such stars legitimatize our faith, or so we think. It is not my job to judge the matter, but such constellations leave me strangely cold and empty—their glory a far cry from the glory of the Cross.
In the historic Christian Faith, the holy Apostles are the true stars, whose glory never eclipsed the glory of God, but rather shone forth only with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, their glory wasn’t physical prowess, or even intellectual brilliance. As we sang on Pentecost:
“Blessed art thou, O Christ our God,Who hast revealed the fishermen as most by
sending down upon them the Holy Spirit.”
The glory of the Apostles was the fulfillment of Jesus’ word that God would create men and women who worshiped Him “in Spirit and in truth.” That same Spirit would guide them into all truth that they then proclaimed with a divine power. Yet, above all, that glory and power was that of the Cross of Christ, which they lived to the utmost:
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,Here is a glory to be embraced, especially during this current season, the Apostles’ Fast, when we are especially mindful of our Apostolic heritage—of being “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” (the Nicene Creed). The glory of these stars, these luminous Apostles, is not in outward shows but through spiritual transformation by the power of Jesus’ Cross, in dying to the world of the passions. To use the language of St. Paul, their lives were living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, as their spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1-2). If we are to truly be Apostolic as Christians, we too must reflect such glory: the glory of the Cross. Then we too will be at least lesser lights, luminaries in a darkening world.
by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians