Period of the Apostles

icon-of-the-paracleteRev. Dr. Prof. John Moolan

The period of the Apostles begins with the feast of Pentecost. This feast should be understood in the context of Jewish feast by the same name. Among the Jews the feast of Pentecost was known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest. This was a full seven weeks of harvesting with thanks giving that began with the day after the Passover Sabbath (Lev 23:10-11, 15) and ended with the offering of the first fruits in the temple on the fiftieth day (Pentacosta) at the end of the seventh week. This thanksgiving feast of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt acknowledged God’s provision for them during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

Later this feast came to be known as the Feast of Tents, Tabernacles, or Booths. When the Jews were in exile in 70 and 586 AD they had no harvesting and no temple to offer things, then this feast was evolved into a memorial of the covenant at the giving of the laws (commandments) during their exodus from Egypt. The Israelites reached at Sinai Mount in the third month of the Jewish year (Ex 19:1). This was more or less fifty days after Passover in Egypt. Then the commandments were given to Moses, and he instituted the Tent of Testimony (Ex 40:16f) for the Arch of Covenants (commandments). During the Exodus the Israel lived in tents and worshiped at the Tabernacle which was also a tent. In memory of this Exodus experience, the Feast of Harvest during the exile came to be known as the Feast of Tents.

1. New Testament Dimension

 Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Resurrection Sunday, in the New Testament became the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. It was a day of theophany by double miracle of gift of tongue and of prophecy. This double gift led them to achieve a universal vocation of all casts and creeds into a Messianic unity. This helped the Christianity to have a universal outlook. Thus the Pentecost became the starting point of the universal faith spreading. The apostles went out to preach the Word of God throughout the world, and the people without discrimination received faith in Christ. The Syriac term Sliha (apostle) means the one who is sent. The Pentecost strengthened them in every way to go out and preach the Gospel truth.

2. Fasting

The days after Pentecost (the first Sunday of the Apostles) are the days of fasting, because the title of this Sunday in Hudra (cycle) says, “It is the beginning of the fast of the Apostles.”[1] The call for this fast is derived from Peter’s first sermon, “Repent and be baptised” (Acts 2:38, 3:19). The sense of this fast is to recall the necessity of repairing the Christian life after a long repose of fifty days in the previous season.[2] In connection with this fast, among the Chaldeans there is an annual rite of genuflection immediately after the Sancta Sanctis (holy Eucharist for the holy people) just before the communion of the celebrant in Pentecostal Eucharist. They trace its origin to the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane (Mt 26:39).[3] Genuflection being a gesture of penance and servitude, the primitive Church did not kneel during the Easter Season and on Sundays, because they were the days of felicitation.[4] Therefore, this rite indicates the close of the joyous season and the beginning of the penitential acts once again.

Among the Malabar Christians this rite might have been in use until the intervention of the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, because until that time they followed the East Syriac Rite.[5] Thereafter there seems to be no extant evidence for this rite in Malabar. Though this was formerly a period of fast in Malabar, it is so no longer.[6]

3. Friday of Gold

The first Friday of this period is known as the Friday of Gold. Hnana of Adeabene, sixth superior of the school of Nisibis (572-610), speaks of the origin of this Friday.[7] It takes its name from Acts 3:9 where Peter told the lame man at the temple gate, “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” It is fitting to recall this on the first Friday, because it is the first of the miracles narrated in the Acts of the Apostle after the descent of the Holy Spirit. It is supposed that this miracle might have taken place on a Friday itself.[8]

4. Friday of Seventy Disciples

The Hudra (Cycle –liturgical year of the East Syriac tradition) dedicates the last Friday to the memory of the seventy disciples.[9] The number depends on the variant readings of Lk 10:1. The Pesitta (simple –Syriac version of Bible) speaks of seventy disciples, as do some Greek manuscripts, whereas others give the number seventy-two as does the Latin vulgate. Hence, the title of the feast does not come from the Pesitta text and must be due to some other influence. Anyhow, the Pesitta tradition seems to be closer to the Old Testament tradition of seventy disciples of Moses (Num 11:16, 24).

This feast encourages the missionary spirit of the Church to go and preach the Good News to the whole world (Mk 1 6:1 5-1 6), as Jesus himself sent the seventy disciples with detailed instructions to take care of, while they preach the Word of God (Lk 1 0:2-1 6). We too have to be attentive to the mandates of Jesus given to the disciples, so that in fulfilling Christian duties we may not be led by selfish motivations, but with the hope of registering our names as citizens of heaven (Lk 10:20). With chrismation, the Christians become the ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom, and they are obliged to work for the Heavenly Kingdom as it is the divine will to work for the Gospel.

5. Feasts in this Period Particular to the Malabar Catholics[10]

June 29 is the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul.[11] The second Friday of Epiphany (Denha) is also dedicated to this feast. The feast proper to the East Syrian calendar is that of the epiphany Season. Its duplication on June 29 must have been borrowed from the Latin tradition.

            July 3 is the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.[12] This is a holy day of obligation for the Malabarites; even the non-Christians among them celebrate this feast.

            The Malabarites eventually adopted the Latin feast of Holy Trinity on the second Sunday of the Apostles, although the Ordo celebrationis and Supplementum mysteriorum do not mention this feast at all. It is at the feast of Epiphany (Denha) that the Christian East perceives the Holy Trinity as clearly manifested. The whole period of Epiphany strongly emphasises the doctrine of the Trinity. Another day for this feast, isolated from the context is not in accordance with the Oriental Tradition.

            The feast of the Blessed Sacrament (Corpus Christi), another Latin feast, is celebrated on the second Thursday of the Apostles.[13] Paschal Thursday would be the more appropriate day for the Malabar calendar to celebrate the Blessed Sacrament in a special way. Once again, the Latin feast, simply added out of context, violates the structure and spirit of the Malabar liturgical year.

            The same can be said of the feast of the Sacred Heart on the third Friday of the Apostles.[14] The substance of this feast is found on the Passion Friday. Hence, a rethinking of the proper liturgical contexts of these feasts in the period of Apostles would be beneficial. The point is not that one should never borrow from or influenced by another tradition, but it should be done intelligently, and not simply by blind, slavish, unreflective, material imitation.

6. Liturgical Themes

a. Fullness of Easter

Pentecost was the completion of Jesus’ work. The fulfilment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit upon the apostles[15] took place on this day. If Jesus had not risen, our faith would have been futile; but if He had not sent His Spirit upon the apostles, His works on earth would have been in vain. Faith without deed is dead (Jam 2:17). The Pentecost made the apostles able to combine their faith in Jesus with their deeds accordingly. The fullness of revelation in the Holy Spirit gave them the courage to face any trifles and trials in the establishment of Christ’s Church on earth. They established a great spiritual unity between Jews and gentiles as a messianic community. This communion in fraternal love was an expression of the Trinitarian love manifested by Jesus in His earthly life.

It was a Pentecost of pagans, because even on the pagans the Spirit was conferred when Peter preached to them. All the listeners in different cast and creed with different cultures and languages from different parts of the world gathered in Jerusalem were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here we see the great construction made by the Holy Spirit against the utter destruction made by God at Babel (Gen 1 1:1-9). The contrast, between the Pentecost and the Babel events, shows the fulfilment of the communion of humanity, oneness of language, and the friendly love that took place at the Pentecost, rather than the division of humanity, complication of language, and the animosity at Babel. Through the Chrismation, we too are called for continuing the mission of the apostles in establishing Christ’s Kingdom on earth, and thus to fulfil our Christian responsibility in giving Christ to others through life-examples.

b. Works of the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit confirmed the apostles in grace, strengthened them in Christian doctrines and provided them with the gift of tongue and prophecy. Thus, they became the delegates of Christ, teachers of the Kingdom of God and the announcers of the Holy Trinity. God’s grace made them perfect priests (bishops) and prepared them to institute different priestly orders in the Church. They were given the intuition by the Spirit to give shape for the sacraments by understanding the gist of the words of Jesus in instituting the sources of grace. They were made powerful instruments to confer graces to humanity and to create new hearts in all by writing the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit in their lives. Likewise, we too, like the apostles, should be open to the Spirit to get convictions in divine realities. Then the Spirit will manifest everything to us that what we have to speak and do in times of needs.

c. The Works of the Apostles

            This period contemplates on the mystery of the Holy Spirit’s descending upon the apostles and their proclamation of the Gospel in the whole world. The Father by sending the Holy Spirit, fulfilled the promise made by Jesus (Jn 14:16; Acts 1:4-5) and prophesied by Ezekiel (Ez 11:19; 36:26-27).

            The propers of this period speaks of the providential selection of the fishermen as the apostles, the sending of the Spirit upon them, and the commission given them to convert the people still in darkness:

Come, nations and people, let us confess and adore our Christ the King. From the fishermen, He selected apostles, the teachers of life to men. In His love, He sent from heaven the Holy Spirit to them (Jn 15:26) and appointed them as the true proclaimers of the holy mysteries in order to bring back the people sitting in darkness.[16]

The apostles went race-to-race and country-to-country sowing the seeds of the Gospel in cities and villages. Despite all barriers and hardships, they wrote the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men, and established the Church throughout the world.

            Our Lord Jesus, through the holy apostles fulfilled and established the promise made by the Father. Receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they went out, converted, and baptised nations and people, leading them to the knowledge of God.[17]

7. Lectionary Theology

The lectionary system of this season from Sunday to Sunday Eucharist, unfolding the diachronic setting of scripture lessons and the synchronic setting of the mystery of the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church commemorated in this liturgical propers, enable a dynamic encounter with gospel values to be practiced in daily life. Reincorporation into the Paschal events reminds the faithful of their commitments to lead a new life in Christ.

a. Diachronic System

Diachronism indicates the chronological, thematic, and linguistic agreement of scripture lessons showing the progress of scripture lessons on Sundays by establishing an agreement between the Old and the New Testament scripture lessons within the periods of the liturgical year. The seasonal Sunday lessons bring out a gradual unfolding of the chronological order of the Christ event in salvation history. In this respect, the theme of the first Sunday gets a further development on the second Sunday; the third Sunday proceeds from the second Sunday, and so on. For this purpose, the scripture lessons in the lectionary system are anamnetically and epicletically interpreted. The whole system follows a historically ordered sequence of gospel events to which the other lessons are oriented as follows.[18]

Sundays

Anamnetic Lessons

Epicletic Lessons

Type

Real

Prophetic  Admonitions

Apostolic Exhortations

1.Pentecost: Exod 19:1-9; 20:18-21 Covenant John 14:15-16,25-26; 15:26-16:15 Counselor Acts 2:1-2l Inauguration of the messianic community 1 Cor 12:1-27 Variety of gifts, the mystical body
2.Joel 2:15-26 Repentance and God’s blessings Luke  7:31-50 Anointing of Jesus’ feet Acts 4:5-22 Peter and John before Sanhedrin 1 Cor 5:6-6:11 Conduct of Christian community
3.Deut 1:3-15 Juridical order of Israel Luke 10:23-42 Good Samaritan, Martha, Mary Is 1:1-9 Judgment of God 1 Cor 7:1-7 Marriage duties
4.Deut 1:16-33 Judge justly, God’s providence Luke 6:12-46 Selection of the Twelve, Beatitudes, law of love Is 1:10-20 God demands holiness, not sacrifice 1 Cor 9: 13-27 Rights and duties of an apostle
5.Deut 1:34-2:1 Infidelity of Israel to the Lord Luke 12:16-34 On possessions, trust, and riches in heaven Is 1:21-31 Lament over the infidelity of Israel 1 Cor 14:1-9 Gift of tongues and prophecy
6.Deut 4:1-10 Demand to keep God’s Law Luke 12:57-13:1 Demand for repentance Is 2:1-19 Final restoration of Jerusalem 1 Cor 10:14-32 Solutions for pagan practices
7.Deut 4:10-24 Warning against idolatry Luke 13:22-35 The importance of repentance Is 5:8-25 Curse against the seven sins of Judah 1 Cor 15:58-16:24 Instructions on charity

(1) Anamnetic Lessons

            The book of law provides the types of the future messianic community. By covenants and commandments, God made Israel his own people. God led them by day and night by the pillars of cloud and fire. God reproached them through warnings. The unity of this community depended on complete trust in the Lord. Their juridical organizations and traditions proved their strong relation to the Lord. Order in the community depends upon obeying the Lord and following his mandates.

The gospel stories recall particular Christ-events that formed the Christian community. The first members of this community were his disciples, the messengers with a universal mission, who gave shape to this new community. Miracles and signs strengthened the disciples’ faith, and the Holy Spirit illumined their ways. This same Spirit still guides the community in accordance to Christ’s promise of his perpetual presence until the end of the world (Matt 20:28). We are called, like the apostles, to build up a Spirit community.

(2) Epicletic Lessons

           The Acts of the Apostles and the prophet Isaiah spoke about the activities of the Spirit-guided community. Pentecost inaugurated this community, and the apostles were its first members. The apostles were strengthened and illumined to defend their cause; Isaiah admonished the people to keep fidelity to the Lord by doing righteous deeds and avoiding evil. As the Lord is holy, all are called to his holiness becoming a holy community.

            According to the teachings of the apostles, discipline is the core virtue of the Christian community. “Repent and be baptized” is the pivotal point of their teaching, because it creates the children of God and inheritors of heaven. Love and concern are considered principal characters of the community for maintaining unity despite diversity of gifts in order to form the mystical body of Christ, the Church. Only perfect members can form a perfect body.

b. Synchronic System

The theological topics that accentuate the theme of the mystery of the power of the Holy Spirit found in the liturgical propers are the works of the Spirit among the apostles, the unity of nations in Christ, and gifts of tongues and prophecy.[19]

Conclusion

The Pentecost inaugurated the Messianic Community. Apostles, the first members of this community, started teaching the Christian disciplines and the Gospel truths. Repent and be baptised became the pivotal point of their teachings on the risen Lord, because it is the requisite for becoming the children of God to inherit God’s kingdom. Loving is the exalted character of this community.

The faith in Jesus and the steadfastness in truth are the ways of true Christian response. Then only the Christian community will be formed into the mystical body of Christ, the Church. Perfect members alone can form a perfect body. The members of this community, like the apostles, have to become the messengers of Christ and their mission is universal without any discrimination of cast and creed, because they are called for gentiles too. Just as the miracles and signs strengthened the apostles’ faith in Jesus, so the Counsellor (the Holy Spirit) given by Jesus is still guiding the Christian Community. Jesus has promised his continuous presence to this community, the Church, the mystical body of Christ, and has guaranteed his constant protection in all her ways until the end of the world (Mt 20:28).


[1] P.Bedjan, Breviarium III, 53; P.J.Podipara, The Thomas Christians, 93.

[2] For the history and the meaning of this fast, see J.Mateos, Lelya-Sapra, 252-253.

[3] For the office of genuflectionm in Syriac, see P.Bedjan, Breviarium III, 75-82; and in Malayalam see, C.Payngot. Aradhanavalsaram (Kottayam, 2001) 214-215. Rücker, “Die feirliche kniebeungungzeremonie an Pfingsten in den orientalischen Riten,“ in Heilige Ūberlieferung, Festgabe Ildefons Herwegen (Münster, 1938) 193-211 expliains the genuflection rites in different Oriental Rites. Canon 20 of Nicaea confirms it; Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collection, vol 2 (Paris, 1904), 720.

[4] Tertullian, On the crown 3; Apostolic Constitution 2.59; Council of Nicaea, canon 20; Council of Trullo, canon 93; Typicon ch.2.

[5] The colophone of the manuscript Codex Vatican Syriac 22 (1301 AD), f.93v, asserts the allegiance of the Malabar Church to the Catholicos of the East. For an English translation of this Syriac manuscript, see J.Vellian, The Beginning of Latinization of the Malabar Liturgy (1599-1606), an unpublished dissertation in the university of Notre Dame (Indiana, 1973) 135-143.

[6] P.J.Podipara, The Thomas Christians, 93 reads “forty nine days before Pentecost.” This is a misprint, because fasting in the Easter is unthinkable. Again in the German edition of the same book, DieThomas Christen (Würzburg, 1966), 77 reads “49 tage nach Pfingsten.” C.Payngot, Aradhanavalsaram, 213.

[7] A.H.M.Scher, ed., Traités d’Isai le docteur et de Hnana d’Adiabene sur les Martyrs, le Vendredi d’Or et le Rogations, et confession de foi a réciter par les évêques Nestoriens avant l’ordination, PO 7.1 (Paris, 1911), 61-62; V.Pathikulangara, “The Liturgical Yard of the Syro-Malabar Rite,” Ephemerides Liturgicae 90 (1976) 187.

[8] P.Bedjan, Breviarium III, 87.

[9] P.Bedjan, Brviarium III, 159.

[10] V.Pathikulangara, “The Liturgical Yard of the Syro-Malabar Rite,” 188-189; C.Payngot, Aradhanavalsaram, 222-230.

[11] Supplementum mysteriorum, 223.

[12] Supplementum mysteriorum, 225.

[13] Supplementum mysteriorum, 112.

[14] Supplementum mysteriorum, 115.

[15] Jn 1 4:1 6,26, 1 5:27, 1 6:1 3, Lk 24:49.

[16] P.Bedjan, Breviarium III, 96: Mawtba  of the second Sunday of the Apostles..

[17] P.Bedjan, Breviarium III, 143: D’basalique of the sixth Sunday of the Apostles.

[18]Ordo celebrationis “Quddasa” iuxta usum ecclesiae Syro-Malabrensis (Rome, 1959) 52-54..

  [19]Supplementum Mysteriorum, 107-123; and P.Bedjan, Breviarium iuxta ritum Syrorum orientalium III, 53-169.

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