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Second Sunday of the Apostles

The Second Sunday of the Apostles

Basilica Hymn
Your priests shall be clothed with justice, and your just ones with glory. (Ps. 131 v. 9)
I will clothe the high priests with salvation, and the just with glory, by the hand of Moses and Aaron
Those who serve a shade and an image of those in heaven
The priesthood of the house of Aaron served a mystery, an imitation and a shadow in the Law. But the apostleship of the house of Simon received the embodiment, the perfection, and the certitude of the Incarnation, for in it the Heir of the Father was pleased and by it he captured the earth. Indeed, by the hands of fishermen he converted and captured the whole creation and lo, it lifts up praise, being baptized in the completeness of the Qnome of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – glory to you!

The Blood of Bulls and Goats 

The Letter to the Hebrews is a sublime comparison of the two Covenants between God and man. The first one, begun with Abraham in a seminal form, was fully given to Moses at Mounts Sinai, and the second one completed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The nuances of the interrelation between the two Covenants described in the Letter are too deep to explain here, but a sort of summary of the Letter is found at the beginning of Chapter 10: “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year.” That is, the Law as a “shadow” of what was to occur in Christ was a preparation and an inferior copy, whereas the fulfillment was the “image” itself.

Of course the meaning of the ritual sacrifices of the Old Covenant either had to be pointing to something later as symbols, or they had no meaning at all; the same author assures us that “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins.” No, those sacrifices were there only to prepare our hearts for their final fulfillment: that in his love, the Word of God became flesh and became a sacrifice on our behalf.

The Priesthood 

The Hebrew word cohen (Chaldean kahna), which translates into the English “priest” is intended primarily to mean the priesthood of the Old Covenant, but its Greek equivalent hierius is used of Christ in its superlative archierius in Hebrews. In other words, Christ is also a priest, not of the Old Covenant, but of the new. The same word is also used by Peter in his first Letter as a substantive (hierateuma, “priesthood”) to refer to all of the faithful in Christ: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:9)

This term, however, is not used to refer to the apostles exclusively, or to any particular class of clergy within the Church. For this, a new Greek terminology was produced. At the top were episkopoi, and those who helped them were presbuteroi and deakonoi. The first term, episkopos, literally means “overseer” or “guardian” and translates to the word “bishop.” The second word, presbuteros, means “elder” and is the root of the English word “priest.” The third term, diakonos, means “servant” and is the root of the English word “deacon.” The Chaldean terms corresponding to these are Episqopa (a simple transliteration of the Greek), Qashisha, and Mshamshana.

Thus, those who were a class of leaders in the Christian community described themselves in different terms than those used for the old Jewish sacrificial system. But the point is there was still a class of leaders. Christ did not do away with earthly authority; it would take a blind reading of the New Testament indeed to not see that there is a difference between apostles and disciples, that the two were charged with different duties, spoken to in different ways, and given different amounts of authority. This is one reason why the Christian tradition in general began to speak of the leaders of the New Covenant not simply in their own, newer, terms, but even as hierioi, that is, as a replacement of the old Jewish priesthood. In the Chaldean tradition, one is hard-pressed to find a reference to a Qashisha as a Kahna. But as the theology of the Church developed, the latter term was found fulfilled in the former.

The Basilica Hymn of the Third Sunday of the Apostles is an example of an early stage, but is a brilliant discussion of the two corresponding classes in the Old and New Covenants, the “priesthood” and the “apostleship:”

The priesthood of the house of Aaron served a mystery, an imitation and a shadow in the Law. But the apostleship of the house of Simon received the embodiment, the perfection, and the certitude of the Incarnation, for in it the Heir of the Father was pleased and by it he captured the earth. Indeed, by the hands of fishermen he converted and captured the whole creation and lo, it lifts up praise, being baptized in the completeness of the Qnome of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – glory to you!

Note well that the “embodiment, perfection and certitude” received by the apostles was not a doing-away of all ritual activity. The most basic “rubric” given by Christ is referred to here: at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ charges the eleven to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” But this is not an empty, meaningless ritual, or even simply a symbol of something to come later. This is an “embodiment, perfection and certitude.” This is a physical manifestation of the intangible grace that comes through the sacrifice of Christ; the expression of the priesthood of the New Covenant.