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Historian Finds New Evidence to Prove Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church’s Initial Ordination was IllegitimateОд Ромејац,
Shumylo concludes that initial ordinations of the UAOC hierarchy were, unfortunately, conducted by an imposter without the Apostolic succession.
On January 5-6, 2019, the official delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) at the ceremony of the Tomos bestowal at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul included Metropolitan Andriy Abramchuk of Galicia who concelebrated with Patriarch Bartholomew and the other Phanar bishops. In 1990, the Metropolitan was ordained by the notorious Victor (Vikenty) Chekalin, a pedophile and swindler who now serves a sentence in Australian jail for document forgery and fraud. At the anniversary of the Tomos bestowal this year, Patriarch Bartholomew led a divine service together with the now former Primate of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC, the one “restored” by Vikenty Chekalin) Makary Maletich. The latter was ordained by the hierarchs of the “Chekalin succession” – Dimitry Yarema, Ihor Isichenko and the former Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) bishop Methodius Kudryakov. Part of UAOC bishops who in 2018 joined the OCU also got to the “Chekalin succession” through priestly and episcopal consecrations from Andriy Abramchuk, Makary Maletich and others. Even within the OCU the attitude toward this succession is ambiguous.
Taking into consideration the necessity of discussing the issue of Apostolic succession of this part of the OCU hierarchy, Serhii Shumylo, Director of the International Institute of the Athonite Legacy in Ukraine, presented his new report titled “The self-avowed “bishop” Vikenty Chekalin and his participation in the first UAOC ordinations in March of 1990”. With the blessing of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia this work was submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarch.
The documents, evidence and facts presented in the study – including the ones from previously unknown archival sources – confirm that the first UAOC ordination on March 31, 1990 in Mikhailevychi village in Lviv Oblast was carried out by only two persons: Ioann Bodnarchuk, defrocked on November 13, 1989 because of his voluntary secession from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), and fraudster Victor Chekalin. Besides, according to the published certificate, this “ordination” was led by Chekalin, who has never been ordained not only as a bishop but even monk or priest.
In his research, Shumylo also studies publications that appeared at the Ukrainian site Cerkvarium.org by Dmytro Horevoy and Greek sites Phanarion.blogspot.com and Romfea.gr in August-September 2019, which stated that the bishopric ordination of Vikenty Chekalin was authentic.
Studying various versions of Chekalin’s admission to monastic vows and ordination, and attempting to understand the motives of the main parties, the historian compares the remembrance of Archbishop Eulogius Smirnov, Abbot of Danilov Monastery in Moscow, and archival documents and correspondence according to which, Chekalin wasn’t even ordained as a monk.
Also compared are the testimonies by Ioann Bodnarchuk and Victor Chekalin of various periods concerning the latter’s bishopric ordination. Thus, Chekalin’s own testimony before the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) Synod in July 1989 – January 1990 shows that Ioann Bodnarchuk didn’t take part in his ordination. The other two bishops who allegedly ordained Chekalin – Metropolitan Alexei Konoplev of Kalinin and Kashin and bishop of the Catacomb Church Vladimir Abramov – had already passed away by that moment and no confirmation of their participation in the ordination was found.
As for the first UAOC ordination of 31 March 1990, it should be mentioned that the signature of Archbishop Varlaam (Ilyushchenko) of Simferopol and Crimea of the ROC was added to Vasyl Bodnarchuk’s Certificate of Ordination after the Archbishop’s death. According to the written testimonies of Archbishop Varlaam’s driver and archdeacon, the hierarch didn’t leave his diocese and held divine services in the Simferopol Cathedral on that day. Moreover, being a member of the ROC Synod, Varlaam personally signed the Moscow Synod’s resolution of November 14, 1989 on depriving Ioann Bodnarchuk of his episcopal rank, and “no way could secretly ordain new bishops with him four months later,” Shumylo writes. This situation, with archival documents signed by Ioann Bodnarchuk, was covered in detail in a piece by Fr. Rostislav Yarema (an English translation was published by the Orthodox Cognate PAGE).
Thus, Shumylo concludes that initial ordinations of the UAOC hierarchy were, unfortunately, conducted by an imposter without the Apostolic succession. This was the violation of the first Apostolic Canon (“Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops”). The historian reminds that both Mstyslav Skrypnyk and Filaret Denisenko didn’t recognize the authenticity of the ordinations of the “Chekalin succession” hierarchs. However, many of those ordained this way were convinced in the legitimacy of their dignity and refused to be reordained, so the “Chekalin succession” still partly exists in the UAOC and UOC-KP. And in that status, many of the clergymen and hierarchs were accepted into communion by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Considering that copies of the Certificate of Ordination and the evidence mentioned in the media were provided to the Phanar and could become a basis for the Patriarchate Synod to recognize in October 2018 the UAOC hierarchy in their “current dignity” without reordination, Serhii Shumylo expresses his concern about the Ecumenical Patriarchate taking decision on the grounds of bogus documents and advocates that a detailed study of this issue should be made.
Historian Finds New Evidence to Prove Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church’s Initial Ordination was Illegitimate
THEDURAN.COM Shumylo concludes that initial ordinations of the UAOC hierarchy were, unfortunately, conducted by an imposter without the Apostolic succession.
COURT ORDERS MIGRATION SERVICE TO RETURN CITIZENSHIP TO UKRAINIAN BISHOP WHO WAS DEPORTED UNDER POROSHENKOОд Ромејац,
Yesterday, January 22, the Sixth Court of Appeal ordered the State Migration Service of Ukraine in the Volyn Oblast to return Ukrainian citizenship to His Grace Bishop Gideon (Kharon) of Makarov, the abbot of the Tithes Monastery in Kiev, repots Ukrainska Pravda.
The court also recognized that the Migration Service had no right to cancel the decision to grant His Grace citizenship by territorial origin in accordance with part 1, article 8 of the Law of Ukraine, “On Ukrainian Citizenship.”
Bp. Gideon was unexpectedly detained in the Kiev Boryspil in Kiev in February last year upon returning from America, where he had spoken with Congressmen about the persecution the canonical Ukrainian Church was facing under Poroshenko’s rule. His Grace was deported, his passport was confiscated, and his citizenship was canceled.
He also holds American citizenship and ended up spending several months in California. He later filed a lawsuit against the Migration Service in the Volyn Oblast, demanded that the decision to cancel his citizenship be overturned and declared illegal.
The District Administrative Court of Kiev began proceedings in the case on April 23, and on September 19, the court ruled in Bp. Gideon’s favor, deciding not only to return his citizenship, but also to reimburse him for his court fees.
Despite the Administrative Court’s September decision, the matter continued in the Appeals Court, whose decision came into effect immediately yesterday, although the Migration Service can still appeal.
Court orders Migration Service to return citizenship to Ukrainian bishop who was deported under Poroshenko
ORTHOCHRISTIAN.COM Yesterday, January 22, the Sixth Court of Appeal ordered the State Migration Service of Ukraine in the Volyn Oblast to return Ukrainian citizenship to His Grace Bishop Gideon (Kharon) of Makarov, the...
“Let’s not open that can of worms!” These are the words in which an Episcopal member of a local dialogue committee greeted a proposal to discuss the issue of abortion. The can was never opened. The Catholic ecumenist who relates this incident had been an official observer at the national convention of the Episcopal Church. In one session a bishop suggested that his denomination should discuss abortion in dialogue with Catholics. Immediately another bishop rejected the proposal with the same words: “can of worms.” No more was said on that subject.
Discussion of basic issues which divide the non-Catholic Eastern Churches from the Catholic Church seems wormy to some of This Rock‘s readers, to judge from the tone and content of their correspondence. They applaud and commend Pope John Paul’s letter on the Eastern Churches (Orientale Lumen), in which he explicitly avoids mentioning any divisive issues. They deplore and condemn This Rock‘s efforts to delineate some of those issues. They thereby rule out any possibility of genuine dialogue, and-perhaps unwittingly-choose disunity.
Dialogue between separated Christian churches serves several purposes, as the Holy Father tells us in his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, issued in May 7, 1995. It “serves as an examination of conscience,” requiring that “the consciences and actions of Christians” as brethren divided from one another, should be inspired by and submissive to Christ’s prayer for unity.” Dialogue also serves the essential function of leading participants to see clearly “real and genuine disagreements in matters of faith.”
In examining these disagreements, there are “two essential points of reference: Sacred Scripture and the great Tradition of the Church.” Furthermore, “Catholics have the help of the Church’s living Magisterium.” Although the Holy Father does not say it, Catholics and Easterners can and do agree on two of those points of reference, Scripture and Tradition. How we should use the reference points constitutes a (even the) basic issue which divides Easterners from the Catholic Church.
In any dialogue between Catholic and non-Catholic ecumenists, the issue of authority comes to focus in the papacy. This phase of a Catholic apologetic addressed to Easterners will examine Eastern views on the scriptural material bearing on the role of Peter in the Church. Catholics and members of Eastern Churches can readily agree on the prominence of Peter among the apostles in the Gospels. He is called “first,” he consistently acts as spokesman for and leader of the apostolic band. At issue are the promises to Peter (Matt. 16:16-19 and 18:18).
One’s interpretation of those promises will determine one’s understanding of Jesus’ command to Peter to strengthen the brethren (Luke 22:31-32) and feed the sheep (John 21:5-17); Peter’s role in the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50 (Acts 10, 11, 15 and 1 Cor. 8); the relationship between Peter and Paul sketched in Galatians 1 and 2, the question of Peter’s successors, if any.
In a previous issue (“How the East Sees the Church,” October 1995) we discussed a split in modern Eastern thinking about the Church. From early days Easterners, like Catholics and later Protestants in general, have emphasized the universal Church as well as the local church. (For Easterners as for Catholics “local church” designates an individual diocese, not a local congregation.)
In this century there has emerged among Eastern theologians another school of thought advocating what they call “Eucharistic ecclesiology.” They focus on the local church as being fully and completely the Body of Christ, simply because it is a Eucharistic community. They minimize or even deny what they call “universal ecclesiology.”
They insist that the Pauline doctrine of the Body of Christ refers exclusively to the local church, not to an abstraction called “universal Church.” The idea that Matthew 16:17-19 refers to “universal Church” was totally unknown, they say, until the time of Cyprian in the third century.[ Nicolas Afanassief, “The Church Which Presides in Love,” in John Meyendorff, et al., The Primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church (London: The Faith Press, 1963), 83.]
An advocate of Eucharistic ecclesiology (John Meyendorff) declares that in our time “there is a remarkable agreement” among Eastern theologians in support of this approach. Indeed, says Meyendorff, it is “the basis, the nucleus of Orthodox ecclesiology itself” (italics his).[ John Meyendorff, Catholicity and the Church(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 135.] This appraisal requires qualification.
It is a fact that ecclesiology which begins from the Eucharistic nature of the Church to explicate the meaning of the Church as Body of Christ has a long history in the Catholic Church. It enjoys wide vogue among Catholic as well as Eastern theologians. Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium reflects this perspective. But all Catholic theologians reject Afanassief’s exclusive focus on the local church which minimizes or even practically denies the reality of the universal Church. A document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1992 made the same point.
Quite a number of modern Eastern theologians also decry exclusive focus on the local church. “No one doubts the value of this [Afanassief’s Eucharistic] theology,” writes Ion Bria, a Rumanian. “However, it seems that it does not take into consideration the factual universality, organised and realised, of the Church.” Bishop John D. Zizioulas has made the same criticism of Afanassief. Georges Florovsky, perhaps the preeminent Eastern scholar of this century, also emphasizes the universal Church in his writings. [Aidan Nichols, O.P., Theology in the Russian D.aspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai Afanas’ev (1893-1966) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 184, 162.]
Proponents of Eucharistic ecclesiology admit that “universal ecclesiology” has dominated Eastern thinking since the third century. But the latter ecclesiology is not the original and correct understanding of the nature of the Church. It has in their eyes most unfortunate implications. Afanassief and Alexander Schmemann, for example, contend that if Easterners continue to hold universal ecclesiology, they must concede the truth of Roman Catholic claims about the papacy. And this, of course, is unthinkable. By itself it constitutes one of their chief arguments against universal ecclesiology.
Now to the Scriptures and Peter. To understand the role of Peter, says Afanassief, “we must begin with the presuppositions that were accepted in the Apostolic Age, and set aside all modern assumptions [which emphasize universal as well as local church].” [Afanassief, op. cit., 86.] This is no small task for Catholics and the Easterners who disagree with Afanassief. Remarkable indeed is the person who can truly set aside all modern assumptions on an important and controversial issue. Audacious indeed is that person if the proscribed assumptions have been universally held among Christians for seventeen (or twenty) centuries.
How do we arrive at correct understanding of the scriptural account of Peter’s role, according to Afanassief and his followers? We start with the apostolic presuppositions Afanassief has recovered for us. Then quite apart from what Scripture says about Peter and the Church, we must decide whether the scriptural doctrine of the Church allows or excludes Petrine primacy. In other words, before we can decide whether Jesus granted Peter jurisdiction over a universal Church (which is what Petrine primacy means), there is another preliminary question we must answer. Was there, in Jesus’ mind, such a thing as a universal Church over which Peter could have jurisdiction?
But at that point, who needs exegesis? We have our exegesis done even before we begin. Afanassief’s apostolic presuppositions tell us that in Matthew 16:18 Jesus referred to a local church (probably the church in Jerusalem) for which Peter would be the foundation. So before we look at Matthew 16:18 we know there was no universal Church and there could be no universal primacy even for Peter.
Except for some Baptist traditions which also deny the reality of the universal Church, Afanassief and his followers stand completely alone in the Christian world in their denial. Everyone else-Protestant, Catholic, Eastern-recognizes that while the Greek word ekklesia does sometimes denote a local congregation, here in Matthew 16:18 the context is clearly Messianic. The substance of Peter’s confession is Messianic. In Jewish thought, Messiah could never be detached from the messianic community, the whole body of his people. So here, when Jesus uses the term he is referring to all his people: the Universal Church.[ This interpretation is also held by the Protestant scholar whose classic work on Peter was the original stimulus to Afanassief’s thinking about the papacy: Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr [New York: Living Age Books, 1958].]
Eastern apologists generally, like Protestants, contend that when Jesus referred to the rock on which he would build his Church, he was referring to the confession of faith Peter had made, and not to the person of Peter himself. [This is the claim of Abbé Guettée, The Papacy: Its Historic Origins and Primitive Relations with the Eastern Churches (New York: Minos Publishing Co., no date), 36-38).]A number of the early Church Fathers also wrote that in this verse “rock” refers to Peter’s faith. But those same Fathers in fact accepted the primacy of Peter. They were not using their interpretation to deny that primacy, as Protestants and Easterners do.
Peter himself or Peter’s faith: which is “rock”? Perhaps the clearest and one of the most detailed arguments that “rock” refers to Peter himself, not to his faith, has been made by the eminent Protestant scholar mentioned above. The theory that “rock” refers to Peter’s faith, says Cullmann, falls to pieces when one puts the word “rock” in its context. In Matthew’s account “there is little concern with the faith of Peter, which here is anything but exemplary.” Moreover, the text itself does not support the equation of “rock” with Peter’s confession of faith. Here we have two statements: “you are rock” and “upon this rock I will build.” The parallelism shows plainly that the second must refer to the same as the first.
It is true, Cullmann notes, that elsewhere (as in Matt. 21:42) Christ himself is designated as rock. “But that is not what is said here; this passage says that Jesus’ role as rock is transferred to a disciple.” Another and telling argument of Cullmann is that if Jesus was designating Peter’s faith as the “rock,” there would simply be no point in Jesus’ giving Peter himself the name of “rock.”
Cullmann concludes that Jesus was saying that he would build his Church on the person whom he had designated “rock.” [Ibid., 206-207.] It should be noted, however, that Cullmann does not accept Petrine primacy. He agrees with Catholic teaching about the meaning of Matthew 16:18, but says it was to apply to Peter himself, not to any successors.
Cullmann argues that Jesus entrusted to Peter extraordinary authority in order to get the Church started. Once it was under way, he claims, there was no longer any need for Petrine authority. A Catholic would want to ask, if that authority was essential for the first generation of Christians, why is not essential for all succeeding generations?
Abstractly, a Catholic can argue that it is impossible to build an institution on the foundation of a principle. Institutions do have basic principles, but they cannot exist unless there are persons by whom and structures through which those principles can be embodied.
Put the issue into the Christian context. The statement that Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, in itself has no power to unify those who say they accept it. It cannot interpret itself in the face of divergent (even contradictory) understandings. Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus cannot itself be the foundation of Christ’s Church. Peter can. Peter is.
But, say Easterners and Protestants, Scripture teaches that Jesus is the one and only Rock. How can Peter be “rock”? In response to this challenge, a Catholic would add that according to 1 Peter 2:45, every true believer is a rock, a living stone. These three dimensions of “rock” harmonize unless one interprets each in an exclusive sense which distorts its meaning.
It is Christ’s union with mankind that provides the foundation of the Church and the Christian life. Only he is “rock” in this ultimate sense. Why did Jesus establish his Church? What is its purpose? The answer is clearly stated by Pope John Paul II in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (13). He recalls the teaching of Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes, 22) that by his incarnation the Son of God has united himself with each person. Then he adds, “The Church therefore sees its fundamental task in enabling that union to be brought about and renewed continually.”
In other words, the Church is the context in which, the means whereby, Jesus actualizes in individual lives the union he effected with each person by his incarnation. The Church is the meeting place, so to speak, of God and man. Without the institutional Church, none of us would or could respond to God’s outreach to us, God’s embrace of each of us, in the incarnation.
In Jesus’ only recorded words about the establishment of his Church, he names Peter as foundation. As rock. Peter is the unifying basis of the institution. Individual believers become living stones (1 Pet. 2:4-5) by being united with Christ the Rock in the community Christ founded and established on Peter.
Further light is shed on the role of Peter as rock, as foundation of Christ’s Church, by the book of Daniel. Vladimir Soloviev, a member of the Russian Church but an apologist for the papacy, calls attention to two series of verses, Daniel 7:13, 18, 27 and Daniel 2:34-35, 45.
Daniel 7:13 is the key passage for the title “son of man” which our Lord applied to himself (see especially Matt. 16:13). The verses from Daniel 2 tell of a fifth kingdom which comes like a gigantic stone to destroy and supplant the four pagan empires. [Vladimir Soloviev, Russia and the Universal Church (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1948), 114.]
Although the New Testament does refer to Christ as Rock, he never applied the image to himself Instead, he consistently used the language of Daniel 7:13, “son of man.” If the stone of Daniel 2 represented Christ, this would mean that Christ himself would become the great mountain which filled the earth and replaced the pagan empires. Christ himself, in other words, would be the institutional Church. But this interpretation would only confuse and distort the imagery used by the sacred writer.
It comes to this. Daniel 7:18 and 27 state unequivocally that the fifth kingdom is that of “the saints of the Most High.” Obviously (says Soloviev) the fifth kingdom is the universal Church which Christ established. Now both Daniel and Matthew give us the titles “son of man” and “rock” of the Church. There can be no doubt that “son of man” in both Daniel and Matthew denotes the same person, the Messiah. By analogy, “rock” must bear in the same sense in both passages. In Matthew, Peter is rock. Therefore the rock (stone) in Daniel must “equally foreshadow the original trustee of monarchical authority in the Universal Church,” that is to say, Peter.
In the fullness of time, Soloviev concludes, the stone of Daniel 7 turns out to be Peter, “the rock which was taken and hurled not by human hands [Dan. 2:34, 45] but by the Son of the living God and by the heavenly Father himself revealing to the supreme ruler of the Church that divine-human truth [Matt. 16:17] which was the source of his authority.” [Ibid., 115. ]
Note further that Jesus did not simply give Simon a surname. He gave him a title. Just as “Jesus Christ” means “Jesus, the Christ [Messiah],” so “Simon Peter” means “Simon, the Rock.” Three times in Scripture-and always at great turning points-God gave a man a new name. In his covenantal encounter with Abram (Gen. 17), God changed his name to “Abraham” (“father of a multitude”), father of all believers.
God chose Jacob as progenitor of the line of descent in which God’s Son would be born, and called him “Israel.” When God in Christ established the Church, he called Simon to be earthly head, center and source of unity, and called him “Peter” (the “rock” foundation).
Jesus further specified Peter’s role by giving him two distinct offices (Matt. 16:18-19). He gave him custody of “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and the power of “binding and loosing.” On the basis of his presuppositions, Afanassief simply dismisses the power of the keys. Reject the whole idea of universal Church, he says, and you “shall not find the promised ‘power of the keys’ in our logion.” He does not tell us what we will find in Jesus’ words about the keys.
Other Eastern apologists interpret the two offices as being two ways of saying the same thing, and they lump them under the general heading of “binding and loosing.” Then they note that in Matthew 18:18 Jesus gave the power of binding and loosing to all the apostles. Therefore, they say, it follows that Jesus also gave the power of keys to the other apostles. Then they drop the subject of the keys.
Countering this argument, Soloviev points out that the language of binding and loosing is not appropriate for the use of keys. “A room, a house or a city may be shut and opened, but only particular beings or objects situated within the room or house or city can be bound and unbound.” [Ibid, 103.] If the second commission (bind and loose) was only an explanation of the first (power of the keys), then Jesus should have spoken of opening and shutting as he does in Revelation 3:7.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:19 about binding and loosing seem to apply to objects and things (“whatever you bind”). On the other hand, the context of Matthew 18:18 (Jesus authorizes the apostles to bind and loose) makes it clear that this special power applies to individual cases. “Only personal problems of conscience and the direction of individual souls falls under the authority to bind and loose which was given to the other Apostles after Peter.” [Ibid., 104.] The symbol of the keys must represent a wider, more inclusive authority than the symbol of binding and loosing.
What is the authority connoted by the imagery of the keys? Eastern scholars ignore the scriptural background of the phrase “keys of the kingdom.” Not so with Protestant scholars, who along with their Catholic counterparts have devoted a good bit of attention to this subject.
Standing clearly in the background of Matthew 16:19 is Isaiah 22:20-23, which relates the installation of Eliakim as custodian of “‘the key of the house of David.'” In the exercise of that authority “‘he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.'” This responsibility being placed on Eliakim, as all commentaries on Isaiah tell us, was that of the master of the palace. In the ancient Near East the office was widely established. Joseph was master of the palace of Pharaoh in Egypt (Gen. 41).
The master of the palace was second in command to the king (or in Joseph’s case, the pharaoh) himself. He had immediate access to the royal throne. All officials reported to him, all important documents required his seal, all matters of state came under his scrutiny. He governed in the name of the king, and acted for him when the king was absent. There are numerous Old Testament references to the work of the master of the palace in ancient Israel.
Our risen Lord identifies himself to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7) as “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.” To the visionary (John) he identified himself in these words: “I am the first and the last, and the living one, I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17f.)
Jesus is the master of the house (the Church) which he established on earth. He has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Cullmann sees a clear parallel between Isaiah 22:20-23 and Matthew 16:19. “Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord lays the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so Jesus commits to Peter the keys of his house, the Kingdom of Heaven, and thereby installs him as administrator of the house.” [Cullmann, op. cit., 203.]
The Catholic Church’s catechism (section 553) says this. “The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church;. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.'” The Church makes it plain that Peter was “the only one to whom he [Jesus] specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.”
This latter conclusion is also the position of Cullmann and a number of other Protestant scholars. Like Cullmann, however, those scholars argue that the authority granted to Peter by Jesus died with Peter.
We have noted that Easterners attempt to dissolve the power of the keys into a generalized commission to “bind and loose.” What they really seek to do is “bind and lose” those keys. This attempt reminds one of a folk song entitled “The Cat Came Back.” The song tells the story of a pesky cat and its owner who went to astonishing lengths to rid himself of the cat. The cat was indestructible. He always came back. The keys Jesus gave to Peter are like that. The gifts Christ gave his Church are not disposable. For centuries non-Catholics have tried to lose those keys, but you can’t get rid of them. Especially if you don’t have them to begin with.
Easterners, then, subsume the power of the keys under the power of binding and loosing. “Binding and loosing is a reference to the teaching, sacramental, and administrative powers of the Apostles which were transmitted to the bishops of the Church.” [The Orthodox Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993), footnote, p. 47.] The Catholic Church in her Catechism (section 553) explains our Lord’s words: “The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church.”
Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 22) points out that “the office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.” Easterners and Catholics can readily agree on that statement, down to the last four words: “united to its head.” In early centuries we agreed on those words also, as we shall see in later articles. Now, however, the words formulate the basic issue which divides Easterners from Catholics.
At Catholic Answers, we often get the question: “If St. Peter was made the visible head of the Church, why don’t we see it in the book of Acts? Is not St. James (or perhaps St. Paul) the real leader of the early Church?”
How do we reply?
Actually, St. Peter is quite obviously the visible head of the Church in Acts. When you consider the inspired author of Acts was St. Luke, a companion of St. Paul, it is quite telling that for the first 15 of 28 chapters, Peter is the center of attention rather than Paul. Why this focus on Peter?
Let’s take a look.
1. Acts 1:15-26: It is St. Peter who is clearly in charge in choosing and ordaining a new apostle to replace Judas when he gives an authoritative interpretation of Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. And I might add that these texts do not have an obvious interpretation. Psalm 69:25, for example, speaks of the messiah’s persecutors (plural) who “give him gall for (his) food and sour wine to drink” – in 69:21. Then in verse 25 it says “May their (plural) camp be a desolation, let no one dwell in their tents.”
There is never a question from the rest of the apostles, “Hey, Peter, that’s a pretty shaky interpretation of those two texts. What hermeneutical principles are you using, anyway?”
2. Acts 2:14-41: It is St. Peter who is in charge at Pentecost and preaches the first sermon whereby 3,000 are baptized.
3. Acts 3:1-4:4: It is St. Peter who performs the first miracle in Acts, healing the man with withered feet and ankles. He then preaches again and, this time, 5,000 are converted in chapter 4:4.
4. Acts 4:3-12: When St. Peter and St. John are arrested and called before the Sanhedrin, it is St. Peter, in verse 8, who speaks for both and preaches boldly of Christ and the name of Jesus.
5. Acts 5:1-29: It is St. Peter who is in charge of the Church in collecting funds for world evangelism and pronounces God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira. It is then, in verse, 15, the people desire St. Peter’s shadow to pass over them that they may be healed. Then, in verse 29, after the apostles were arrested and miraculously set free by the angel of the Lord, they are before the Sanhedrin for the second time. St. Luke records:
Peter and the apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather than men.”
St. Peter is set apart. It’s “Peter and the apostles.”
6. Acts 8:14-24: We see St. Peter leading (listed first) when he and St. John confirm new converts in Samaria after the evangelistic efforts of St. Phillip. And it is St. Peter who pronounces judgment on Simon the sorcerer who wanted to buy the power to convey the Holy Spirit.
7. Acts 9:32,40-43: Here we have an interesting little passage most pass over too quickly.
As Peter was passing through every region, he went down to the holy ones living in Lydda (NAB).
Here we have St. Peter making his pastoral rounds. To what part of the Church? All of it! He then proceeds to do another first. He raises Tabitha from the dead in Joppa.
8. Acts 10-11:18: It is St. Peter to whom God gives a vision to lead the Church in allowing the gentiles to be baptized and enjoy full membership in the Church. This was a radical move! If you think we have a problem with racism in the 21st century, we have nothing on first century opinion of the gentiles! Notice, after the other apostles and other disciples heard Peter declare what God had done, they say, in 11:18:
When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”
They heard St. Peter speak and the question was settled.
9. Acts 12:1-17: St. Peter is arrested again. Notice that the entire Church then goes to “earnest prayer” (vs. 5) and into the night (vs. 6, 12) until he is released miraculously. This is not recorded to have been the case when St. James or any others were arrested.
10. Acts 15-16:4: We read of an enormous problem in the early Church, the heresy of the Judaizers. They taught believers in Christ must not only believe and obey the New Testament law as given by Christ and the apostles, but they must keep the Old Testament law given by Moses as well, especially circumcision.
Notice, St. Paul and Barnabas could not quell the upheaval.
Even more importantly, however, is the manner in which the problem is dealt with. Do they get out their Bibles and start arguing passages? No! They respond decisively, but not in the way a “Bible Christian” would today. They respond to the difficulty in obedience to the command of our Lord in Matthew 18:15-18. Jesus gives us authoritative instructions on what to do in the case of a disagreement over doctrine or discipline in the Church. First, go to your brother. Second, if he won’t hear you, take two or three witnesses with you. If he won’t hear them, the final arbiter of the situation will be the Church.
The Christians in Antioch, no doubt, tried to handle the problem on a local level first. That is what the text indicates. But they couldn’t take care of the dispute. Then they brought in the big guns—Paul and Barnabas—a pretty formidable “one or two” to employ!
It did not work!
This problem was so enormous, St. Paul could not even settle it. Where do they go then? Just as our Lord said, they “take it to the Church.” The church at Antioch obeys our Lord and takes it to the Church in Jerusalem. Whence cometh the first Church Council.
Do you notice how sola scriptura is nowhere to be found here?
Peter or James?
But now we need to answer another question. Some Bible Christians will say, “Was not James the true leader of the early Church and not Peter?”
If you examine the text of Acts 15 carefully, you will see this is not the case. In verses six and seven, we see all of the apostles and elders gathered together and doing what? Disputing!
Notice, it is Peter who speaks first, in verses 7-11. After so much disputing in Antioch that St. Paul and Barnabas could not settle the difficulty:
And afterthere had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them… “But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence…
“After much debate” here at the Council, Peter declares the truth and then—“the whole assembly fell silent” in verse 12. The issue was settled.
This speaks volumes.
And notice as well: Peter uses the first person personal prounoun in the plural. “We believe…” Peter does not speak just for himself. He speaks for all.
However, there was still a pastoral issue. How are we going to bring about unity, in a pastoral sense, between the Jews and Gentiles? The Jewish Christians were worshipping in a Jewish manner which involved many Old Testament practices. St. Paul himself acknowledged the validity of this manner of worship, and participated in it himself in Acts 21:15-26. Many of these Jews wanted to make their rules the universal norm for everyone and even believed it necessary for salvation. The question: How do we unify the Gentile and Jewish Rites without compromising the truth? The Church could not say Gentiles had to keep what were peculiarly Old Testament practices in order to be saved, but the Church also wanted to respect some of the ancient practices of the Jews.
St. James stands up in Acts 15:13-23, and gives his pastoral opinion on the matter:
My brothers, listen to me. Symeon has [declared] how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name… It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter avoid  the pollution from idols,  unlawful marriage,  the meat of strangled animals, and  blood. Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas… This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the presbyters, you brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings…”
Two Key Points:
1. When James stands up to speak, the first thing he says after getting the attention of the Council is, “Symeon has related…” In other words, Peter has spoken… He repeats what Peter has already said definitively. Then, rather than speaking for all, St. James says, “It is my judgment…”
A little over 400 years after this proclamation by St. James, the fathers of the Council of Chalcedon would similarly declare, “Peter has spoken through Leo, the question is settled” after hearing a written declaration of St. Peter’s successor, Pope St. Leo the Great, read at that great Ecumenical Council. In AD 451, the issue was concerning the monophysite heresy and the nature of the God-man Jesus Christ. But both times, the same Principle was in effect. God spoke definitively through the authority He established on this earth to Shepherd his people.
2. When St. James gives his pastoral judgment, in verse 19, his judgment was that the Church ought to bind the Gentiles to four laws:
… abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.
But notice what happens immediately thereafter, in verses 22-28:
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas… with the following letter: “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling to your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us in assembly to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul… We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…”
1. When Peter speaks in Acts 15:7-11, just as we saw in Acts 10-11:18, the question was settled. St. Peter’s authority is unique. He has the keys of the kingdom and as such speaks for Christ with or without the consent of the others (Matthew 16:15-19).
2. When James gives his pastoral judgment concerning how to deal with an extremely difficult situation, the apostles, elders and the whole church had to agree before an epistle could be written to be sent out to the troubled churches. Why? Because the other apostles’ authority is depicted in a collegial manner. Jesus gave Peter and all the apostles the authority to “bind and loose” in Matthew 18:15-18. Notice, it was all the apostles with Peter that acted in sending out the decree to the troubled churches. James and the apostles authority was exercised as a college. Only St. Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom. Only St. Peter acted alone in the context of all of the apostles at the Council.
3. Notice the nature of the letter sent out by the Church. When the Council of Jerusalem sends out the decree, the Church declares:
It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell. (Acts 15:28, NAB)
As St. Paul and Silas traveled about delivering the decree of the Church, the Scripture records:
As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Catholic trivia point:
The Greek word for decisions there is “dogmata” in Greek.
One Final Note:
When St. Paul and Barnabas went to Antioch (this was where the trouble started according to Acts 14:26-15:2) immediately after the Council and delivered the teachings, the people “were delighted with the exhortation” (see Acts 15:30-31). The dispute was settled. However, not everyone was obedient. Judging from the letters of St. Paul to the Galatians and Romans, and the letter to the Hebrews, we can clearly see that there were rebels then just as there are now who will not listen to the Church.
St Irenaeus gives us some interesting insight as to one problem person who would not obey the Church. He was the seventh deacon who is listed among the first deacons ordained in Acts 6:5. You’ll notice that among the seven, he is listed last. According to St. Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, Bk. 1, ch. 26, para. 3, he was one of the leaders of the rebellion against the Council. Scripture records Nicolas the deacon was a “convert from Antioch.” Antioch is where all the trouble started.
The final point I want to make here is that Jesus himself has very strong words for these Nicolaitanes! These were basically anti-nomians who thought they did not have to obey the laws of the Church. When Jesus gives a personal message to St. John in the beginning of the Book of Revelation, he has a special message for those who would disobey the Church.
Remember then from what you [the church in Ephesus] have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Rev. 2:5-6).
I have a few things against you [the church in Pergamum]: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth (Rev. 2:14-16).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on the side of folks whose deeds are “hated” by the Lord. I will remain on the side of the Church!
If you want to remain on the side of the Church, you must remain with the Vicar of Christ, St. Peter, and his successors the Popes.
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