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A sermon on the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch: Aspects of Leadership
It is a great pleasure to be able to welcome friends to St. Peter’s on this feast day. It is not one which is normally celebrated here, but as a secondary feast of our patron saint perhaps it ought to be.
A note on the history and background of the feast would probably be appropriate at this point. St. Peter was in the blessed position of having two chairs, one at Antioch and the other at Rome! Both represent his authority within the Church. On the 18thJanuary the feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Rome is celebrated. This reflects the episcopacy of the Apostle in Rome from 42 A.D. and his pre-eminence amongst his peers. The feast is sometimes referred to as the ‘Confession of St. Peter’ referring to his confession of Jesus as the messiah (Mark 8: 27f). Significantly this date marks the beginning of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity which ends, appropriately enough with the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on 25thof the month.
The feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch is celebrated on 22ndFebruary, but why Antioch? This is the Antioch in Syria, not Pisidian Antioch. The settlement was founded in 300 B.C. by Seleucus I and it became an important Hellenistic city along with Rome and Alexandria. It was a port and was the meeting point of major land routes and so became critical as a staging post for merchants and other travellers. In 64 B.C. Antioch became the capital of the Roman province of Syria.
At the beginning of the 1stCentury A.D. there was a significant Jewish colony at Antioch made up primarily of former soldiers who had been granted land on retirement from service. It is worth noting that soldiers in that era were particularly religious, a fact borne out on more than one occasion in the Gospels and Acts. There were also large numbers of proselytes and adherents of mystery cults many of which emphasised life after death. Together with the good civil order brought about by the Pax Romana (in contrast to Jerusalem) these characteristics created an effective breeding ground for Christianity. It was here that the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11: 19- end).
St. Peter was the first of the Twelve to visit Antioch and subsequently became its first bishop. Both the Syriac (Miaphysite) and Antiochian Orthodox Churches find their origins in his episcopate. Overall the twin feasts reflect the role of St. Peter, as the holder of the keys, in both the Eastern and Western Churches. At a Patronal Festival at St. Peter’s, Bushey Heath we reflect in sorrow and penitence on separation and disunity within the Church and pray for reconciliation between the Church of England and Rome and between the Church in the East and in the West.
So why does St. Peter matter? I would like to comment this evening especially upon St. Peter’s leadership of the Church. This is not leadership in the worldly sense, describing the head-counting, bean-counting and other necessary but secondary aspects of our corporate life so beloved of the ‘management generation’ of bishops who test the patience of the flock in our day and stifle the proclamation of the Gospel. St. Peter’s leadership is different because it is about authority for the work of the Kingdom of God. St. Peter’s authority is rooted in three ways, all of them dependent upon Jesus by whom we are defined, sustained and empowered.
First, St. Peter presents the ‘Good Shepherd’ pattern of discipleship. In accepting this model the faithful accept membership of Christ’s flock and are subject to his just and gentle rule. We are invited to define ourselves solely in relation to Jesus under the authority of leaders who themselves take their inspiration and obligations from passages like Ezekiel 34: 16.
Secondly, the Church and its leaders are sustained by the sacrifice of Christ. This is why unity at the altar matters and why orthodox parishes in the Church of England opt for sacramental care from a bishop of the Society under the Patronage of St. Wilfred and St. Hilda.
Thirdly, the Apostle teaches the faithful that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is of paramount importance. Christians seek both the presence of God and the rule of God, expressed not just in the personal and local, but in the cosmic. This belief is the foundation of our commitment to the world Christ came to save and is expressed in both evangelism and service – works of God which are beyond our understanding and yet into which we are drawn and for which we are empowered.
Defined, sustained and empowered. We discover in St. Peter the essence of authority, not after our own fancies or management theories, but after the teaching of the Apostles who have the authority of Christ. In St. Peter we discover authentic leadership because it is Christ’s own. Would God that the House of Bishops would see the same and learn to emulate it.
‘The right to this power was handed on to the other apostles and the provisions of this decree have been passed on to all the leaders of the Church. But it was not an idle gesture to put into one man’s keeping what was to be communicated to all. This commission was given to Peter in particular, because the example of Peter is put before all the leaders of the Church.’ (St. Leo the Great).
Father Andrew Burton SSC, 22ndFebruary 2018
Pray for our ministry to those who celebrate baptisms, weddings and funerals at St. Peter’s.
From the diary
8.00am Said Mass (Book of Common Prayer) 9.30am Parish Mass (Modern Rite)
Wednesday 6th June, 10.00am Mothers’ Union Corporate Communion
Wednesday 13th June, 10.00am Morning Prayer (Sr. Diana)
Tuesday 19th June, 11.00am Ministers’ Fraternal at St. Peter’s
Wednesday 20th June, 10.00am Said Mass (St. Alban, Martyr)
8.00pm Parochial Church Council in the Parish Hall
Sunday 24thJune The Birth of St. John the Baptist
Wednesday 27thJune, 10.00am Said Mass (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop, Doctor)
Friday 29thJune, 2.15pm Wedding (Samantha Jackson and Matthew Reynolds)
Sunday 1stJuly Patronal Festival
From the registers –
28thApril Annie Morten
15thMay Shelagh Humphreys (aged 87 years)
Songs of Praise and Hope: ‘The Stranger in our Midst’
Sunday 23rdSeptember, 6.30pm
Speaker: Rebecca Palmer of New Hope Trust
Parish Quiet Day
Father Andrew is organising a Quiet Day at Ascot Priory on Saturday 29thSeptember and would welcome expressions of interest.
The theme for the day will be, ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary: from Maiden to Icon.’
On behalf of Hertsmere Borough Council and Hertsmere Leisure, Warren Estate Residents Association is delighted to announce
Bushey Acoustic Festival and Summer Picnic
TWO STAGES Great FOOD MARKET or bring your own picnic KIDS’ ZONE CRAFT FAIR
Free entrance – everyone welcome on Sunday 3rdJune from 1.30pm to 5.00pm
Venue: Mary Forsdyke Gardens and Warren Lake
Vicar: Fr. Andrew Burton SSC, a priest of the Society. (020 8950 1424). Usual day off Monday.
Churchwardens: Mr. Peter Mould (020 8428 8307); Mrs. Anne Swerling (020 8950 8923).