Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Living Examples of Repentance and Forgiveness
Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Old-Style)
12 July, 2010
2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9 ; Matthew 16:13-19


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. It is important for us to remember the primary reasons for their importance for us. It is not only because they were apostles, and it is not merely because they were leaders of the Church’s life. The main reason that we are celebrating them together today (apart from the fact that they were both killed in Rome on this day at the same time) is the fact that they are both living, concrete examples for us all of how we are supposed to live and what our relationship with the Lord ought to be and can be.

Each of these apostles had his weaknesses. We heard the Apostle Paul speaking to us at great length about all his infirmities and his weaknesses. The Apostle Peter also had his weaknesses. Even though we hear the Apostle Peter today confess Christ to be “‘the Son of the living God’”, and our Saviour proclaims him to be foundational for the Church, nevertheless, at the time of the Crucifixion he betrayed Christ three times ; he was scared and ran away. On other occasions before the time of his own death in Rome, he was thinking of running away because of how the Tempter was tempting him with fear. In fact, he did, on one occasion actually begin to flee. However, the Lord stopped him on the road, and He said : “Peter, where are you going ?” Then the Apostle Peter woke up. He came to his senses. He went back, and he did what he was supposed to do. The shedding of the blood of the two apostles on this day brings more life to our Church, more life to the world, more hope to the world. Both these men deeply loved God, and they both wanted to serve Him with all their being.

When anyone of us makes the same determination in life, the same thing happens to us as happened to each of these apostles. The devil comes and tries to divide us. He comes with all sorts of thoughts – negative, dividing thoughts, suspicions, and so forth. He tries to divide us away from the flock of rational sheep, from the flock of life which is the Church. The devil also supplies one of the harder things for us to bear, and which the Apostle Paul spoke about : tribulations and tests from people we know and love, such as our own people and our own families. Sometimes they can beat us up because of our faithfulness to Christ. Sometimes our best friends, our neighbours, can give us trouble simply because we are trying to follow Christ.

Why is this ? It is simply because wherever Christ is, the light of life is shining. If we, ourselves, are bearing Christ, then the light of life, the light of Christ is shining in us (which is good). However, for those who have dark things in their lives or who are bound by fear in their lives, it can be very unnerving and unsettling to be near the shining of the light of Christ. This is precisely the same thing as when anyone of us is asleep at night in the dark and the light is unexpectedly turned on. Even when we are expecting the light to be turned on, and the light is bright, the eyes are not at all happy with the shining of that light. It takes a while for the eyes to accept the brightness of that light.

When the light is turned on suddenly, our first reaction is to say : “Turn it off !” However, we know that we cannot find our way unless the light is turned on. The light must be there, and we must put up with the discomfort. In the context of our lives, it is much more serious and sharper, because we cannot hide from the Lord things that we think we are hiding from Him. It is a self-deception to think that we could hide anything from the Lord and that He would not know every single, solitary thing about us. Neither you nor I can hide anything from the Lord. When His light is shining, and I am ashamed of something, what do I do if I am thinking in a life-giving way ? I do the same thing as when I turn on the light at night. I accept the shining of His light, and I allow the Lord to show me the right way. I allow Him to correct in my life my mistakes, and my faults. I allow Him to heal me. When I am doing this, I am doing what the two apostles did throughout their whole lives, and that is to repent. They always turned about, away from darkness and fear to light and love. They turned away from selfishness, and they turned to selflessness. They became for us big examples of repentance.

A further example that is important to keep in mind concerning these two apostles is their relationship with each other. They were, in fact, opposite personalities. The Apostle Peter was an ordinary fisherman from the Sea of Galilee. As an ordinary Jewish man, he had enough education to read aloud the Torah, the Scriptures, in the synagogue. In those days (as now also), every boy at the age of at least thirteen came to the point where he had learnt enough to be able to read, and he had learnt to read the Scriptures well enough. Then he could take his place in public as an adult. He could start to take his turn first to count as one of the ten (the minyan) required to be assembled for the service to begin ; and second, to take up his responsibility and to take his turn to read aloud portions of the Scriptures during the services. In his hand he would have held a little metal or wooden pointer in order not to damage the scroll and to help keep his place on the page. The reading is done from hand-written scrolls to this day. In those days, Hebrew did not have punctuation or written vowels – there were only the consonants. A person truly had to know the language ; one had to know the words, and the Scriptures as well, in order to be able to read aloud correctly and intelligibly.

By contrast, the Apostle Paul came from an upper-class business family in the city of Tarsus in what is now eastern Turkey. In those days, there were various classes of citizenship ; but he came from a business family that was wealthy enough to be able to buy a lasting Roman citizenship (which was not cheap). His family was well-placed, and he had a high upper-class education in the Roman Empire of the day. Then he went to Jerusalem to complete his Jewish education at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a well-known, really highly prepared scholar of the Old Testament. The equivalent in our day would be going to a theological specialist for post-doctoral study in Oxford. So the Apostle Paul had a very high education. A person can actually perceive it when reading the Epistles in Greek or Slavonic. In those languages, it is difficult to comprehend what he is saying because the Greek (or Slavonic in translation) is so complicated. In English, we have “dumbed it down” a little bit and broken up really long sentences into short sentences to make it easier for our English ears to grasp the meaning by shortening this and that. However, we, in English, sometimes have some difficulty understanding precisely what the Apostle is saying to us, because the meaning is so tightly packed, and so deep. His use of the Greek language is classical. As he uses as few words as possible, he is packing in the most meaning. Even the Apostle Peter says in one of his Epistles that the words of “‘our beloved brother Paul’” are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). When the Apostle Peter writes, he is more practical, direct, and “catchable” for most people.

All these things are describing the apostles’ contrasting personalities. Because the Apostles Peter and Paul were such different persons, with very different life-experiences, they had some very sharp differences of opinion about a few things. They even argued about some things. What a surprise, what an unheard of and strange thing that Orthodox Christians might argue ! How it was with the apostles is how it is with us. However, here again, they are an example for us. Even if they had these differences of opinion, and even if they argued sharply, they died in the same city on the same day for the same reason – for the love of the same Lord, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. (However, each one died in a different manner. The Apostle Peter was crucified upside-down because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way as the Saviour. The Apostle Paul was beheaded.) We are able to be participants in our Saviour, Jesus Christ and in His love because of their love.

Nevertheless, long before the two apostles died (and not just the day before), they managed to overcome their differences of opinion sufficiently so that they were able to do together what was necessary for the Saviour. They understood that if they had differences of opinion, they had to get over them and resolve them and, nevertheless, continue on in harmony. They resolved them by determining together what, in fact, is the Lord’s will. We can have opinions, but what does the Lord say that we should do ? The Apostles Peter and Paul are showing us. In the classical icon of the Apostles Peter and Paul they are embracing each other, and giving each other the kiss of peace. They are demonstrating in the icon what is the fact of their lives. Different persons as they were, the Saviour is the same Saviour. Although they may have had different opinions, their will was to do the will of the Lord.

The two apostles together are the example for us all of what it is to repent. Fundamentally, to repent means to get over our selfish ways and “doing our own thing”. Instead, we learn the Lord’s selfless way in love, and we learn to do His will. Let us ask our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Lover of human beings, to give us the Grace of the Holy Spirit, the Grace given to those holy apostles so that we, likewise, may live lives of repentance, always turning towards the Lord. May we live lives of obedience in Him and through Him, rooted in His love. Let us ourselves, each and all together, in every aspect of our lives, glorify Him : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.