29 June, Sts. Peter and Paul
O first-enthroned of the Apostles,
and teachers of all the world,
intercede with the Master of all,
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls his great mercy.
A visiting dignitary is honoured with a symbolic key to the city
as a token of respect, but for eternity the keys to the kingdom
of Heaven have been placed by the Messiah himself, out of respect
to one of his greatest disciples, into the hand of a man called
Peter,the constant companion and beloved friend of Jesus Christ.
This magnificent disciple, whom trust places at the gates of heaven
to examine the credentials of those who would enter, had a master
key in his lifetime which unlocked the hearts of men to admit the
Saviour, and his wisdom was the key to men's minds which in turn
admitted the intelligence to give meaning to the Christian faith.
Brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew, a fisherman like himself,
Peter forthwith acknowledged the Master and undertook a lifetime
of casting his fisherman's nets for the sake of Jesus Christ and
so excelled himself in his personal and total dedication to the
Saviour that in the two thousand years that have elapsed any roll
call of the disciples finds the name of Peter among the most prominent.
He ranks with St. Paul as one without whom the new Faith could not
have survived the whips and scorns of the pagan era of superstition
and spiritual darkness.
Several accounts are given in the New Testament about St, Peter
and his strong bond with the Nazarene, but the stirring passage
in Matthew should be etched in the mind of every Christian, that
which says "And I say to thee that thou art Peter and upon
this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not
prevail against it. I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of
the Heavens, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound
in the heavens, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be
loosed in the heavens." This divine authority vested in Peter
as well as to all of the disciples of Christ, placed a sacred trust
in Peter, whose name means, "rock" from the Greek word
It was upon this rock of faith, as depicted in holy Scripture,
that the formation of the Christian Church, the disciples' handywork,
was not only a success but a triumph as well. Peter, the redoubtable
fisherman who had never strayed far from his home in Capernaum on
the shores of Galilee, was at the side of Jesus in his ministry
throughout the Holy Land and as one of his closest apostles planned
the campaigns for the winning of converts.
In the course of this spiritual campaign, he came to witness the
many miracles of the Master, such as the walking on water, the miracle
of the loaves and fishes and, many others which were to lend an
aura of divine authority to all of the apostles in the stewardship
of the Church.
Peter, together with many others, was privileged to witness the
glorious resurrection of Christ, an event which all Christendom
views with such reverence as to regard the first followers of Christ,
as next to divine.
Peter struck out on his own in the missionary work of renewed dedication
after the death of Jesus, but he favoured Jerusalem and together
with other followers of Christ assisted diligently in the formation
of the Christian community in Jerusalem.
Peter, whose presence at Gethsemane had further fuelled the fires
of Christian zeal in his heart, joined John in Samaria, Lydda, Joppa,
and Caesaria in a propagation of the truth of the Messiah, but returning
to Jerusalem found that a famine had set in and that the Christian
community was somehow being blamed for the economic woes that ravaged
the land. With the help of Paul and Barnabas they restored thconfidence
of the people and led them out of their hapless state to an era
of new prosperity. Ultimately Peter established the first church
in the ancient city of Antioch and became its first bishop. Later
in Rome, he was sentenced by Nero to be crucified, a manner of death
in which he emulated the Messiah.
Whenever the storms of controversy within the Christian Church
have cast a shadow on the Cross of Jesus Christ, the clouds have
been rolled back by the spiritual brighteness, undiminished by the
centuries, of the magnificent St. Paul. Most Christians agree that
were it not for St. Paul, the new faith of Jesus Christ would have
never taken hold to become the mainstay of Western civilization,
The total commitment of St. Paul to the Messiah, for which he ultimately
sacrificed his life, brought the message of Jesus to the nucleus
of Christians over a period of thirty years and assured the permanency
of the truth of the Savior. It was Christ, of course, who planted
the seeds, but it was St. Paul who nourished the garden of Christendom.
St. Paul was born in Tarsus, a flourishing crossroads city in Cilicia,
Asia Minor. He received his religious training in Jerusalem under
the renowned rabbinical tutor Gamaliel, from whom he absorbed the
teaching of the Pharisees with intensity and sincerity. He deplored
the acceptance of the Messiah as heresy to his religion and as an
affront to the Law of the ancient covenant. Armed with articles
of condemnation from his council, he set out for Damascus with an
avowed purpose of wiping out this new belief in Jesus Christ.
On the road to Damascus he met Jesus. This is perhaps the most
dramatic turnabout in history, one that was destined to alter the
course of the world. St. Paul embraced as the Messiah the man whom
he had set out to destroy; thereafter he devoted himself with deep
conviction to the truth of Christianity. The conversion alone of
this profoundly religious man is in itself testimony to the reality
of the Messiah's divinity.
Although not one of the twelve disciples of Christ, Paul linked
himself with the apostles and became the greatest apostolic missionary
of all time. A brilliant orator and writer, he was sensitive to
the needs and moods of the various tribes of both Greek and Near
Eastern backgrounds. Furthermore, he was intelligent enough to cope
with the problems that beset the new faith at every turn.
St. Paul, a man of small physical stature, cast a giant shadow
upon the missionary scene as he traveled the length and breadth
of the ancient Eastern world. He had success following success in
the vast areas of Asia, Greece, Cyprus, Macedonia, and eventually
Rome, where his most noble purpose was to prove his undoing. He
had a fondness for Jerusalem, for whose poor he continually solicited
funds. Moreover, he envisioned a union of the Jewish and Christian
communities, a project which was to prove dangerous. He met James
in Jerusalem and together they sought a means to bring this laudable
plan into being. However, he encountered not love but outright hostility.
In fact, he had to be saved from an angry mob by the Roman authorities,
who placed him aboard a ship bound for Rome, where he arrived after
a tossed voyage.
St. Paul had always wanted to use the eternal city with its strategic
position in the empire, from which the spread of Christianity could
be projected. Although he preached in Rome for two years, his ambitions
were never completely realized, except for the production of his
masterful Pastoral Letters.
Despite his frail health he continued his work for Christ at an
accelerated pace, but his enthusiastic love for the Savior also
brought him the resentment of certain influential elements in Rome.
When his enemies had done their worst, he was brought to trial and
met a marytr's death about A.D. 67.
The true greatness of Paul is discerned in his writings, particularly
his epistles. As author of almost half of the twenty-seven books
of the New Testament, he has influenced Christianity as no other
man with the exception of Jesus himself. Even after nearly two thousand
years, St. Paul's candor, freshness, clarity, and perceptiveness
in his writings are as welcome as sunrise.
Orthodox Christianity remembers St. Paul each year on 29th June
and as one of the Apostles on June 30.