The Feast Of Sts Peter and Paul
sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga
Today we have finally come to the end of the Apostles fast. The conclusion of this fast ushers in the feast of the chief of the Apostles, Peter and Paul. These two great apostles are those who held up the Church and led it forward. It is no surprise that the icon of these two saints depict them both holding up a church in their hands, since they both held up and led the early church. Both of these men represent two parts of the Church, that of the Church to the Jews and Gentiles. The Apostle Peter generally is known as the Apostle to the Jews and the Apostle Paul is that to the Gentiles. These two showed their great faith and were able to bring many other souls to the Church. We cannot forget that because of the acts of these two Apostles, we too are able to have the true faith and worship the one true God. So, in order to see how they were able to get to be such great beacons of the Church, we have to see first where they came from.
The Apostle Peter was a simple fisherman. Together with his brother, the Apostle Andrew, they would abandon that path and follow Christ. As we heard in the gospel today when Jesus was in the region of Cesearea Phillipi, Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah and chosen of God. Christ responded by saying that He will build His Church upon Petra which in Greek is the word for rock. According to St. John Chrysostom, the rock is not Peter, but the "faith of his confession". This faith that Peter had at this point would be strengthened by witnessing Christ's resurrection and receiving the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost after the descent of the Holy Spirit, his preaching brought more than 3 thousand souls to the faith, and countless others throughout his travels.
The Apostle Paul also had simple beginnings. He was a tentmaker by trade. Unlike the other Apostles, the Apostle Paul never met Christ in His lifetime. He became a persecutor of Christians, hunting down anyone he could have put to death. He was present for St. Stephen's martyric death and even participated by holding the coats of those who would stone St. Stephen. He begged the Pharisees to send him to Damascus where there were many Christians in hiding. On the path, he thrown from his hose and was blinded. There on the road to Damascus he met the living Christ. This great vision Paul had was the turning point in his life. He went from a great persecutor, to being a great missionary. St. Paul had many sufferings by being tortured and imprisoned. His countless letters are still read to this day at almost every Divine Liturgy. St. Paul's valiantly preached and brought a great number of souls to Christ. It is no wonder that St. John Chrysostom says: "No other Paul will be born". He is unique and one of a kind.
Here is a quote of Elder Philotheos which illustrates what the Apostles did: "Listen, my beloved ones, in a few words, you have heard the achievements of the foremost Apostles. How did they perform such signs and wonders? By what means? With faith. All the wondrous and extraordinary things that the Apostles and all the Saints did, they did with faith." This faith that the Apostles had was what enabled them to do many great things. But as we know in the Orthodox Church, Saints are set forth in order for us to use as examples for our lives. So the question turns to each one of us, how strong is our faith now that we have these examples placed before us? Elder Philotheous continues: "What do I see, what do I hear from the illiterates, the peasants, the shepherds? Blasphemies, obscenities, thefts. What do I see in the rich, in the merchants? Greed, seizures, avarice. What do I see in the rulers? Egoism, arrogance, flattery, deceit, covetousness. In all, both the people and the clergy, one sees negligence, lethargy, corruption, paralysis. And then we wait for progress, we wait for wars, sorrows and misfortunes to stop. I said it, I say it and I will keep saying it; when we repent, when we become pious, then our troubles will cease."
This is so pertinent to us today. How many of us are in trouble now and have many difficulties. There are so many problems in our life day to day. Many are rightly upset at the continued closure of churches and the infringement by the government on our religious services by banning church singing. Our Archbishop even penned a letter to our governor to protest these measures, which I highly recommend to read. We see that our Bishops are working hard in order to resolve this grim situation we find ourselves in. So then as we see these increased difficulties many ask, what can each one of us do then in this situation? The answer is simple, come to repentance, stop indulging sin and turn our lives around. We all have this great opportunity to start to change our lives today and now. Maybe some of us have not kept the entire Apostles fast. Well now is the time to start, start keeping each Wednesday and Friday fast. Be strict about it. Some of us did not pray as much as we should have in the fast, or read spiritual books. Well, we should have continued prayer daily even outside of fasting periods. Maybe we are not talking to someone who upset us. Well now is the time to ask forgiveness.
All these sins God wants to heal and to vindicate but these cannot be healed without our cooperation. St. Paul had a great vision of Christ on the road to Damascus. Christ Himself appeared to St. Paul because He knew that Paul would repent of his pharisee ways and become a chosen vessel. Peter had denied Christ, but Christ accepted his repentance and brought him back into the ranks of the Apostles. Christ knew that Peter would bring many souls to the Church and eventually be martyred in Rome. God is working, always trying to bring us back to repentance by sending us difficult situations. The question is, do we have the faith to accept what is given to us, and do we have the will to turn around our sinful life? I pray that God will give us all the wisdom to be able to be freed from sin.