St. Peter and St. Paul – Commemorated on June 29th

peter_and_paulThe Apostles’ Fast (the Ss. Peter and Paul fast) ends on June 29th, so it is worthwhile to take a look at Ss. Peter and Paul.
After a teaching and preaching trip, Jesus and his disciples were alone in Ceasarea Philippi and Jesus wants to know what the apostles think of him, so he asks the group in general what other people think of Him. They answer “Some say John the Baptist. Some Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. So this is the general belief. However Jesus asks “But who do you say I am?” St. Peter answers for the group saying “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Our Lord then says “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah [i.e., Peter] and I say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” This is a play on words. The name Peter is basically the same as the Greek word petros, or stone.
When Roman Catholics read this passage they say that the rock is Peter himself and his successors, the popes. However, most of the church Fathers say the rock is St. Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. As Orthodox we agree that St. Peter was the head of the apostles and had a certain primacy. However, St. Peter did not rule over the other apostles, but was, so to speak, their spokesman. In the same way we would say that in a united Church the Pope would have primacy but as the first among equals, and not absolute ruler. This is one of the differences between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
In regard to St. Paul, we should know that St. Paul, then known as Saul, had been a student of one of the most important rabbis of his time. This means that Saul was a Pharisee, a member of that group of Jews who obeyed the Jewish law in the strictest way. In other words, Saul took his religion seriously, so much so that he even persecuted the early Church until Christ appeared to him in a unique revelation so that St. Paul (his name changed when he was baptized) realized that Jesus Christ was the Messiah that he, as a Pharisee, was awaiting and that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Jewish Law.
Both St. Peter and St. Paul were highly active in spreading the early church and we can learn about their activities in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles they wrote.

Troparion — Tone 4

First-enthroned of the apostles, teachers of the universe: Entreat the Master of all to grant peace to the world, and to our souls great mercy!

Kontakion — Tone 2

O Lord, Thou hast taken up to eternal rest and to the enjoyment of Thy blessings the two divinely-inspired preachers, the leaders of the Apostles, for Thou hast accepted their labors and deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, for Thou alone knowest what lies in the hearts of men.

Fr. John