Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Commemoration of Sts. Peter and Paul, Patrons of the Patriarchate of Antioch

You read correctly. Both Sts. Peter and Paul are the patrons of the Patriarchate of Antioch which they both founded and were both bishop, long before either of them had even gone to Rome. Those facts alone should automatically give Antioch precedence over Rome! But I don't want to get into papal supremacy at all right now.

Today, June 29 (Revised Julian Calendar), the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates the martyred apostles, Sts. Peter and Paul. The synaxarion from the Prologue of Ohrid will be found below. On this feast, I wanted to share this story about St. Peter.

We all know of St. Peter's threefold denial of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We also know that, despite his refusal to confess and proclaim Christ's name to those who would persecute him as well as his Master, he wept bitterly for his denial and is a model of repentance. According to legend, before his martyrdom, St. Peter, it seems, reverted to old habits. Knowing that he would be persecuted and probably killed for his faith in the Lord, St. Peter fled from Rome. On the road leading outside the city, he encountered the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. St. Peter asked, "Lord, where are you going?" Christ responded, "I am going to Rome to be crucified." Immediately, St. Peter realized his sin and turned back to receive martyrdom by being crucified, though upside down.

If St. Peter had fled Rome and avoided martyrdom, he may well have lived another 10, 20 or 30 years and proclaimed the Lord wherever he went. Peter might well have believed that he had a lot to live for rather than to die for. But Peter knew in his heart that any further proclamation of the Lord which resulted from him fleeing death would be no proclamation of Christ at all. It would be hollow and it would be as fickle as St. Peter's cowardice. So, St. Peter returned and was martyred. Is that not true faith?

From the Prologue of Ohrid:

Peter was the son of Jonah and the brother of Andrew, the First-called. He was of the Tribe of Simeon from the town of Bethsaida. He was a fisherman and, at first, was called Simon but the Lord was pleased to call him Cephas or Peter: "And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, He said, You are Simon the son of Jonah: you shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a rock" (St. John 1:42). He was the first of the disciples to clearly express faith in the Lord Jesus saying: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (St. Matthew 16:16). His love for the Lord was great and his faith in the Lord gradually strengthened. When the Lord was brought to trial, Peter denied Him three times but after only one glance into the face of the Lord, Peter's soul was filled with shame and repentance. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter appears as a fearless and powerful preacher of the Gospel. Following one of his sermons in Jerusalem, three-thousand souls converted to the Faith. He preached the Gospel throughout Palestine and Asia Minor, throughout Illyria and Italy. Peter worked many powerful miracles; he healed the sick, resurrected the dead; the sick were healed even from his shadow. He had a great struggle with Simon the Magician who proclaimed himself as god but in reality Simon was a servant of Satan. Finally, Peter shamed and defeated him. By order of the evil Emperor Nero, Simon's friend, Peter was condemned to death. Installing Linus as Bishop of Rome, counseling and comforting the flock of Christ, Peter proceeded joyfully to his death. Seeing the cross before him, he begged his executioners to crucify him upside down for he considered himself unworthy to die as did his Lord. Thus the great servant of the Great Lord reposed and received the wreath of eternal glory.

Paul was born in Tarsus of the tribe of Benjamin. At first, he was called Saul, studied under Gamaliel, was a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christianity. He was miraculously converted to the Christian Faith by the Lord Himself Who appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He was baptized by the Apostle Ananias, was called Paul and numbered in the service of the great apostles. With a fiery zeal, Paul preached the Gospel everywhere from the borders of Arabia to Spain, among the Jews and among the Gentiles. He received the title "Apostle to the Gentiles." As horrible as his sufferings were, so much more was his super human patience. Throughout all the years of his preaching Paul, from day to day, hung as one on a weak thread between life and death. Since he fulfilled all days and nights with labor and suffering for Christ, since he organized the Church in many places and since he attained such a degree of perfection he was able to say: "It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero at the same time as the Apostle Peter.

Through their intercessions, may the Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.

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