July 4, 2023

Homily Five on the Holy Foremost Apostles Peter and Paul (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1958)

Who gave the Apostles Peter and Paul the name of  "foremost", who exalted them with this name above all other apostles? Is it not the Church of Christ, which has the power to rank the righteous as saints, to give them the names of great venerables and hierarchs, great martyrs, and even great ecumenical teachers and hierarchs?

No, I say, not from the Holy Church, but from Jesus Christ Himself, they received the name of the foremost and exalted above all other apostles. They received their great name from the Son of God, the Omniscient one Who knows all the hearts of men. Listen to the amazing Gospel story about the conversation of Jesus Christ with His apostles: “[Jesus] asked His disciples, saying, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' So they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also 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. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven'" (Matthew 16:13-19).

Shouldn't the apostle, who received such great promises from the Son of God Himself, who was made the cornerstone of the Church of Christ, appointed as the gatekeeper of the Kingdom of Heaven, by right be called the foremost?

Even more amazing is the Divine omniscience that our Lord Jesus Christ showed in relation to another great Apostle - Paul, the second foremost, whom many call the second, after Jesus Christ, founder of Christianity.

I think that all of you know the deeply disturbing story about the miraculous appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ to the cruel enemy and persecutor of Christians, Saul, who was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus. He blinded him with His Divine light and shook his soul with the question: “'Saul! Saul! why are you persecuting me?' He said: 'Who are you, Lord?' The Lord said: 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  It is hard for you to kick against the goads'" (Acts 9:4-5). And the Lord commanded him to go to Damascus, having his companions as guides, and Himself appeared in a vision to the Apostle Ananias who lived in Damascus and commanded him to go to the indicated address to the blinded Saul, restore his sight and baptize him.

Ananias is astonished, for he has heard from many how much evil this man has done to the saints in Jerusalem.

We, along with Ananias, are amazed at the answer of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Go, for he is My chosen vessel, to proclaim My name before the nations and kings and the children of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for My name" (Acts 9:15-16).

The name of Saul, the cruel enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ and the persecutor of all who believed in Him, was far known outside of Jerusalem and in Damascus and inspired fear, and the Divine omniscience of the Lord Jesus saw in him that great disciple of Christ who would write amazing words about himself: “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2, 19-20).

With His Divine gaze, He clearly saw in the heart of Saul the treasure of boundless faith, full of fearlessness, patience, and mighty faith.

It was as if the Lord Himself was a witness to those hardest labors and sufferings that the great Apostle Paul endured over the course of many years of his fiery preaching about Him; in advance, as it were, he was present at beatings, imprisonments, even when stoned almost to death; was with him during three shipwrecks, when he spent day and night in the depths of the sea, holding on to a shipwreck.

That is why the All-Knowing Lord told the Apostle Ananias: “Go, for he is My chosen vessel... And I will show him how much he must suffer for My name” (Acts 9:15-16).

The Lord knew that the time would come when this chosen vessel of His would be awarded the greatest reward for his labors and deeds, would be raptured to the third heaven into paradise, and would hear there unspeakable words that could not be told to people.

Isn't all this enough to say that the great Paul deserved the title of foremost Apostle from the Son of God Himself?

I could finish my word on this on the day of the great foremost Apostles Peter and Paul, but I want to draw your attention to two facts from their great lives.

Isn't it amazing the sudden transformation of the enemy of Christ, which was Saul, into the chosen, full to the brim vessel of grace, which he became - the foremost Apostle Paul?

I think that it is not difficult to answer this question. The enemy of Christ was the young man Saul, who grew up and was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, the famous rabbi, teacher of the law of Moses.

And young people with still immature minds and meager knowledge of life easily perceive other people's opinions and obey political leaders, spiritual leaders and live by their minds, and not by their own.

Saul became an enemy of Christ under the mental and moral influence of Rabbi Gamaliel, but a miraculous call to a new path of life from the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus made him a great friend of Christ - the Apostle Paul, for this Divine calling had an immeasurably greater power than the upbringing and lessons of Gamaliel.

And the second thing I want to draw your attention to is the boundless goodness and mercy of God, these are the compassion and mercy of God that were revealed to the great Apostle Peter, who thrice denied his Divine Teacher in the court of Pontius Pilate, and the forgetfulness and forgiveness of malice and young Saul's hatred for all who believed in Christ.

May this be a precious example for us too, may we also live in the hope of the forgiveness of our sins, if we love Christ God with all our hearts.

And may the prayers of the foremost Apostles Peter and Paul help us in this and strengthen our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ with His Beginningless Father and Most Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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