July 1, 2023

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

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on June 29/July 12, 1949)

The Holy Foremost Apostle Paul was called to his great ministry in a miraculous way. When he approached Damascus with the evil intention of seizing, imprisoning, and torturing all those who believed in Christ, a light from heaven suddenly shone on him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "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." He said in trembling and horror: “Lord! What will you tell me to do?" And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go into the city; and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:3–6).

How amazingly by the power of God, by the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, this cruel persecutor of Christians was converted to faith in Him and became the most ardent of all the apostles! Why did he receive such a miracle? After all, the Lord called other apostles simply, passing along the shore of Lake Gennesaret, where fishermen, poor Galileans, illiterate, who did not have any learning, dried their nets. Christ stopped when he saw Peter and Andrew and said to them: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17).

A little further in the same way, with one powerful word, He called two other fishermen, the future great apostles James and John. And at the first word of Christ, they left their father Zebedee in the boat and followed Him. The calling of the Apostle Nathanael is invigorating: he was struck by the omniscience of the Lord Jesus Christ, manifested in a conversation with him. His astonishment was so great that he completely believed and said: "Rabbi! You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel" (John 1:49), and became an apostle.

The call of the rest of the apostles was quite simple. When the Lord sat on the mountain and taught as having authority, and not as scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 7:29), many people followed Him (Matt. 8:1). Those whom He wanted, He called with the words: “Follow Me!” (see Mark 2:14). And they followed at the first word. Does it often happen that at the first word of a stranger, at the strange call: “Follow me”, people leave everything, leave their relatives and work, refuse everything and, taking nothing, follow him? This means that in the words of Christ, in His entire personality, there was such an irresistible power that shook and struck the hearts of people. His words, accepted as God's call, penetrated deeply into the soul.

The calling of Saint Peter, the second foremost apostle, was not miraculous. The Lord did not shake him, as Saint Paul, by His radiant manifestation, but after that he turned his heart to Himself in a different way - with amazing words and promises that none of the earthly could hear and had ever heard. He said to him in response to the confession of Him as the Messiah-Christ in the presence of all the disciples: "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonas, because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven; and I say to you: 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" (Matthew 16:17-19). How could this not shake the soul of the apostle to its foundations? Of course, he was no less shocked than Saint Paul by the appearance of the Savior Himself in the heavenly light.

And then something terrible happened: when Christ was taken, the apostle Peter denied Him three times. It would seem that everything is over, it would seem that he destroyed the whole grace-filled structure of his apostolate. But the Lord returned his apostolic calling, for He knew with what bloody tears he would mourn the terrible sin of renunciation until the end of his life.

After His Resurrection, the Lord Himself appeared to Peter and the other apostles on the Sea of Tiberias and turned to him with the words: "Simon Jonas, do you love Me more than they do?... Feed My lambs" (John 21:15). He asked this question three times and said three times: "Feed my lambs," which blotted out his threefold denial. Then again the soul of Saint Peter was shaken.

So, only the Apostle Paul was called by the Lord in such a miraculous way - because he was His enemy, the pursuer and persecutor of all Christians. He had to be radically changed, hit with such a terrible event that would completely regenerate his soul. And Paul suddenly became a completely different person, forgot everything, left everything, despised everything. Now he knew only one Christ, he lived only with the thought of Christ crucified on the Cross. He said: "The world is crucified to me, and I to the world. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 6:14-15). Christ directed his life and activity, which cannot be compared with the work of any preacher of Christ, for Saint Paul traveled on foot throughout Asia Minor, was in Macedonia, Greece, sailed the seas many times and preached about Christ anywhere and everywhere, laid the foundation of the Church of Christ everywhere and led presbyters and bishops.

Day and night he taught people the way to the kingdom of God, he taught the gospel truth. He endured great persecution and tribulation: he was beaten with sticks, stoned, he often suffered reproach and at the same time tirelessly preached, exhorted, denounced, forbade. And besides these great works, he left us fourteen epistles to the Churches that have come down to us. No apostle wrote so much, the epistles of Saint Paul are infinitely important.

However, he was not the only one who was called by God in a miraculous way: perhaps even more miraculous was the calling of the great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.

The prophet Isaiah saw the Throne of God, and saw God sitting on it. With trembling and horror, he bowed, expecting death, for he, sinful and unfortunate, saw the Lord with his own eyes. But then an Angel flew down, took a burning coal from the Altar with tongs and touched his tongue. And Isaiah was cleansed, and the angel said: "Your iniquity is removed from you, and your sin is cleansed." And suddenly Isaiah was inflamed in his spirit and heard the words of God: "Whom will I send?" Isaiah exclaimed: "Here I am, Lord, send me" (see Isaiah 6:1-8)! And the Lord sent him, and made him the greatest prophet.

The Lord called the prophet Jeremiah miraculously when he was still a fifteen-year-old boy. Jeremiah said: "I cannot speak, for I am still young." The Lord answered him: "Do not say: 'I am young,' for you will go to everyone to whom I send you, and you will say everything that I command you. Don't be afraid of them; for I am with you to deliver you" (Jer. 1:1-8). And Jeremiah went to speak the truth of God, and showed unspeakable fearlessness and zeal for God. He was subjected to persecution, mortal danger for his preaching, and was not afraid of anything.

This is how the Lord miraculously calls all those who are facing a dangerous and difficult activity that requires self-sacrifice. And that's why it doesn't happen often. Sometimes something similar happens with people who are perishing on the path of sin: the Lord stops them with an almighty and domineering hand. This happened with the robbers Barbaros and Moses the Ethiopian, the first of whom became a holy martyr, the second a great venerable; and with brilliant beauties who led a depraved life and seduced many: the future venerables Taisia, Pelagia and Mary of Egypt.

Venerable Mary accidentally, for fun, ended up at the church in Jerusalem. A crowd of people entered there, but as soon as Mary tried to follow them, an invisible force pushed her back. It was done three times. Then she realized that God’s power was not letting her, the unclean one, into the holy place, and she gazed at the icon of the Mother of God hanging over the entrance, and begged for mercy, asking her to accept her repentance. Only then was she able to enter the church. Then she went into the desert, and there, in sultry, deserted places, she spent about fifty years in constant repentance, reaching the state of equality with the angels.

And the Venerables Taisia and Pelagia, shocked by the reading of the Gospel, and the image of the Last Judgment, suddenly abandoned their depraved life and left the world to atone for their sins with tears, and became pure and holy.

The call of Saint Anthony the Great was like that. He heard the Gospel reading in the church: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give what you have to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me" (Matt. 19:21) - and suddenly decided to do what Christ commanded. He sold everything, gave away all his property and went into the wild African desert.

And many of us, ordinary Christians, the Lord calls with the words of Holy Scripture. However, there is evidence of when a person who has lived all his life without God accidentally enters the church of God, a sermon or service shocks him to such an extent that he sheds bitter tears and leaves with the decision to live only for God.

The Lord brings us sinners to Himself in different ways. For most of the saints, there was no need for a sudden conversion, like the conversion of the holy Apostle Paul, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, Saint Anthony the Great; their life went smoothly, quietly and serenely. They absorbed the great truths of Christ with their mother's milk, and then, as they grew older, their desire for God increased. Every day, from day to day, their faith grew stronger, their prayer by the grace of God reached great depth and strength. May they serve as an example for all of us.

We should not expect a miraculous call from God. Don't expect miracles in your life. Do not believe in dreams, as many believe, imagining that they are Christ and the Most Holy Theotokos. Remember that the miraculous calling of the Apostle Paul and the holy prophets is explained by the greatness of the works that God intended for them.

The Lord is constantly calling us all. He does not require anything extraordinary from us, does not call us to suffering as martyrs and confessors. He calls us only to a quiet life according to His commandments, and not according to the commandments of men. And the holy Apostle Paul calls us to "live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands" (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Don't dream about yourself. Remember, we are only required to meekly, like little children, follow Christ. Live like this, and our Lord and God Jesus Christ will bless you. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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