July 1, 2023

Homily Three 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, 1953)

The greatness and holiness of the foremost apostles Peter and Paul is enormous.

It would seem that on the day of their holy memory it is necessary to talk about all their greatest and most holy deeds.

I have done this many times in past years, but today, to your surprise, I intend to speak about the sins of the holy apostles.

Why about sins? How dare I speak of their sins? Therefore, I dare say that their greatness was also expressed in relation to their sins; because their sins are most instructive for us, and we should imitate them in the way they treated their sins.

The Holy Apostle Paul, as he speaks of himself, was a cruel persecutor of the Church of Christ, he was deeply convinced that the truth was only in the teaching taught by Moses; he was convinced that the Lord Jesus Christ was destroying this teaching, and therefore it was necessary to pursue, persecute all those who believed in Him.

And he persecuted, cruelly persecuted the Church of Christ. He looked anywhere and everywhere for believers in Christ, he bound them, he dragged them into prison. He had permission from the Sanhedrin to do this not only in Jerusalem, but also in Damascus, and he went to Damascus to continue his persecution of Christians there. Something unusually great, something awesome happened to him on the way: the Lord Jesus Christ Himself suddenly appeared to him, shone His heavenly light on him, from which Saul suddenly became blind, and Saul heard the voice of Jesus: “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?" Saul, trembling and terrified, fell to the ground and asked in a trembling voice: “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord said: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:4-6).

And they led the blinded Paul to Damascus, and there he did not eat for three days, did not drink anything, did not see: he was so unspeakably shocked by the appearance of the Lord Jesus.

From this marvelous event, what lesson can we draw for ourselves? First of all, let us think about the fact that very many of the people acted and were disposed in the same way as Saul, the persecutor of Christians. He was deeply convinced that in the persecution of Christians he was doing a great, good, holy deed, he was convinced of the rightness of this deed.

There are many, many people among us, and in all previous centuries there were those who were engaged in ungodly deeds, but steadily believed that their deeds were pure, holy, blameless, and did not suspect how ungodly they were.

The Apostle Paul experienced that amazingly powerful and unusual conversion by the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, which I told you about. The Lord did not convert anyone else like this, only Saul was so shocked, because he knew, as he later told the Apostle Ananias, that he was His chosen vessel, that he was a man with an unusually large heart, who would be a tireless preacher of the truth of Christ.

But not only Saul was suddenly converted by the Lord, if not by a manifestation to him, then by a sudden correction of his heart. There was a great saint, blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. He spent his adolescence and youth uncleanly in a depraved lecherous environment, and, like the Apostle Paul, the Lord suddenly stopped him with the sermon of Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan - and, thanks to this conversion, he became one of the great fathers of the Church, one of the great saints of God.

But don't think that only great ones like Paul and Augustine have been so suddenly converted. I know that the Lord unexpectedly stopped many of you on the paths of your sinful life, if you got lost and served your passions, and not Him, the Great God. He stopped you with sudden upheavals, sudden destruction of the entire structure of your life. Like a web, He tore everything, everything that you built in pursuit of earthly goods.

He stops us suddenly with serious illnesses, deprivation of property, loss of a wife and all children - He shocks us, as he shook Saul, as he shook the blessed Augustine. This is what you will learn from blessed Paul.

If you suddenly have a severe shock, some kind of misfortune, a serious illness, think about why the Lord sent you this. Look into your heart, look closely to see if you find impurity, filth in it, if you need to repent. This is what the sin of the apostle Paul teaches you.

And what lesson can we learn from the grave and terrible sin of the Apostle Peter - from his threefold denial of the Lord Jesus Christ?

You know that Saint Peter was the most ardent disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, he was devoted to Him with all his heart. He followed with fiery enthusiasm all the works of the Lord Jesus. When the Lord went along the waters of Lake Gennesaret to His disciples who were in distress from the storm, when His disciples saw and mistook Him for a ghost, and the Lord reassured them with the words: “Do not be afraid! It is I,” Peter became inflamed and asked the Lord Jesus to command him to come to Him on the waters. And the Lord commanded, and Peter went to Him on the waters, and suddenly fear, lack of faith took possession of him, and he began to drown, and prayed to the Lord Jesus: “Save me: I am perishing!” And the Lord stretched out His hand and saved him.

And when the Lord, after His resurrection, appeared to His disciples on the shore of the same Lake Gennesaret, when John said: “It is the Lord!”, then Peter, burning with impatience, threw himself into the water and swam to Jesus - he loved Him so much, he was so devoted to Him.

Today you heard in the Gospel reading about how Peter confessed the Lord Jesus before the disciples, before His apostles, when the Lord asked who the people say He was. They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." “And who do you say I am?” Then Peter answered on behalf of everyone: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:13-16).

So his faith was firm. And the Lord answered him: “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 ... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hades will not overcome her; and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; so that what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; but what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).

Oh my God! What an unusually terrible power - to be the bearer of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, to let some in, to drive others away from the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Oh, how great must be in the eyes of the Lord Jesus this disciple of His! And look what a terrible thing happened to him! When the servants of the high priest came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest the Lord Jesus, then the disciples were deeply moved and asked the Lord: “Shall we strike with the sword?” And fiery Peter "drew out his sword, and striking the servant of the high priest, he cut off his ear."

Again, see what fervor, what love for the Lord Jesus! And then, right there, this horror, this unexpected fall ...

All the disciples fled in fear, only John and Peter from a distance followed the soldiers who led Jesus, and came to the court of the high priest.

John, who was familiar to the high priest, entered first, then brought in Peter. Peter only recently swore to the Lord: “Even though I should die with You, I will not deny You!” And then suddenly an amazing change took place in him, when the maid who let him in said: “And you were with Jesus the Galilean,” to which he answered: “No, no!” And then two more times he answered negatively to such questions, two more times he denied, with an oath he denied Christ.

And the Lord said to him: “Truly I say to you that this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34).

And so it happened - the great fall of the apostle happened, he committed the gravest sin of all sins - the sin of renunciation of the Divine Teacher.

Where did all his courage, all his devotion to the Lord Jesus go?! How can we explain this terrible denial of Peter? It can only be explained by the fact that the fear of death is so great in people that it conquers everything.

Peter saw that the Lord was being led to execution, death looked straight into his eyes, and an insurmountable fear seized him: all the greatness of his soul collapsed under the power of this fear of death - and he fell. And immediately, as soon as the rooster crowed, seized with bitter repentance, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

He repented, repented all his life, as none of us knows how to repent. His disciple saw how every night, as soon as the crowing of roosters was heard, the apostle Peter jumped out of bed, threw himself on the floor and wept and sobbed for hours and beat his head on the floor, asking God for forgiveness of his grave, grave sin.

And he received forgiveness, and was restored to his apostolic dignity, and is honored as the foremost and most glorious apostle.

Thus, shall we not draw a conclusion for ourselves about how we should repent of our grave sins, of our deep falls? We must remember not only Saint Peter, but also all those sinners whom the Lord forgave for tearful, tireless repentance - the robber Barbaros, who killed about 300 people, who went to the priest of a nearby village and asked him to allow him to live in his pigsty, and lived there with pigs for three years, walking on all fours and eating pig food and bitterly, bitterly repenting of the murders committed. He also beat his head on the ground, asking God for forgiveness for his bloody sins, and was forgiven, and received the gift of miracles.

Let's also remember another robber - Patermuphius, who was also forgiven for tearful repentance, became a saint and received the gift of miracles.

Let us remember the miracle worker, the Venerable James, who worked many miracles. Parents brought a young girl to him for healing; he healed her, but her parents asked him to leave her in his cell for a few days. And James hoped for his holiness, and at night passion, like a stormy wind, flew over him, and he corrupted the unfortunate girl. And then, in order to hide the sin he had committed, he killed her, and threw the corpse into the river. James came to such despair from the terrible sins he had committed that he fled from his cell and thought to return to the world, but the Lord brought him a good old man, a monk, who showed him the path of tearful repentance.

Then James shut himself up in a cave filled with human bones and spent ten years in it, praying for the forgiveness of his terrible sins. And he was forgiven, and wonderworking was returned to him.

So why did I tell you this? So that you remember serious sinners, pardoned by God for tearful repentance, so that you always know and remember that if you have seriously sinned, then come to confession and offer ardent repentance for your sins.

Remember, remember, until the end of your life, remember your sins and always, always, until death, like the apostle Peter, repent of your grave sins.

You see why I dared to preach not about the great deeds of the holy foremost apostles, but about their sins. If I offended anyone by this, forgive me.

I think that it was useful for you to listen to what I said about the great apostles, for it is useful for you to imitate them, to learn from them. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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