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June 29, 2024

Homily on the Commemoration of the Holy Foremost Apostles Peter and Paul (Archimandrite Kirill Pavlov)

 By Archimandrite Kirill Pavlov

(Delivered in 1962)

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

"Their messages has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world" (Ps. 18:5) - this is how the king and prophet David sings, prophetically praising the holy Apostles, who were destined to work on spreading the gospel ny preaching throughout the universe.

Beloved brothers and sisters, today the Church of Christ has put on festive clothes, spiritually glorifying the two great apostles - Peter and Paul. All the Apostles worked on the structure of the Church of Christ, but the now honored holy apostles Peter and Paul worked more than anyone else and for their fiery zeal and ardent love for the Lord Jesus Christ and their neighbors were called the foremost, as worthy of all praise. The entire Church of Christ is grateful to them for the labors, illnesses, sorrows, persecutions, disasters that they endured, spreading the faith of Christ and turning people from the darkness of paganism to the light of Christ’s teaching.

The Holy Apostle Peter (he was also called Cephas or Simon) came from the small town of Bethsaida and was a fisherman by occupation. After his calling, he followed the Lord relentlessly and for his love for the Savior he was honored to become His chosen disciple along with James and John the Theologian. It was the three of them who had the opportunity to witness many of the secrets of the Divine destinies. The holy Apostle Peter remained faithful to the Lord until the end of his life. True, in shameful circumstances, the Apostle, out of cowardice, denied the Lord in the courtyard of the high priest, but he washed this renunciation with hot tears of repentance and after the Resurrection of Christ, after the Lord asked him three times: "Do you love Me?" (John 21:15) - was restored to his apostolic rank and ministry.

Initially, the Apostle Peter preached the gospel primarily among the Jews in Jerusalem; then he preached in Samaria, Syria, Asia, Bithynia, Pontus, Galatia and finally came to Rome, where he was imprisoned. He sealed his devotion and fidelity to the Lord with his martyrdom: he was crucified on the cross upside down in the 67th year after Christ. Church tradition says that when Emperor Nero launched a persecution against Christians in Rome, Roman Christians asked the Apostle Peter to take refuge and leave the city. When the Apostle, submitting to their requests, went, then, approaching the outskirts of the city, he saw the Savior coming towards him and asked he Him in trepidation: “Where are you going, Lord?” The Lord answered him: “I am going to be crucified a second time.” From these words of the Lord, the holy Apostle Peter understood that the hour had come for him to glorify the Lord with his death. He returned to the city and was condemned to crucifixion by Emperor Nero. Considering himself unworthy to accept the same death as the Lord, the Apostle Peter asked to be crucified upside down, which was done. On June 29, he, together with the now honored holy Apostle Paul, was condemned to martyrdom.

As for the Apostle Paul (formerly called Saul), his real life is like this. He came from the Cilician city of Tarsus and before his conversion he was a fierce persecutor of Christians, so that he himself sought them out and handed them over to torture. But one day, when he was heading to Damascus to persecute Christians there too, a heavenly light shone on his way and a voice came to him:

"Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?"

"Who are you, Lord?" - he asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you persecute. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

"Lord, what do You want me to do?" he asked again.

And the Lord said to him:

"Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:4-6).

Saul lost his sight from the illumination of heavenly Light. Upon his arrival in the city, after being baptized by Christ’s disciple Ananias, he immediately received his sight and thus turned from a persecutor into a zealous preacher of the Christian faith. From that time on, the holy Apostle Paul was chosen by the Lord to preach the gospel truth among the pagan world. He preached the gospel in Asia Minor and in Greece, establishing Churches of Christ everywhere. He walked almost the entire inhabited world, trying to sow the word of piety everywhere and lead people to Christ. He deeply understood the significance of the preaching of the gospel for the salvation and life of a person, and therefore, with fiery zeal and love, he labored for the gospel of Christ, encountering fierce resistance from the pagan world. The sorrows and temptations he endured are innumerable. This is how he himself speaks about himself in one of his epistles: "Are they ministers of Christ? — I speak as a fool — I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness —  besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Cor.11:23-29). Such are the exploits, such is the love for God and people that was inherent in the holy Apostle Paul. Saint John Chrysostom says about his love that it was wider than any sea and stronger than any fire. The holy soul of the Apostle Paul embraced the entire universe and contained everyone within itself, considering kinship in God above any other kinship.

The Holy Apostle Paul loved everyone as not even the most tender father loves his children. Despite all the dangers and hardships, the holy apostles Peter and Paul were always comforted and rejoiced, for they knew that only through many sorrows must we enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22 ). And their feat of good-natured endurance of sorrows should serve as an example for us. For the most part, when sorrows come to us, we are broken, grieved and discouraged. How much murmuring then bursts out of our mouths against the Lord, how much envy, vexation, and anger then arises in our hearts! But this is not the kind of endurance of sorrows that the Holy Fathers teach.

Saint Ephraim the Syrian says: “If those who wish to acquire earthly wealth endure every danger and adversity, then how much more so do we, who want to acquire heavenly wealth and enjoy everlasting joys, be obliged to put every difficult task and every danger at nothing and to endure temptations. For if we do not willingly, with a heartfelt desire, endure every labor, we do not cry with tenderness and a contrite heart, then how, without crying here, will we reap there, that is, in the next world? If it were possible to receive the Kingdom without sorrows, without temptations, without patient struggle and other virtues, then why did God allow the saints to endure so many dangers, temptations and hardships, and did not allow them to live in self-will and luxury? Therefore, let us not lose heart when grief and sorrow befall us, but, on the contrary, let us rejoice that we are walking the path of the saints.”

And Saint John Chrysostom teaches: “The soul is cleansed when it endures sorrows for the sake of the Lord. Sorrow eradicates arrogance, cuts off all negligence, prepares the soul for patience, teaches it all wisdom. All passions give way to her: envy, jealousy, lust, addiction to wealth, carnal love, pride, arrogance, anger and the whole swarm of spiritual ailments. What fire is to gold, so is sorrow to the soul: it erases filth from it, makes it pure, bright and clear. Tribulation leads to the Kingdom, and a careless life leads to Gehenna.”

Knowing the beneficial significance of sorrows, God-fearing people even became worried when they were not visited by sorrows for a long time. Thus, one of the Egyptian Fathers told another ascetic the following incident: “Once, when I came to Alexandria and entered the temple to pray, I saw a woman dressed in a black robe and praying with tears before the icon of the Savior. She constantly repeated with tears: 'You have forsaken me, O Lord, have mercy on me, O Merciful One!' I thought: apparently, this woman is a widow and someone has offended her that she is crying so bitterly. Then I decided to go up and talk to her in order to console her. I told her: 'Apparently, someone is offending you for crying like that?' 'Oh, no,' she answered, shedding tears again, 'no, father, you don’t know my grief. I live among people and do not tolerate any insult from anyone. And this is why I cry, because just as I forget about God, God also forgot to visit me. It’s been three years since I’ve known any sorrow, and neither I myself was sick, nor my son, and not a chicken was missing from my house. Therefore, I think that God has forsaken me for my sins and does not send me any sorrows, and so I cry before Him so that He would have mercy on me and send me His mercies.'" So, God-fearing people considered grief a sign of God’s special attention and mercy to them.

Beloved brothers and sisters, in our lives we often have to encounter sorrows, therefore, in order to endure them salvificly, let us first of all put on placidity and patience and with zeal now let us pray to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, our heavenly patrons, and ask them through prayerful intercession to help us acquire holy simplicity of character, living faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, fiery love for the Lord, purity of life, meekness and humility.

"First in prominence among the Apostles and teachers of the Universe, intercede to the Master of all for peace in the world and for our souls great mercy" (Apolytikion to the Apostles Peter and Paul, Tone 4). Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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