Sts Peter and Paul: God’s Own Scripture

June 29 in the Orthodox calendar is dedicated to the memory of The Glorious and All-praised Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.  In the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter and St. James the brother of the Lord are clear leaders of the original apostolic group (see for example Acts 15),  with St. Paul eventually becoming the focus of the book of Acts.   Be that as it may, in current Orthodox celebrations Peter and Paul are honored together as the leaders of the Apostles.  James in modern scholarship is recognized as the leader of the Jerusalem Christian community.  However, in Orthodoxy today Sts Peter and Paul get the main billing as the leaders of the early church.

St. Peter is one of the twelve men Jesus chose for His inner circle and disciples and his leadership role in the Gospels is easily noted.

St. Paul is not mentioned in the Gospels, and appears only in that first generation of converts who became disciples  of  Christ in the Apostolic period.  Paul was not one of the Twelve, but his passion for the Gospel propelled him to leadership in the church’s first period of evangelism and growth.  His role as a true apostle is frequently discussed in his epistles in the New Testament and is recognized in the Orthodox Church in icons of the Communion of the Apostles, where St. Paul is placed in the company of the Twelve receiving the Body and Blood from Christ.

One of the special characteristics of both Sts Peter and Paul is that  in our Scriptures they are said to have received their theology and faith by a direct revelation from God.

In the Gospel lesson from St. Matthew for the feast of Sts Peter and Paul we read:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”    (Matthew 16:13-19, emphasis mine and not in the original)

According to St. Matthew, Christ Himself affirmed that Peter’s understanding of Christ was not taught to him by humans, but was revealed to Peter by God the Father.   Peter was did not learn his faith from human tradition or scriptures; rather, God choose to reveal this truth to Peter who accepted this revelation and began to proclaim this truth.

St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians makes a very similar claim for himself:

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.”   (Galatians 1:11-17, emphasis mine and not in the original)

Thus our Scriptures recognize that both Peter and Paul did not learn their faith and theology from other teachers.  They both received their faith from God Himself – God reveals the truth directly to these two apostles.  This is why we honor them as the leaders of the Apostles.  They received directly from God, His word.

One of the hymns from Vespers for the feast of????????????????? Sts Peter and Paul offers us this insight:

WHAT SPIRITUAL SONGS SHALL WE SING FOR PETER AND PAUL?  THEY HAVE SILENCED THE SHARP TONGUES OF THE GODLESS.  THEY ARE AWESOME SWORDS OF THE SPIRIT.  THEY ARE THE ADORNMENT OF ROME; THEY HAVE NOURISHED THE WHOLE WORLD WITH THE WORD OF GOD.  THEY ARE THE LIVING TABLETS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITTEN BY THE HAND OF GOD: CHRIST, WHO HAS GREAT AND RICH MERCY, HAS EXALTED THEM IN ZION.

????????????????These two great leaders of the apostles “nourished the whole world with the word of God.”   The hymn is not saying they were nourished by the word of God, but rather they nourished the world with God’s word.  Their proclamation has gone into all the world.  But themselves, in their own persons and lives embodied the word of God.  They themselves became the two living tablets as famous as the tablets Moses received directly from God with His commandments on them.  No longer is God’s word written on tablets of stone, for now it is written on the hearts of His believers.  And His chosen followers become living witnesses to God’s love and plan of salvation.

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”  (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

Christian Hope

For those who feel that the church overly focuses on sin at the expense of all other human tragedy and problems, here are some words from St. John of Karpathos  (7th Century?) focusing on the essential nature of hope (the emphasis is mine and not in the original text).  St. Peter is portrayed as a patron saint of hope in the text:

It is more serious to lose hope than to sin.  The traitor Judas was a defeatist, inexperienced in spiritual warfare; as a result he was reduced to despair by the enemy’s onslaught, and he went and hanged himself. Peter, on the other hand, was a firm rock: although brought down by a terrible fall, yet because of his experience in spiritual warfare he was not broken by despair, but leaping up he shed bitter tears from a contrite and humiliated heart. And as soon as our enemy saw them, he recoiled as if his eyes had been burnt by searing flames, and he took flight howling and lamenting.” (St. John of Karpathos in The Philokalia: Volume 1, pg. 318)

If You Love Christ: Feed His Sheep

St. John Chrysostom speaking about the Apostle Peter writes:

“That he was deemed deserving of this office by a great grace of God is a strong proof of his virtue. How strong? Listen to the words Christ spoke to Peter after the resurrection. Christ asked him: ‘Peter, do you love me?’ And Peter replied: ‘Lord, you know I love you.’ What did Christ then say? He did not say: ‘Throw away your money. Fast from food. Live the hard life. Raise the dead. Drive out demons.’ Christ  did not bring forward or command any of these things or any other miracle or act of virtue. He passed all these by and said: ‘If you love me, feed my sheep.’ Why did Christ say this? Because he wished to show us not only what is the strongest sign of love for him but also to point out the love which he himself shows for the sheep. So now he makes this the strongest proof which Peter can give of his love for him.

For Christ’s words practically mean: ‘He who loves my sheep loves me.’ And look how many things Christ endured for his flock. He became a man, he took upon himself the form of a servant, he was spat upon, he was slapped in the face, and, finally, he did not refuse to die the most shameful death. For he poured forth his blood on the cross. Therefore, if a man wishes to win esteem in the eyes of Christ, let him show his concern for these sheep, let him seek what is helpful for all, let him be anxious to care for his brothers.  God holds no virtuous act in greater esteem.[…] And so it was that Paul, too, said: ‘Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.’ And how, Paul, did you become an imitator of Christ?  ‘By pleasing all men in every way, by not seeking my own benefit but the benefit of all men, so that they might be saved.’ Again, in another place, Paul said: ‘Christ did not please himself but please many.’ Therefore, nothing could be so great a mark or sign of the man of faith who loves Christ as would be his care for his brothers and his concern for their salvation. ” (St. John Chrysostom on the Incomprehensible Nature of God, pgs. 170-172)

Christ, St. Peter and the Geese

I heard this story below first from a friend, but then found a couple of versions on line.  You can read one version on Google Books:  Russian Fairy Tales 1916.

It is a very clever story with many lessons and morals.  Be careful what you ask for.

One day Christ and St. Peter are walking together.

St. Peter said to Jesus, “What a wonderful thing it must be to be God.  I wish that just for one day I could be God.”

Christ agreed to his request and told him that for the rest of that day he could be God.

As they approached the village, a young peasant girl was driving a flock of geese into the meadow.

St. Peter began talking to the little girl and she told him that these were her grandfather’s geese and she had to watch them, but now she had to go into the village for it was a feast day.  She began to leave.

St. Peter stopped her saying, “But who will watch the geese when you are gone?”

The little girl skipping away said, “God will watch them.”

Jesus pointed to St. Peter and told him, “That is you today.”  And while Christ also went into the village to celebrate the feast  for the rest of that day St. Peter had to stay in the field and watch the geese.

He never asked to be God again.