“Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 COR. 11:1)
Pastoral Message – October
By: Rev. Protopresbyter Nicholas V. Gamvas, D.Min., Ph.D.
Unity is strength. That is the main thought on our minds as we come together to give God thanks for the two great apostles, Peter and Paul. In their lifetime Peter and Paul did not work so closely together. Peter was called directly by Jesus and given “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:16-18). He is portrayed in icons carrying the keys. Paul, on the other hand, probably never met Jesus face to face. Once a persecutor of the church, his conversion came about through a vision on the road to Damascus. His inspiration and his style of presenting the gospel came from visions and charismatic experiences. He is portrayed in icons carrying either a sword or a book. Peter and Paul were so different that Peter was surnamed the Apostle of the Jews and Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles. Paul once had a public disagreement with Peter on whether Jewish Christians could eat together with Gentile Christians. (Galatians 2).
If Peter and Paul did not agree in life, they did agree in death. Both suffered the same kind of death, martyrdom, in the same city, Rome, at about the same time, 64-67 a.d. The early church recognized Peter and Paul as the two pillars of the church of Christ. This is depicted in an ancient icon with Peter and Paul, together, each extending a hand with which they bear up the church. By placing the two of them together in one icon, united in lifting up the church, the church is sending a message to all her children, that they all likewise should be united, in spite of individual and local differences, in building up the one church of God.
In the early church there was a tendency to splinter into various factions, each faction claiming to follow the leadership of one of the chief apostles or missionaries. This was one of the reasons why Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were breaking up into followers of Paul, followers of Peter, and followers of Apollos. Paul reminds them strongly that these human leaders are all equally servants of the one Christ. Christ, therefore, should be their focus and not the human leaders.
So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
If division among believers was a problem in the days of Paul, it is even more so today. Like the Christians of Corinth, Christians today are divided. Disunity of Christians is a scandal that weakens the Christian witness to the world. How can Christian churches preach love and unity, forgiveness and reconciliation to the world when they themselves are living in disunity, unable to forgive and reconcile themselves?
Even within the walls of the same church, there are visible cracks of disunity. Today, the faithful are quick to label themselves either as conservatives or liberals. Conservatives, who often identify with the institutional authority of Peter, wage war against liberals; and liberals, who identify with the charismatic vision of Paul, wage war against conservatives. By combining the feasts of the apostles Peter and Paul, the church is inviting all her children to look beyond the conservative-liberal divide and discover a deeper level of unity in Christ. The church of Christ needs the rock of Peter’s institutional leadership as well as the vitality of Paul’s charismatic vision. Christian unity, like the unity of Peter and Paul, is not a unity in uniformity but a unity in diversity. Today the church reminds us that, even though as individuals and local communities some will prefer the style of Peter and others that of Paul, we should not let that divide us since we are all, first and foremost, followers of the one Lord Jesus Christ and children of one Father, God.
The Confession of Peter (“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God”) is commemorated on 18 January, and the Conversion of Paul (on the approach to Damascus) a week later on 25 January. On 29 June we commemorate the martyrdoms of both apostles. The date is the anniversary of a day around 258, under the Valerian persecution, when what were believed to be the remains of the two apostles were both moved temporarily to prevent them from falling into the hands of the persecutors.
The Scriptures do not record the deaths of Peter or Paul, or indeed any of the Apostles except for James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2), but they are clearly anticipated and from an early date it has been said that they were martyred at Rome, at the command of the Emperor Nero, and buried there. As a Roman citizen, Paul would probably have been beheaded with a sword. It is said of Peter that he was crucified head downward. The present Church of St Peter in Rome replaces earlier churches built on the same site going back to the time of the Emperor Constantine, in whose reign a church was built there on what was believed to be the burial site of Peter. Excavations under the church suggest that the belief is older than Constantine.
St. Augustine writes (Sermon 295):
Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.
EPISTLE: 2 Timothy 4:1-8
(Paul writes: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”)
THE HOLY GOSPEL: John 21:15-19
(Jesus, after rising from the dead, said to Peter: “When you were young, you went where you would, but when you are old, you will go where you are taken.” And by these words, He foretold Peter’s death. He then said, “Follow me.”)