Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles

The two great apostles whose ministry embrace the whole Jewish and Gentile worlds have been associated in Christian devotion since earliest times. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is one of the oldest of the saints’ days, having been observed at least since 258, and it was of such importance in the Middle Ages that it marked a turning point in the time after Pentecost, as also did the days of Saint Lawrence (August 10) and Saint Michael (September 29).

Simon, a son of Jonah, later called Cephas or Peter (Aramaic and Greek for “rock”), was probably born in Bethsaida of Galilee. He was a fisherman, working in partnership with the sons of Zebedee. He was married, and his mother-in-law, whom Jesus cured of a fever, lived with them; later he took his wife on his missionary travels. It is likely that he and his brother Andrew, as well as the apostle John, were among the followers of John the Baptist before they joined Jesus. Peter has a special place among the apostles. He was not only one of the inner circle with James and John, but he was often the speaker for the Twelve as a whole, and his name invariably was put at the head of the lists of the apostles. After the resurrection, Peter was the first of the Twelve to see the risen Lord, and he clearly acted as the leader, taking the initiative in the selection of Matthias, explaining the events of Pentecost to the assembled crowd, performing miracles, and making decisions.

Peter turned increasingly to missionary work, chiefly among the Jews [though it was he who baptized the first Gentile believers, Cornelius and his household], and the leadership of the church in Jerusalem passed to James the brother of Jesus. Peter was active in Samaria and in the towns of Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea in Palestine. Of his later missionary travels, little is known in detail, but tradition has connected his name with Antioch, Corinth, and Rome, and his stay, at least in the first of these, is confirmed by the New Testament. Although the Scriptures are silent about the latter part of his life, the weight of tradition (Clement, Ignatius, Dionysus, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, and others) makes it probable that Peter left Antioch about the year 55 and later went to Rome and suffered martyrdom there ca. 64.

Saul, later to be known by the Greek form of his name, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was born in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. He probably attended a local synagogue school, and he studied with the rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He learned the trade of the tentmaker, and apparently at times supported himself by it. He was a Roman citizen and was “Hellenized” and cosmopolitan in outlook, but he was also a Pharisee and an ardent defender of the Jewish law and way of life. He persecuted the new and disruptive sect of Christians, and he was present at the stoning of Saint Stephen the deacon (see December 26).

After his conversion, perhaps about the year 34 or 35, he became a vigorous evangelist of the new faith. Because of the wealth of material in his preserved letters and in the Acts of the Apostles, probably more is known about the life of Paul that about the life of any other leader of the church in the apostolic period.

Paul began his missionary work in Syria and continued it in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Greece, and Macedonia. In some places he stayed only a short time; in others much longer. Ephesus was his home for two and a half years. On several occasions in his travels, he visited Jerusalem, and on his final visit there, perhaps about the year 55, he was arrested, tried before Felix the governor on the charge of provoking riots, and kept in prison for two years. He appealed his case to the emperor, and the account in Acts ends with Paul in the capital city of the empire, awaiting his hearing.

According to tradition, Paul made Rome his headquarters, traveled [west], possibly to Spain, and was killed in the imperial capital during the persecution under Nero. Paul’s traditional symbol is a sword, by which he was beheaded.

From the earliest days it has been believed that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom on the same day, June 29, in the year 67, although some accounts give the year as 68 or the date as February 22. Traditions assert that Peter was crucified upside down on Vatican Hill (because he said that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Lord) and that Paul, a Roman citizen, was beheaded near the Via Ostia, south of Rome. Saint Peter’s Basilica and Saint Paul’s Outside-the-Walls are said to contain the tombs of the two apostles; their skulls are said to be preserved in the church of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of the city of Rome. The pope’s claim to primacy is in large measure based on his being the bishop of the city in which Peter and Paul died.

taken from the New Book of Festivals and Commemorations
(Dr Philip H. Pfatteicher)

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lesson
Ezekiel 34:11-16

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

Psalm 87
Fundamenta ejus

On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded; *
the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are spoken of you, *
O city of our God.

I count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me; *
behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia:
in Zion were they born.

Of Zion it shall be said, “Everyone was born in her, *
and the Most High himself shall sustain her.”

The LORD will record as he enrolls the peoples, *
“These also were born there.”

The singers and the dancers will say, *
“All my fresh springs are in you.”

The Epistle
2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

The Gospel
John 21:15-19

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

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The icon of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

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Filed under Holy Days: Other Major Feasts

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