It is not always so often that we, in our comfortable North American way of living, reflect upon the kind of life that the Apostles lived. We really don’t have the consciousness of what life was like for the Apostles. It is true that both the Apostles Peter and Paul sometimes lived in decent quarters, especially in their earlier years. But when it came to the time of the preaching of the Gospel, their witnessing for Christ, they were always living in other peoples’ houses as they travelled from place to place. That was especially the case with the Apostle Paul. He travelled almost everywhere in the Roman Empire for the sake of speaking about his love for the Lord Jesus Christ, trying to introduce people to Jesus Christ, trying to win them for the Kingdom of God. Both the Apostles, Peter and Paul, suffered misunderstanding and rejection, very often rejection, because people did not want to hear about this love of Jesus Christ. Often enough it was because Jesus Christ did not fit their expectations of the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. And so, they rejected Him. With this rejection, they rejected the Apostles as well. Both of the Apostles suffered a great deal because, as we hear Paul admit, he was shipwrecked many times. This means he was floating around in water, holding on to pieces of wood.
Ships in those days were not like the ships these days, with fancy lifeboats. Just broken up pieces of wood was what kept the Apostle Paul from sinking into the Mediterranean. Many times the Apostle Paul was put in prison for the sake of his love of Jesus Christ. And as we hear time and again in the readings of the Epistles, he was beaten, sometimes very severely. Prison life in the Roman Empire days was not like it is now. There were no such things as carpets, beds and televisions. In the days of the Roman Empire there was straw, mess everywhere and often enough, chains holding the prisoner to the wall. And in the course of all of this, beatings and beatings and more beatings.
These are the kinds of things that the Apostle Paul suffered for the sake of his love for Jesus Christ. You and I are not likely in Canada to face that kind of suffering, physical suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ, although once in a while it does happen. But we very much will experience with the Apostle Paul, rejection by people who are afraid of the love of Jesus Christ.
We can be rejected because we are Orthodox Christians, because we carry the love of Jesus Christ in us and with us everywhere. Because we live and act out of love of Jesus Christ, people who do not understand it can reject us because of their fear of this love. It’s funny that people are afraid of love, but that is the case. People become very much afraid of this kind of selfless, serving love which is so characteristic of Christians, especially Orthodox Christians. It is that which people run away from.
That does not stop you or me from loving the Lord Jesus Christ and it does not stop you or me from serving other people in the way of Jesus Christ. But we have to understand that the Lord said in more than one way and more than one time in the Gospel that if the world is rejecting Him Himself, it will reject you and me. So we have to expect this kind of rejection and carry on loving and praying for and serving people anyway.
What happens is that in due course the Lord overcomes the fear of other people and the rejections of other people. When we persist and persevere in loving and serving them, the Lord breaks down the barriers of fear that imprison other people and in due course they are able to come with us to love and serve the Saviour. But it takes our remembering first of all that none of us is here on this earth to be served. Every one of us is here on this earth to serve.
Jesus Christ washed the feet of the Apostles. The King of the Universe, Himself, is taking care of you and me down to the numbering of the hairs of our heads. If He is serving you and me in this way, who are we not to serve in the same way always? We are not greater than our Master. That is why it is very characteristic especially of Orthodox Christians that we are hospitable people. We welcome people as guests. We treat people who come to our home as Christ Himself. We are serving people: if they have needs, it is characteristic to look after them.
Russian and Ukrainian literature is full of stories about people who are doing exactly this thing, serving other people, caring for our people. We are being true to the path of our Saviour Jesus Christ when we are behaving like this.
The Apostles Peter and Paul also are setting another very good example for us: they gave their lives completely to the Saviour. And so we should do the same. But also note, the Apostles Peter and Paul had some strong differences of opinion as to how to go about preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can see in the writings of the Apostle Paul how strongly he disagreed with the Apostle Peter on some occasions.
The fact of this disagreement does not mean that they were enemies because they disagreed. They had different opinions. The Lord prospered the multiplication and spread of the Gospel just because of these different opinions. These two very different men preached the Gospel in two different ways to different groups of people. They were suited to different evangelical tasks, and as a result of this, many more people were converted to the love of Jesus Christ than if they had gone about doing their preaching and serving in exactly the same way.
They had disagreements, yes. The Apostle Paul had disagreements about how to go about things with the Apostle Barnabas and Mark, too. Still, that did not mean division. Even if there was disagreement, there was always among the Apostles, reconciliation and harmony.
Differences, yes, but co-operative differences. To illustrate this, we have the death of the two Apostles Peter and Paul expressing their unity and their harmony in Jesus Christ…in the same city, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down as he wished, and the Apostle Paul was beheaded. This characterises in a very visible way how the Lord Who is the giver of life gives so many gifts to His children, you and me; how He creates all of us uniquely and differently; and how He uses all these uniqueness, these differences, this variety of gifts to give life to this world, to heal the broken-hearted, to heal the sick, to re-unite the separated, to bring home the lost, to give life and light where there is darkness. The Lord uses all of these gifts in us for good, to His glory and for giving life.
Let us ask the holy Apostles Peter and Paul to pray for us today that the Lord will give us strength to be faithful to Him until the end as they are, and to serve Him with all of our hearts that we may glorify our Saviour, enter with these Apostles into the Kingdom, and glorify with them this same Saviour Jesus Christ together with the Father, Who is everlasting, and His all-holy good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
Holy Trinity Sobor, Winnipeg
29 June/12 July 2000