On the 12th of July, the church commemorates the apostles Peter and Paul. The lent, which prepares us for this day is over. And as with many feast days in the church, this one also commemorates a tragic event (as with the beheading of John the Baptist). On this day, the “teachers of teachers” Peter and Paul were executed in Rome.
Peter and Paul – two shining stars of faith, two completely opposite people – one a simpleton, the other a wise public man – come to the end of their lives together, to one all-uniting point.
Peter was at first called Simon, and the name Kitha (Peter) – a Jewish word which means “rock” – was given to him by Christ. Peter was apostle Andrew’s elder brother.
Not burdened by education or scholarly knowledge, Peter was a very simple and sincere man, his modes of thinking very active and his character – spirited. His characteristic way of speaking was calling to action. Peter himself participated in many of the Gospel events. It was his mother-in-law who Christ cured in the Gospel (which was Christ’s first miracle). It was also Peter who caught fish with the other apostles when, after many unsuccessful attempts, Christ asked them to try once more and their nets almost broke due to the amount of fish. It was at that moment that Peter saw that Christ is God for the first time and became frightened, saying: “Exit my soul, because I am a sinful man”.
Peter along with John and James was the witness to the Transfiguration of Christ on the mountain and in a short while, Christ’s prayers in the gardens. It was there that the hot-tempered Peter chopped off one of the guard’s ear. And it was then that Peter promised Christ he would never denounce Him only to say he has no part with Christ a few hours later. However, what followed this was complete and utter repentance that led to unshakable faith.
Peter is sometimes called the Apostle of Christian hope. This is because he found in himself the strength to face his own betrayal and to cry with a broken heart about his own weakness. And after his repentance, Christ confirms that Peter is an apostle thrice, by saying: “Be the shepherd of my sheep”.
Apostle Peter was the first one to strengthen the church’s position after the descent of the Holy Spirit. The first thing he did was convert 3000 people to Christianity through his speech at the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit. After some time, he cured a blind man of his blindness. After this he converted 5000 Jews to Christianity through his preaching. Apostle Peter had such incredible spiritual power that even his shadow cured people upon touching them (Acts 5,15). The book of acts chapters 1 through 12 tells about many of the things St. Peter did.
Herod the Great’s grandchild, Herod Agrippa the First began his persecution of Christians in 42 A.D. He killed Apostle James and put Apostle Peter in prison. Christians, seeing that Peter was soon to be killed, prayed for him a lot. At night, a miracle happened: an angel visited Peter’s cell, Peter’s bonds were broken and he exited the prison unnoticed. The book of Acts also mentions this event one more time when telling about the Apostle’s Assembly.
According to the story, which inspired Henry Senkevich to write the novel “Whither Goest Thou?”, Roman Christians were scared that Peter would be subjected to horrible torture and convinced him to run away, to escape. However, leaving Rome, Peter saw Christ coming towards him.
“ Peter’s staff fell out of his hands and onto the ground. His eyes were directed outward, and straight ahead. His face expressed astonishment, joy, admiration.
At once, he fell to his knees, extending his hands and uttering:
– Christ! Christ!
And he leaned to the ground with his head, as if to kiss someone’s feet. A long silence ensued and then in the quiescent air, the wailing of an old man could be heard:
– Quo vadis, Domine?* Whither goest Thou* ? (Latin)
A sweet and sad voice reached Peter’s ears:
-Since you are leaving my people, I am going to Rome myself, for another crucifiction.
The Apostle laid on the ground, his face in the dust, not moving. Nazariy was afraid that he was unconscious or dead, but finally Peter got up, lifted his staff with shaking hands, and turned back to the seven hills of the city.
Seeing this, the young Nazariy repeated, as if an echo:
– Quo vadis, Domine?
-To Rome, – whispered the Apostle.
Paul, according to our earlthly thinking, is completely opposite in comparison with Peter. Paul was the son of rich and famous parents, a Roman citizen, the student of the famous Jewish teacher Gamiil, “a scribe and a pharisee”.
The young Saul, it seems, was getting ready to become a rabbi. Thus, following completion of his training in religious studies, he proved to be an ardent follower of the farisee sect, which actively persecuted christians and christianity. Perhaps he was witness to the torture and death of the first martyr Stephen. In any case, he was granted the authority and privelege (by the Jewish Council) of persecuting christians even outside Palestine and Damasque.
But the Lord Saw in him “the chosen one” and when Saul was on his way to Damasque, God called him to be an Apostle. During the trip, a bright light blinded Saul and, blinded, he fell to the ground. A voice came from the light, saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Answering Saul’s question: “Who are you?” – Christ says: “I am Jesus, the one you persecute”. The Lord directed Saul to go to Damasque where he will be instructed as to what to do next. Saul’s companions heard Christ’s words, but did not see the light. The blinded Saul was led back to Damasque and accepted the Holy rite of Baptism on the third day. He took on the name of Anania. When he was plunged into the water, he gained his vision once more. From that time, he became a zelous missionary of the religion he once hated and persecuted. At first, he went to Arabia, but then returned to Damasque.
The anger of the Jews, who were furious as a result of his conversion, forced him to flee to Jerusalem, where he joined a community of christians and met the apostles. After Hellenists almost killed him, he was forced to go back to his home city, Tars. Then, in about 43 AD, Varnava called him to preach in Antiochia and then to travel to Jerusalem and help the needy.
Paul’s conversion happened when he was thirty. Afterwards he spent 30 years as an apostle. Following his personal experience of Christ, Paul seeks to show people what Chirst and christianity really mean. He goes on several mission trips in Arabia, Syria, Palestine, and Cyprus and then in Antiochia, Athens, and many other cities. Everywhere miracles happen and everywhere he is persecuted. Finally, he founded many churches in those regions and directed his famous epistles at them.
The apostle Paul, just as apostle Peter, worked hard to spread the word of Christianity and is rightfully considered one of the pillars of the church and of the Christian faith. Both Peter and Paul became martyrs during the rule of Nero and they are commemorated on the same day, the 12th of June.