A visiting dignitary is honoured with a symbolic key to the city as a token of respect, but for eternity the keys to the kingdom of Heaven have been placed by the Messiah himself, out of respect to one of his greatest disciples, into the hand of a man called Peter,the constant companion and beloved friend of Jesus Christ. This magnificent disciple, whom trust places at the gates of heaven to examine the credentials of those who would enter, had a master key in his lifetime which unlocked the hearts of men to admit the Saviour, and his wisdom was the key to men's minds which in turn admitted the intelligence to give meaning to the Christian faith.
Brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew, a fisherman like himself, Peter forthwith acknowledged the Master and undertook a lifetime of casting his fisherman's nets for the sake of Jesus Christ and so excelled himself in his personal and total dedication to the Saviour that in the two thousand years that have elapsed any roll call of the disciples finds the name of Peter among the most prominent. He ranks with St. Paul as one without whom the new Faith could not have survived the whips and scorns of the pagan era of superstition and spiritual darkness.
Several accounts are given in the New Testament about St, Peter and his strong bond with the Nazarene, but the stirring passage in Matthew should be etched in the mind of every Christian, that which says "And I say to thee that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of the Heavens, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in the heavens, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in the heavens." This divine authority vested in Peter as well as to all of the disciples of Christ, placed a sacred trust in Peter, whose name means, "rock" from the Greek word petra.
It was upon this rock of faith, as depicted in holy Scripture, that the formation of the Christian Church, the disciples' handywork, was not only a success but a triumph as well. Peter, the redoubtable fisherman who had never strayed far from his home in Capernaum on the shores of Galilee, was at the side of Jesus in his ministry throughout the Holy Land and as one of his closest apostles planned the campaigns for the winning of converts.
In the course of this spiritual campaign, he came to witness the many miracles of the Master, such as the walking on water, the miracle of the loaves and fishes and, many others which were to lend an aura of divine authority to all of the apostles in the stewardship of the Church.
Peter, together with many others, was privileged to witness the glorious resurrection of Christ, an event which all Christendom views with such reverence as to regard the first followers of Christ, as next to divine.
Peter struck out on his own in the missionary work of renewed dedication after the death of Jesus, but he favoured Jerusalem and together with other followers of Christ assisted diligently in the formation of the Christian community in Jerusalem.
Peter, whose presence at Gethsemane had further fuelled the fires of Christian zeal in his heart, joined John in Samaria, Lydda, Joppa, and Caesaria in a propagation of the truth of the Messiah, but returning to Jerusalem found that a famine had set in and that the Christian community was somehow being blamed for the economic woes that ravaged the land. With the help of Paul and Barnabas they restored thconfidence of the people and led them out of their hapless state to an era of new prosperity. Ultimately Peter established the first church in the ancient city of Antioch and became its first bishop. Later in Rome, he was sentenced by Nero to be crucified, a manner of death in which he emulated the Messiah.
Whenever the storms of controversy within the Christian Church have cast a shadow on the Cross of Jesus Christ, the clouds have been rolled back by the spiritual brighteness, undiminished by the centuries, of the magnificent St. Paul. Most Christians agree that were it not for St. Paul, the new faith of Jesus Christ would have never taken hold to become the mainstay of Western civilization, The total commitment of St. Paul to the Messiah, for which he ultimately sacrificed his life, brought the message of Jesus to the nucleus of Christians over a period of thirty years and assured the permanency of the truth of the Savior. It was Christ, of course, who planted the seeds, but it was St. Paul who nourished the garden of Christendom.
St. Paul was born in Tarsus, a flourishing crossroads city in Cilicia, Asia Minor. He received his religious training in Jerusalem under the renowned rabbinical tutor Gamaliel, from whom he absorbed the teaching of the Pharisees with intensity and sincerity. He deplored the acceptance of the Messiah as heresy to his religion and as an affront to the Law of the ancient covenant. Armed with articles of condemnation from his council, he set out for Damascus with an avowed purpose of wiping out this new belief in Jesus Christ.
On the road to Damascus he met Jesus. This is perhaps the most dramatic turnabout in history, one that was destined to alter the course of the world. St. Paul embraced as the Messiah the man whom he had set out to destroy; thereafter he devoted himself with deep conviction to the truth of Christianity. The conversion alone of this profoundly religious man is in itself testimony to the reality of the Messiah's divinity.
Although not one of the twelve disciples of Christ, Paul linked himself with the apostles and became the greatest apostolic missionary of all time. A brilliant orator and writer, he was sensitive to the needs and moods of the various tribes of both Greek and Near Eastern backgrounds. Furthermore, he was intelligent enough to cope with the problems that beset the new faith at every turn.
St. Paul, a man of small physical stature, cast a giant shadow upon the missionary scene as he traveled the length and breadth of the ancient Eastern world. He had success following success in the vast areas of Asia, Greece, Cyprus, Macedonia, and eventually Rome, where his most noble purpose was to prove his undoing. He had a fondness for Jerusalem, for whose poor he continually solicited funds. Moreover, he envisioned a union of the Jewish and Christian communities, a project which was to prove dangerous. He met James in Jerusalem and together they sought a means to bring this laudable plan into being. However, he encountered not love but outright hostility. In fact, he had to be saved from an angry mob by the Roman authorities, who placed him aboard a ship bound for Rome, where he arrived after a tossed voyage.
St. Paul had always wanted to use the eternal city with its strategic position in the empire, from which the spread of Christianity could be projected. Although he preached in Rome for two years, his ambitions were never completely realized, except for the production of his masterful Pastoral Letters.
Despite his frail health he continued his work for Christ at an accelerated pace, but his enthusiastic love for the Savior also brought him the resentment of certain influential elements in Rome. When his enemies had done their worst, he was brought to trial and met a marytr's death about A.D. 67.
The true greatness of Paul is discerned in his writings, particularly his epistles. As author of almost half of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, he has influenced Christianity as no other man with the exception of Jesus himself. Even after nearly two thousand years, St. Paul's candor, freshness, clarity, and perceptiveness in his writings are as welcome as sunrise.
Orthodox Christianity remembers St. Paul each year on 12th July and as one of the Apostles on July 13.
The Holy Apostle Peter
Apostle Peter, formerly known as Simon, was the son of a fisherman named Jonah from Bethsaida in Galilee (John 1:42-45) and brother of Andrew the "First-called," who was the one that brought him to Christ. St. Peter was married and had a house in Capernaum (Mark 1:21,29). Having being called by Christ the Savior while fishing on the lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee; Luke 5:8), he always expressed extraordinary loyalty and zeal, for which he earned, together with the Zebedee brothers, an exceptional closeness to Christ (Luke 9:28). Being strong and ardent of spirit, he naturally assumed an influential role among Christ’s Disciples. He was the first to resolutely acknowledge Lord Jesus as Christ — i.e., Messiah (Mat. 16:16) — and for this, earned the name Rock (Peter). It was on this rock of Peter’s faith that Christ promised to build His Church, which even the gates of Hell would not prevail against (Mat. 16:18). Peter’s three renunciations of Christ (on the eve of Christ’s Crucifixion) was washed away with bitter tears of repentance. Consequently, after His Resurrection, Christ reinstated his apostolic standing thrice, matching the number of his renunciations, charging him to "feed my lambs" and "tend My sheep" (John 21:15-17). After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Apostle Peter was the first to assist in the spread and affirmation of Christ’s Church by making a fiery speech on Pentecost and converting 3000 souls to Christ. Shortly after, having cured a man "lame from his mother’s womb," Peter’s second sermon converted an additional 5000 Jews to Christianity (Acts chps. 2-4) From the 1st chapter through to the 12th, the Book of Acts narrates his apostolic activities. However, after his miraculous release from prison by an Angel, and being forced to hide from Herod (Acts 12:1-17), he is mentioned only once and that is in the passages about the Apostolic council (Acts ch. 15). Other data on Peter had been preserved only in the Church tradition records. It is known that he preached along the shores of Mediterranean sea, in Antioch (where he ordained Bishop Evodius). The apostle Peter preached also to the Jews and Proselytes (pagans that have converted to Judaism) in Asia Minor, and later in Egypt, where he ordained Mark (the author of the Gospel "according to Mark," transcribed from the apostle Peter’s words; Mark was not one of the twelve Apostles) as the first Bishop of the Alexandrian Church. From here he crossed over to Greece (Achaia) and preached in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:12). He then evangelized in Rome, Spain, Carthage, and Brittany. Toward the close of his life, the apostle Peter returned again to Rome where he accepted martyrdom in 67 AD, by being crucified upside down.
The apostle Peter’s First General Epistle is directed "to the pilgrims dispersed in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" – provinces of Asia Minor. It must be understood that "pilgrims" would, in the main, be converted Jews as well as converted heathens that were part of the Christian communities. These communities were established by Apostle Paul. The apostle Peter’s reason for writing the Epistle was his wish to "strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32) when disagreements arose in these communities, and also when they were persecuted by the enemies of Christ. Internal antagonists in the form of false teachers appeared among the Christians. Taking advantage of the apostle Paul’s absence, they began to distort his teachings on Christian freedom and began patronizing every type of immoral profligacy (1 Peter 2:16, 2 Peter 1:9, 2:1).
The apostle Peter’s aim for this Epistle was to encourage, comfort, and confirm the Asia Minor Christians in their faith as he himself points out: "By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand" (1 Peter 5:12).
The place of the first Epistle is shown as Babylon (5:13). In the history of the Christian Church, the Babylonian Church in Egypt is well known where, apparently, St. Peter wrote his Epistle. At that time, both Silvanus and Mark were with him after leaving Apostle Paul, who was sent to trial in Rome. That is why the data of the first Epistle is dated to be between the years 62 and 64 AD.
The apostle Peter’s Second General Epistle is written for the same Asia Minor Christians. In this second Epistle, the apostle Peter cautions the faithful with particular vigor against the corrupt false teachers. These false teachings resemble those that the apostle Paul discloses in his Epistle to Timothy and Titus, as well as the apostle Jude in his General Epistle. These false teachings posed a threat to the faith and morals of the Christians. At that time, there was a swift spreading of Gnostic heresies, which imbued into themselves elements of Judaism, Christianity, and various pagan teachings. (In essence, gnosticism is theosophy, which in turn is a fantasy clothed in philosophy). In real life, the adherents of these heresies were conspicuous in their immorality, and prided themselves in the knowledge of the "mysteries."
The second Epistle was written by Peter shortly before his martyr’s ending: "I know that shortly I must leave my temple, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me." These writings can be put down to the years 65-66. The apostle Peter’s final years were spent in Rome, from which it can be concluded that the second Epistle was written there in the nature of a "death-bed" testament.
The Holy Apostle Paul
Saint Paul, carrying at first his Hebrew name Saul, belonged to the tribe of Benjamin and was born in the Cilician town of Tarsus (in Asia Minor), which was then praised for its Greek academy and for the education of its citizens. Because he was a native of this city and descended from Jews freed from Roman slavery, Paul had the rights of a Roman citizen. In Tarsus Paul received his first education, and probably became familiar with the pagan culture, since his acquaintance with gentile writers is clearly shown in his speeches and writings (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). He received his final education in Jerusalem from the famous teacher Gamaliel in the rabbinical school which was acclaimed at that time. Gamaliel was considered an expert of the law and despite belonging to the party of Pharisees, he was a freethinking person (Acts 5:34) and an admirer of Greek wisdom. Here, according to the accepted custom of the Jews, young Saul learned the art of tent-making, which later helped him to earn the means to live off his own labors (Acts 18:3; 2 Cor. 11:8; 2 Thes. 3:8).
Evidently young Saul was preparing for a rabbinical career, since directly after finishing his education and training he appeared as a strong zealot of pharisaic traditions and persecutor of the Christian faith. Perhaps by the appointment of the Sanheidren he was a witness of the death of the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1) and then he received the authority to officially follow the Christians even beyond the borders of Palestine to Damascus (Acts 9:1-2.).
The Lord, seeing in him a "chosen vessel," called him to apostolic service by miraculous means on the road to Damascus. During his journey a bright light shown on Saul, from which he fell to the ground blind. A voice resounded from the light, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul asked, "Who are you?" Jesus answered, "I am Jesus, who you are persecuting." The Lord commanded Saul to go to Damascus, and there he would be instructed on what to do further. Saul’s companions heard the voice of Christ, but they did not see the light. After being led by the arm to Damascus, Paul was taught the faith and on the third day was baptized by Ananias. The moment Saul was submerged in the water he regained his sight. From that time he became a zealous preacher of the teachings he had formerly persecuted. For awhile he left for Arabia, and then again returned to Damascus to preach about Christ.
The rage of the Jews, angered by his conversion to Christ, forced him to run to Jerusalem (Acts 9:23) in 38 AD, where he joined with the community of believers and was introduced to the apostles. Because of an attempt on his life by the Hellenists, he left for his native Tarsus. He was called from there with Barnabus to Antioch to preach around 43 AD, and then they traveled together to Jerusalem, where they brought aid for the needy (Acts 11:30.).
Soon after his return from Jerusalem, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, Saul, together with Barnabus, left on their first missionary journey, lasting from 45 to 51 AD The apostles traveled though all of the island of Cyprus, and by the time Saul converted the proconsul Sergius Paulus, he was already known as Paul. During the time of Paul’s and Barnabus’s missionary journey, Christian communities were founded in the Asia Minor cities of Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. In 51 AD Saint Paul took part in the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem, where he heatedly stood against the necessity for gentile Christians to follow the traditions of Mosaic law.
Returning to Antioch, Saint Paul, accompanied by Silas, undertook his second missionary journey. At first he visited the churches that he had founded earlier in Asia Minor, and then he crossed over to Macedonia, where he founded congregations in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. In Lystra Saint Paul acquired his favorite pupil Timothy, and from Troas he continued the journey with Apostle Luke who had joined them. From Macedonia Saint Paul crossed over into Greece, where he preached in Athens and Corinth, being detained for the last half of the year. From there he sent two letters to the Thessalonians. The second journey lasted from 51 to 54 AD. In 55 AD Saint Paul left for Jerusalem, visiting Ephesus and Caeseria, and from Jerusalem he went to Antioch (Acts 17 and 18.).
After a short stay in Antioch Saint Paul undertook his third missionary journey (56-58 AD), at first visiting, according to his custom, churches that were founded earlier in Asia Minor, and then stopping at Ephesus, where he preached daily for two years in the school of Tyrannus. He wrote his letter to the Galatians (because of the insurgence of a faction of Judaizers there) and his first letter to the Corinthians (because of the springing up of agitators and to answer a letter from the Corinthians to him). A local riot, stirred up against Paul by Dimitrius a master at working silver, forced Paul to leave Ephesus, and he left for Macedonia (Acts 19). On the way he received news from Titus about the condition of the Corinthian church and about the successful result of his letter. So from Macedonia he sent with Titus a second letter to the Corinthians. Soon, he came himself to Corinth, where he wrote a letter to the Romans, intending to leave for Rome and further west after going to Jerusalem.
After saying farewell in Miletus to the Ephesian elders, he arrived in Jerusalem. Because of a riot that sprung up against him, Paul was taken under guard by the Roman authorities and ended up in prison, at first under Proconsul Felix and then under his successor, Proconsul Festus. This happened in 59 AD. In 61 AD Paul, as a Roman citizen was granted his wish to be sent to Rome to the court of Caesar. Enduring a shipwreck in Malta, the apostle only made it to Rome in the summer of 62 AD Because of the great leniency of the Romans, Paul was able to freely preach. Thus ends the details of his life in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27 and 28). In Rome Saint Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians (with thankfulness for the financial aid sent to him by Epaphroditus), to the Colossians, to the Ephesians, and to Philemon, a citizen of Colossus (concerning his slave Onesimus, who had run away). All three of these letters were written in 63 AD and were sent with Tychicus. Also in Rome was written an epistle to the Palestinian Hebrews in 64 AD.
The further fate of Apostle Paul is not known for certain. Some think that he stayed in Rome and by the orders of Nero died a martyr’s death in 64 AD But there is evidence that suggests that after a two year imprisonment, Paul was given his freedom and he took on a fourth missionary journey, which was indicated by his "Pastoral Epistles" to Timothy and Titus. After defending his actions before the Senate and Emperor, Saint Paul was freed from bondage so he could again travel to the east. Spending a long time on the island of Crete, he left his pupil Titus to ordain elders throughout all the cities (Titus 1:5), which shows that Titus was ordained by Paul to be the bishop of the church in Crete. Later in his letter Paul instructs Titus on how to go about his duties as a bishop. From this letter it is clear that Paul intended to spend that winter of 64 in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), near his native Tarsus.
During the spring of 65 AD, he visited the rest of the churches in Asia Minor and in Miletus he left the sick Trophimus. The people in Jerusalem rioted against Paul because of Trophimus earlier, which brought about Paul’s first imprisonment (2 Tim. 4:20). Whether Saint Paul went through Ephesus is not known. He said that the Ephesian elders would not see his face again (Acts 20:25), but it appears that he ordained Timothy to be a bishop of the Ephesian church at this time. Later the apostle went through Troas, where he left his cloak (the outer layer of liturgical clothing) and books (probably also liturgical books, 2 Tim. 4:13) with a certain Carpus, and then he left for Macedonia. There he heard about the strengthening of false teachings in Ephesus and wrote his first letter to Timothy. After spending some time in Corinth (2 Tim. 4:20) and meeting Peter on the way, they continued their journey together through Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10) and Italy. They arrived at Rome, where Peter stayed, and in 66 AD Paul went alone further to the west, possibly reaching Spain.
After his return to Rome, he was imprisoned (for the second time) where he stayed until his death. There is a tradition that upon his return to Rome, he preached at the very door of the emperor Nero and brought his favorite concubine to Christ. For this he was condemned and even though, by God’s mercy, he was "delivered from the lion’s mouth," according to the saying, that is from being devoured by animals in the circus (1 Tim. 4:16-17), he was yet again in prison. During this second imprisonment he wrote his second letter to Timothy in Ephesus, inviting him to Rome for a last meeting, feeling the closeness of his own death. Tradition doesn’t say whether Timothy managed to see his teacher again among the living, but it does say, that the apostle did not have to wait long for his martyr’s crown. After a nine-month imprisonment he was beheaded, as a Roman citizen, not far from Rome. This happened in 67 AD during the 12th year of Nero’s reign.
After a quick look on the life the Apostle Paul, it is seen, that it cleanly divides into two halves. Before his conversion to Christ, Saint Paul, then Saul, was a strict Pharisee, fulfiller of the law of Moses and his ancestor's traditions, thinking that he could be justified by works of the law and zeal for the faith of his fathers, reaching even fanaticism. After his conversion, he became an apostle of Christ, entirely given to the task of spreading the gospel, happy in his call, but recognizing his own weakness for fulfilling this high calling and attributing all of his deeds and merits to the grace of God. All of Paul’s life before his conversion was, according to his deep convictions, error and sin and led him towards condemnation instead of justification, and only the mercy of God saved him from this fatal error. From that time on Saint Paul tried to be worth of this gift of God and not to stray from his calling. Therefore there could not be any talk about that there ever was merit — all of it was God’s doing.
All of Saint Paul’s teachings opened in his epistles, being a full reflection of the life the apostle, carry this very basic thought: man is justified by faith, independent of lawful deeds (Romans 3:28). But from this, it is impossible to support the conclusion that the Apostle Paul was against all lawful works (See for example Gal. 6:4, Eph. 2:10 or 1 Tim 2:10 and others). According to his letters, "lawful works" does not, of course, include "good deeds" in general, but ritualistic observance of the Mosaic Law. We need to remember that Paul, during the time of his evangelistic work, needed to carry out a bitter struggle against the opposition of the Jews and Judaizing Christians.
Many of the Jews, upon becoming Christians, held the view that it was necessary for Christians to vainly hold all of the ceremonial instructions of Mosaic Law. They puffed themselves with proud thoughts that Christ came to earth only to save the Jews, and therefore gentiles wanting to be saved, needed to be circumcised and observe all of the Jewish rituals. This error so strongly prevented the spread of Christianity among the gentiles, that the apostles needed to call together the Jerusalem Council in 51 AD, which removed the requirements of the ceremonial decrees of the Law of Moses for Christians. But even after this Council many Judaizing Christians continued to stubbornly hold onto their former views and subsequently split from the Church, establishing their own heretical society. These heretics, personally opposed Apostle Paul, carried disorder into church life, and used Paul’s absence in one church or the other. Therefore Saint Paul needed to continually underline in his epistles that Christ was the savior of all humanity, for Jews just as for gentiles, and that a person was not saved by fulfilling the ceremonial actions of the Law, but only by faith in Christ. Unfortunately, these thoughts of Apostle Paul were distorted by Luther and his successors, the Protestants, as if Paul denied universally the meaning of every good deed for salvation. If this were so, then he would not have written in his first letter to the Corinthians in the 13th chapter that "if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2, NIV), since this love would immediately appear in good deeds.
Kontakion to Saints Peter and Paul Tone 2: