Sunday 9 July 2017

Homily on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul

After His Resurrection, Christ said to the Apostle Peter who had denied Him: "When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" (John 21:18).

Without doubt with these words Jesus Christ foretold the martyric death of a disciple whom He loved, and actually this is confirmed by the words of the evangelist which follow: "This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God" (John 21:19). Furthermore the Greek text of these words gives one cause to think that Christ stretched out His hands in the form of the cross as He foretold to him death on a cross. In actuality the Apostle Peter was crucified head-down.

From the most ancient history of the Christian Church we know that all the other disciples of Christ ended their lives as martyrs. Only one, Saint John the Theologian, died a natural death, although even he did not escape sufferings. The Apostles knew that afflictions awaited them (John 16:33), but this in no way confounded them in boldly and zealously spreading the light of Christ's teaching. On the contrary, with joy they bore injurious beating (cf. Acts 5:40-41, Col. 1:24).

Evidently the example of their Divine Teacher always stood clearly before their eyes (John 13:15). "If they have persecuted Me," He said, "they will also persecute you (John 15:20), and this is quite understandable, because "the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (John 13:16). Therefore they firmly proclaimed that through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). To them it would have seemed beyond comprehension that they should live in any other way than had their Teacher, Who had not where to lay His head (Luke 9:58). "If one died for all, then were all dead. But Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). This filled their hearts with the assurance that when our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have of God a building in the heavens, not made with hands, eternal (2 Cor. 5:1), to which they strove irrepressibly; having a desire to depart, says the holy Apostle Paul, and to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). His desire was fulfilled before natural death overtook him: "Already they offer me in sacrifice" – he wrote not long before his end – "and the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Tim. 4:6). On the 29th June in the year 67 he was beheaded with the sword.

In this way the Apostles lived physically on earth, but spiritually they were in heaven. They were not disturbed by the bloody end which faced them, but on the contrary they rejoiced and counted it a blessing to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why the Apostle Paul even says with boldness: "Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor. 4:16).

Of course, this does not mean that all are to be martyrs, for it was only to the Apostles that Jesus Christ foretold a martyric end, and even so He did so not to predestinate such a death. In any event what is important for us is that the holy Apostles' love of their Divine Teacher extended to selflessness: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13), and they actually did lay down their lives for they remembered Christ's precept, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.... If a man love Me, he will keep My words" (John 14:21, 23). In such love there is no fear (see 1 John 3:17), for as the holy Apostle Paul cries out: "Who shall separate us from the love of God; shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Rom. 8:35). No one and nothing can separate us (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

O friends and brethren, may the example of Christ's holy disciples be instructive for us. Let not the afflictions and distress of this sinful and adulterous world make us fearful, for the Lord never sends trials which are greater than we can bear (1 Cor. 10:18). And all the blood poured out from the time of the Apostles to that of the numberless martyrs of our days will serve as the very best cement to bind all believing Christians into the one body, the Church of Christ, against which the gates of Hades shall not prevail (Matt. 16:18).

O holy, glorious and all-famed Chiefs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, whose memory we now prayerfully keep, we call upon you assiduously: help us to abide in peace and concord that the love of Christ might be inflamed. Pray to God for us! Amen.

By Archpriest Leonid Kolchev 
Translated from a collection of sermons published in Copenhagen, 1938 

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