In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
O first-enthroned of the Apostles,
and teachers of the universe,
intercede with the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy.
(Troparion to Sts. Peter and Paul)
This, fathers, brothers, and sisters, is how we prayerfully address the great and holy Apostles of Christ Peter and Paul. Of all the Apostles, the holy Church especially glorifies these two Apostles, calling them glorious and preeminent. They are given such a high honor for the great labors and ascetic feats in the work of proclaiming the Gospel that they took upon themselves. Even the Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom found it difficult to give preference to either of them, repeatedly calling both of them pillars of the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ chose them to carry His teachings to all the ends of the earth, which at that time was immersed in pagan darkness, drowning in debauchery, sensuality, and wickedness. It was for the disciples of Christ to drive away this darkness and illuminate the world with the light of the word of God.
How much faith, love for God and man, and devotion to the will of God dwelt in the souls of these Apostles! They carried the word of the holy Gospel to all ends of the earth, baptizing all peoples, and enduring heat, cold, thirst, persecution, and torment only to serve the great cause of the salvation of mankind.
Innumerable are the calamities that these Apostles endured. Their entire life was an unceasing labor for the glory of Christ’s name. The holy Apostle Peter was imprisoned more than once for the teaching of Christ (Acts 5:18, 12:4), suffered beatings and abuse (Acts 5:18-33), and was crucified upside down on a cross. And the holy Apostle Paul says of himself that he was in labours more abundant … in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft (2 Cor. 11:23). And for what was all this suffering, all this torment? All for the sake of Christ, for the sake of His glory and the salvation of their own souls and the souls of others.
For the sake of Christ, says the same Apostle, I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ (Phil. 3:8). For to me to live is Christ, says the Apostle Paul, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). He ended his life as a martyr: He was beheaded by the sword in Rome.
It is for these labors and sufferings that the holy Church has honored the Apostles Peter and Paul with the title “Preeminent.”
What lesson and edification can we draw from the life of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, these great laborers in the field of Christ?
Fathers, brothers, and sisters! Every one of us, being born into this earthly life, receives an inheritance from the Lord—that field that he is called to cultivate. This field is our soul, and our earthly life is the time for its cultivation. The master of our soul and life is the Lord, to Whom we will have to give an answer for what we do. Hence, our first and indispensable duty is to take care of our field, of our soul, of its salvation.
Who should we learn this from if not from those holy Apostles, the greatest laborers who devoted their entire earthly life to cultivating Christ’s field? The life of these holy Apostles gives us not only a salvific example, but also indicates the way of salvation itself.
In their hearts, the holy Apostles had firm faith and love for Him Who sent them to this great work. Imitating their life, a Christian must also have firm faith and love for Him Whose name the holy Apostles preached. Our faith must be unshakable, reasonable, and conscious, that it might not be perplexed by any vain babblings of reason falsely so called (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).
Having such faith, the heart of a true Christ must burn with sincere love for God and man, with the love of the Apostle Peter, to which he bore witness before Christ: Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee, to the threefold question: Simon, son of Jonas, lovest Thou me? (Jn. 21:15-17). And with that love for men that the Apostle Paul speaks about: And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us (Eph. 5:2). The fruits of this love are, according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, perfect meekness, truthfulness (cf. Col. 3:8-9), non-acquisitiveness, chastity in word and deed (Eph. 5:3), and especially forgiveness of all. Forbear one another, says the Apostle, and forgive one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Col. 3:13).
Such is the way, fathers, brothers, and sisters, by which, according to the teaching of the holy Apostles, we can fulfill the law of Christ and save our souls. Difficult is the way! But in order to acquire Christ, that all the virtues indicated by the holy Apostles might grow in the field of our soul, every one of us much struggle greatly with ourselves, with our evil inclinations and habits and the temptations that we meet every step of the way, coming now from people, now from the enemy of our salvation, the devil. But a soldier of Christ mustn’t be disturbed by this. Let us recall what the preeminent holy Apostles whom we now glorify endured for the name of Christ. And there’s nothing better we can do to honor them than to give a firm promise to fulfill what they taught, and to imitate their example as best we can. Fulfilling all of this, we will have them as our fervent mediators and intercessors before God.