Our Fathers, the Apostles: a variety of characters & circumstances

Our Fathers, the Apostles: a variety of characters & circumstances

The Orthodox Church celebrates the apostles’ feast on the 5th of Aviv, the 12th of July which is a fixed date for that feast every year. The feast is named after the apostles, yet in particular it celebrates the martyrdom of Saint Peter & Saint Paul.

Our church pays great respect to these two saints praising them respectfully especially in the liturgy during the fast of the apostles and on the day of their feast.

Although there aren’t many churches named after these saints, yet there is one church named after them in Anba Reweis region in Cairo, Egypt and another one in Los Angeles – California – USA.

These two saints represent two types of personalities with two different messages conveyed through two different methods. Each one of them has his own particular method.

Such variety was a peculiar one. St. Peter was among the first ones chosen to follow Christ (Matt 10) while Paul was neither from among the twelve apostles nor the seventy apostles, but God chose him after His resurrection, couple of years after choosing Matthias.

St. Paul did not follow Jesus during His evangelic service on earth, but rather very late afterwards, that he himself said, “.. And last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:7-9).

Although his vocation was the last, yet he worked harder than all of them. (1 Cor. 15:10) This shows us that it has nothing to do with being the first to serve God but it all depends on the effort exerted for the sake of God. One may not be the first to serve God, but he may be the strongest among them.

John the Baptist was not the first among the prophets of the Old Testament, but rather the last in chronological order, yet Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). Also St. Augustine addressing the Lord said, “I was very late getting into a true loving relation with you”. Although he was late yet his relation with God was more profound than millions who preceded him.

St. Peter was born in Betsidon and his family lived in Capernaum. But St. Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, yet he came in his early youth to Jerusalem to complete his religious studies, thus studying “the Law” being lectured by one of its great professors (Acts 22:30)/

St. Peter, the apostle was married, and it has been mentioned in the Bible that Jesus healed his mother-in-law of the fever (Matt. 8:14, 15). During his evangelic trip, his wife used to accompany him as a sister in the service commenting on this, St. Paul in his epistle to Corinthians said: “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Capias (i.e. Peter)” (1 Cor. 9:5)

Thus, “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17).

This means that God calls upon everyone to serve Him whether that person is married like Peter or not married like Paul.

St. Peter started his relation with the Lord Jesus Christ based on love, trust and faith. On the contrary, Paul started with animosity as a persecutor of the church, persecuting all those who follow Christ to such an extent that when the Lord met him on his way to Damascus, He started His speech to him by the reproachful words, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). I.e. persecuting the church means persecuting me.

St. Peter was a simple fisherman (Matt. 4:18). He was illiterate. He did not receive any education. He was one of those ignorant people whom God used to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). It was even mentioned about him and St. John that they were both ordinary unschooled men (Acts 4:13). But St. Paul was very well learned and very well educated. He studied at the University of Tarsus and was thoroughly trained under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Also he was well known for being fond of reading books (Acts 26:24).

This proves that God uses all people to serve in His kingdom, the well-learned, as well as the ordinary, simple people on equal footing as long as they are good vessels receiving His Grace. As for their missions, St. Peter& St. Paul were distinguished.

St. Peter started his service in an old age. He may have been the oldest among the apostles, that’s why he was respected by all of them as their elder. And maybe that’s why he called St. Mark, “my son” (1 Peter 5:13)

On the other hand, St. Paul, the apostle, was younger than St. Peter. Also St. Paul had a greater number of disciples than Peter. Among them was Timothy, Titus to whom he wrote epistles. Also Luke, Aristarchus, Tikhus, Carpus, Phebie the deaconess and Akilla, Briskilla and others. St. Mark followed both St. Peter and St. Paul. He started by following St. Peter first, then he settled down with St. Paul till the end of his life (2 Timothy 4:11).

It was said that St. Peter was entrusted with the task to preach and serve the Jews, while St. Paul was entrusted with the task to serve and preach the gentiles. St. Paul Said, :”I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as peter had been to the Jews” (Gal. 2:7,8). The lord told Paul, the apostle; “go for I shall send you foraway to preach the gentiles” (Acts 22:21).

The Lord also said unto him “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). St. Paul, the apostle wrote an epistle to the Romans and other epistles to the churches of the gentiles. St. Peter, on the other hand, wrote to the Jews who were “strangers in the world, scattered throughout …. “ (1 Peter 1:1).

St. Paul wrote 14 epistle containing 100 chapters, but St. Peter wrote 2 epistle only containing 8 chapters. St. Peter’s style in writing was simple. But St. Paul’s style was sophisticated. Some of his writings are difficult to understand “which ignorant and unstable people distort and misinterpret to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16) also St. Paul tackled Divine matters as ‘justification’, ‘renewing’, ‘the law’, the Grace’, Baptism’, ‘Priesthood’, ‘Judean’, ‘the choice’, while St. Peter didn’t tackle any of these items.

St. peter was rash as a result of his enthusiasm and the Lord once praised him for testifying to the Lord that he is “the son of the living God” (Matt. 16: 5-19). Yet, many a times has the Lord rebuked him for his rashness as once when the Lord spoke about His own holy pins and that he would be killed by the Jews … “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him “Never, Lord”, he said” This shall never happen to you!. Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! Youare a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of man” (Matt. 16:21-23).

Peter’s rashness reappears at the incident when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. Peter tells the Lord “unless I wash you, you have no part with” …. Again, Peter, out of rashness, said, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:8-10).

The Lord makes it clear to Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup, and the Father has given me?” (John 18:10, 11). “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 20:51, 52). It is now clear that God chose him despite his rashness, and then turned his weakness to yield good fruits since the day of Pentecost. On that day, it was Peter who started to give a speech and explain everything to the people (Acts 2) calling upon them to believe in Jesus Christ. Also he was the one to start speaking on the day when the lame one was healed. He even rebuked the Jews for performing a murderer to the Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate (Acts 3:12-26). He was the one to step ahead first in many occasions, as when he said, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

Thus the Lord made use of peter’s rashness turning it to yield good fruits. On the other hand, St. Paul was enthusiastic but not rash.

Due to the difference between these two types of characters, we witness St. Paul reproaching St. Peter once. St. Paul himself explains this in his epistle to Galatians in the 2d chapter: “when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly to blame. Before certain men cease from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led a stay. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to peter in front of them all, “you are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Gal. 2:11-14).

Yet, it should be noted, that despite their differences, the two saints shared drastic characteristics namely zealous and martyrdom.