Two Beacons—One Light

Kontakion—Tone 2: O Lord, You have taken up to eternal rest & to the enjoyment of Your blessings the two divinely-inspired preachers, the leaders of the Apostles, for You have accepted their labors & deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, for You alone know what lies in the hearts of men.

This coming Friday, June 29, the Orthodox Church commemorates two men that are undoubtedly the best known of the apostles: Sts. Peter & Paul. St. Peter was destined by Christ to witness to the Jews while St. Paul’s mission was to witness to the Gentiles. Both made the ultimate witness for Christ when they suffered martyrdom for the Faith of Christ in Rome. These two are so honored by Orthodoxy that they are also commemorated in one of the four major fasts of the Orthodox Church.

Few outside of the Orthodox Church admit or even realize that Sts. Peter & Paul were very united & cooperative in their witnessing of the one truth of Christ & the development of the early Church. Some elevate St. Peter to a position of autocratic supremacy over the early Church virtually ignoring the role all of the apostles performed in the historical formation & expansion of the Church throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East & Africa. Others take the opposite extreme of virtually ignoring the rest of the apostles in preference to St. Paul whose writings comprise such a large portion of the New Testament canon. Both sides miss the true beauty of the unity of the one Faith as taught by the one united Church. Sts. Peter & Paul were in essence two beacons of the one light of Christ in the one Church.

It is evident from the Holy Scriptures that St. Peter never exerted autocratic control of the early Church infallibly dictating the teaching & placement of new converts into the “hierarchical” Church structure. Instead issues & problems that arose within the early Church were resolved “ecumenically.” Acts 6 clearly shows that that all of the twelve apostles, & not just St. Peter, determined in accordance with their apostolic authority that the Church in Jerusalem should choose seven men to serve as deacons who would be responsible for the administration of the daily affairs of the Church. All of the apostles in turn laid hands upon those chosen by the Church members, thus displaying their joint apostolic authority in ordaining others to perform this administrative function as well as other functions within the early Church. Acts 15 clearly shows the establishment of the first Church council to settle the issue of whether or not to bring new converts under the Mosaic Law through circumcision before accepting them into the Church of Christ. This first council was presided over by St. James who announced the decrees of the council rather than St. Peter. St. Peter was a well-respected & honored leader in the early Church.

It is also evident from the Holy Scriptures that St. Paul never evangelized outside of the early Church traipsing around the countryside teaching what he alone determined to be the “real” Faith. Acts 9 shows Christ Himself instructing St. Paul to go to the city of Damascus & to await what he must do next. Christ Himself then instructs Ananias, the first bishop of that city, that St. Paul is a chosen vessel for the furtherance of the Church. In obedience Ananias receives St. Paul into the Church. He shows his apostolic authority that he had received from the Church as he lays hands on St. Paul, heals his blindness, baptizes him & bestows the Holy Spirit upon him. St. Paul then spends “some days” (v. 19) with the Church in Damascus, undoubtedly being instructed in his new faith. Only then, after being instructed by those in the early Church does St. Paul begin to preach in the name of Christ. The persecutor of the Church soon became persecuted himself & was forced to leave Damascus. He went to Jerusalem where he joined the Church there for a time. The previously mentioned council of Acts 15 again shows St. Paul working within the early Church as he spoke along with Sts. Peter & Barnabas. In Galatians 1 & 2 St. Paul himself writes of his submission to the Church (Sts. James, Peter & John) & ensuring that his teaching was in line with the one Faith taught by all in the Church.

Thus the Orthodox Church celebrates & commemorates two great leaders of the one Church; St. Peter—the beacon for Christ to the Jews—& St. Paul—the beacon for Christ to the Gentiles. Thus two beacons of the one Church, who suffered & endured decades of persecution until they made the ultimate sacrifice of their very lives, bestowed on all peoples the one light of Faith in Christ.

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