The Apostle Peter
While taking some time off with His disciples in region of Caesarea Philippi, during one of their discussions, Jesus asked them: “Who do men say that the Son of man is.” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He then said to them. “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15). No one said anything. Then Simon Peter replied, “You are the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:17-19).
When Jesus instituted the Twelve Apostles as the foundation of His Church, He chose Peter from among them to serve as the head. Peter was “the first among equals.”
After the Ascension of Jesus in heaven, Peter assumes this role. As the visible head of Christ’s Church, before the descent of the Holy Spirit, he spoke to the apostles about the need to elect a new apostle to take the place of Judas. As a result, Matthias was chosen to maintain the foundation of The Twelve.
When the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost day, it was Peter who stood up and addressed the crowd on behalf of the Church (Acts 2:14-36). Inspirited by the Holy Spirit, his words “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). On that very day, those who received his word were baptized, “and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Not only did Peter preach the Gospel with great boldness, he was also given the power to confirm the truth of his spoken word by performing a great number of miracles in Jesus’ name. One of his first and greatest miracles was the healing of a man lame from birth at the entrance to the Temple (Acts 3:1-10). As the number of believers increased, Peter’s name has held in high honor. People began to carry out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, “that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them… and they were all healed” (Acts 5:15-16).
After the martyrdom of St. Stephen and the first persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, the Church spread throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria. Peter “went here and there among them all” (Acts 9:32). At Lydda, near the Mediterranean coast, Peter healed a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years and was paralyzed. He said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose; and all the residents of Lydda and Sharon believed (Acts 9:33-35). In the city of Joppa by the sea, many came to faith in the Lord when Peter raised Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:36-42).
While staying in Joppa, Peter was called to Caesarea, to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile centurion. When Peter arrived, he witnessed a second Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was fell upon Cornelius and all the Gentiles of his household. Peter then declared, “Can any on forbid water for baptizing these people who have receive the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And they were all baptized. (Acts 10:44-48). Peter then returned to Jerusalem, to report to the Church what had happened.
In the year 34-35, Peter moved from Jerusalem to Antioch, in Syria, where he established a church, over which he presided for seven years. In the years 41-42, he left Antioch, on a missionary journey, establishing church communities through the provinces of Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia, and eventually Rome. Having established the church in Rome, he presided as bishop for 25 years.
In the year 44 A.D., Peter returned to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was then that a persecution arose against Christians. The Apostle James the Great (the brother of John) was arrested by King Herod Agrippa and beheaded by the sword. Peter was also arrested; but he was miraculously freed from prison by an angel (Acts 12:1-19).
After his release from prison, Peter then returned to Rome, where he wrote his first letter addressed to the churches he had established in provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. He encouraged them to patiently endure all suffering during times of persecution, and to remain faithful to the Lord. It is believed that at this time, Peter approved the Gospel written by the evangelist Mark. He then sent the evangelist to Egypt, where Mark established a church in the city of Alexandria.
In the year 51 A.D., when the apostles gathered for the First Council in Jerusalem, it was the Apostle Peter, who presided as the visible head of the Church. From Jerusalem, Peter went to visit the Church in Antioch, when he himself had established. It was there that he met Paul. From Antioch, Peter returned to Rome.
In the year 64 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Nero, most of Rome burned in a great fire, which Nero himself may have started. Christians were blamed for it, and many were martyred. A general persecution of Christians began throughout the Roman Empire. This was the beginning of the Great Persecution that would extend over a period of 250 years.
In the year 65 A.D., while in Rome, Peter wrote his second letter. It was addressed main to the faithful of the province of Pontus (Asia Minor) and surrounding areas. In the letter, it is understood that Peter knows that his life will soon come to an end. He urges them to remain faithful to the teachings of the Apostles, and to beware of false teachers who cause division, mislead and deceive.
Some time later, the Apostle Peter was arrested and taken to the Mamertine prison, which was located on the side of Capitoline Hill, in the heart of ancient Rome. According to tradition, the Apostles Peter and Paul were held in the lower cell of this prison, prior to their execution.
The Apostle Peter was condemned to death on the order of Emperor Nero. He was taken to Janiculum hill to be crucified. When he saw the cross before him, Peter asked his executioner to crucify him upside-down, because he felt himself to be unworthy to die in the same way as his Lord. The Apostle Peter died a martyr’s death and June 29th, 67 A.D., receiving a crown of eternal glory.
After Peter’s martyrdom, Linus was chosen to take his place. He was consecrated and installed as Bishop of Rome. As Peter’s successor, the Bishop of Rome remains the visible source and foundation of unity within the Church (C.C.C., par. 882). To this day, communion with the Church of Rome is a sign and condition for belonging to the Universal (Catholic) Church. “The visible sign of communion among churches is the universal Pontiff, the Pope of Rome, whose primacy in love and in teaching ministry belongs to the heritage of faith of all Christianity” (Catechism of the UGCC, Our Pascha, par. 304).
The Apostle Paul
The holy Apostle Paul, known as “Saul” prior to his conversion, was born in Tarsus, the main city of the Roman province Cilicia, not far from Antioch. He was a Roman citizen and a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. At a young age, his father sent him to Jerusalem to study the Law and the Prophets under the famous Rabbi, Gamaliel. Saul quickly advanced in his knowledge and practice of Judaism beyond many of his own age (Gal 1:14).
As a Pharisee, extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers, he became an enemy of Christ and His teachings. As a young man, Saul was present at the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 7:58), after which a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). During this time, Saul participating in ravaging the church. He entered house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3).
Then, while still breathing threats and murder against disciples of Christ, Saul went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found anyone belonging to the Way, men or women, that he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:12).
Now as Saul journeyed to the Damascus, Jesus Himself appeared to him on the road, saying: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:4-5). Saul arose from the ground but could see nothing. He was let by the hand and brought to Damascus.
In Damascus, Saul was healed of his blindness by the Apostle Ananias, the bishop of Damascus. Moved to faith in the Lord who appeared to him, Saul arose and was baptized by Ananias, and named Paul.
For several days, Paul remained with the Christian community in Damascus. He then went to the synagogues and began to proclaim Jesus, saying: “He is the Son of God.” All that heard him were amazed, and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name?” (Acts 9:20-21). But Paul continued to profess Jesus, and to prove to the Jews that He is the Christ.
Paul left Damascus and spent three years in Arabia (Gal 1:17). He then returned to Damascus and continued to profess Jesus in the synagogues, convincing Jews that He is the promised Christ. After some time, the Jews in Damascus began to plot till kill him. They watched for him at the gates, day and night; but the disciples took Paul by night and lowered him down over the wall in a basket.
Having escaped from Damascus, Paul came to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26) to visit the Apostle Peter and remained with him for 15 days. He also met James, the first bishop of Jerusalem and brother of the Lord (Gal 1:18-19). Paul then went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and returned to his home in Tarsus.
In the year 40 A.D., the Apostle Barnabas was sent from the Church in Jerusalem to the Church in Antioch, to work with Gentile converts there. Barnabas had heard about Paul and his conversion. He found him in Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch to assist with teaching. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large company of people” (Acts 11:26).
In the year 45 A.D., Paul and Barnabas were set apart for missionary work by the Church in Antioch. They set out for Cyprus and Asia Minor, preaching the Gospel, and establishing church communities where possible. This mission lasted two years.
In 49-52 A.D., together with the Apostle Silas, Paul made his second missionary journey to Asia Minor and Europe. They visited and strengthened the churches that were established during the first mission. They went on to establish churches in the regions of Phrygia, Galatia and Macedonia, establishing churches in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. During this time, he wrote his first and second letter to the Thessalonians, This mission lasted three years.
After returning to Antioch for some time, Paul made his third missionary journey in the years 53-58 A.D. He went through the provinces of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples there. He spent more than two years in Ephesus. He also passed the provinces of Achaia and Asia, through Macedonia and Greece, returning to Ephesus. During this time, Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, and to the Romans. From Ephesus, Paul set out to Jerusalem. This mission lasted five years.
While in Jerusalem for Pentecost in the year 58 A.D., Paul was arrested, after a violent disturbance in the Temple. He was brought before the Sanhedrin for trial, before whom he professed Jesus as Lord, risen from the dead. Having uncovered a plot by the Jews to take Paul’s life, the Roman tribune in Jerusalem had Paul transferred safely to Felix the governor in Caesarea, where he remained in prison for some time. In 60-61 AD, Paul was sent to Rome for trial. The journey took a whole year.
From 61-63 AD, Paul remained under house arrest in Rome, after which he may have been released. During this time, Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and to Philemon. He may have written his first letter to Timothy after his release.
Paul may have continued with a missionary journey to Spain, as he had planned to do; or he may have returned to visit the churches he had established in Macedonia and Asia Minor. Returning to Rome, he was arrested in 66 or 67 A.D. While imprisoned, he wrote his second letter to Timothy.
According to tradition, both Paul and Peter were held in the lower cell of the Mamertine prison, in the heart of ancient Rome. On June 29th, 67 A.D., Peter was executed by crucifixion. As a Roman citizen, Paul was beheaded outside the city walls of Rome.
Troparion for the Feast: As the leaders of the Apostles and teachers of the whole world, intercede with the Master of all to grant peace to the world and to our souls, great mercy.
Kontakion for the Feast: You received Your inspired and steadfast preachers, Your chief disciples, into the enjoyment of Your good things and into repose. You, Who alone know the heart, accepted their labours and death more gladly than any holocaust.