Archpriest Andrew Phillips
There are many myths about the holy apostles Peter and Paul.
For example concerning the apostle Peter, it is said that he founded the Church of Rome. This is untrue. In fact he founded the Church of Antioch, where the disciples were first called ‘Christians’, as is related to us in the Acts of the Apostles. The Church of Rome was founded by the apostle Paul. That is why he wrote an epistle to the Romans. The apostle Peter did not write an epistle to the Romans. Indeed, it is believed that he was illiterate and dictated his memories and thoughts to St Mark, who wrote them down in a Gospel and later also wrote down from dictation the epistles of Peter.
It is also claimed that not only did the apostle Peter found the Church of Rome, but that somehow this gives the Church of Rome some special supremacy and superiority over all the other Churches. This is clearly not true, for the Church of Antioch, which was founded by St Peter, has never claimed any superiority. In reality, when our Lord says in the Gospel: ‘Thou art a rock and on this rock I will build my Church’, it refers not to some special authority given to Peter, it concerns all who confess Christ as the Son of the Living God. All who make this confession have authority, all who confess Christ truly are rocks and are granted the keys to the kingdom. This is the unanimous interpretation of all the Church Fathers, though it can be seen most clearly in the commentary on this passage in St Matthew’s Gospel by Blessed Augustine.
Another myth is that somehow the apostles Peter and Paul represent the ‘Eastern’ and the ‘Western’ Churches. This is nonsense, invented only a few decades ago. Both apostles were of Jewish race, both came from the east and went to the west. This same absurd theory is also found among certain people who imagine that the Church has two lungs, the ‘Eastern Church’ and the ‘Western Church’. Some call this theory ‘heretical’. I say to you that it is not heretical, it is blasphemous. For the Church is the Body of Christ, crucified and risen. How can the Body of Christ have only one lung? The Body of Christ is perfect and needs no apostles. The apostles are not lungs of the Church, they can only be diadems in Her crown. The Church does not belong to the apostles, in the words of the apostle Paul himself, the Church is not of Paul, of Apollos or of Cephas (I Cor 2, 12), the Church is Christ’s, the Church is His Body.
Another foolish theory of the same blasphemous order is somehow that three of the apostles represent different groups of Christian. Thus, St Peter represents Roman Catholics, St Paul the Protestants and St John the Orthodox. But how can the apostles Peter and Paul represent groups which broke away from the Church in the eleventh and sixteenth centuries, when they themselves lived and were martyred in the first century? Moreover, all the apostles belong to the Church, the Church does not belong to them, but to the Son of God.
Such foolish branch theories were anathematised by our free part of the Russian Church twenty-five years ago and by the rest of the Russian Church, when it became free in 2000, do not represent the Church. Thus, to speak of ‘the Separation of the Churches’ is to speak without understanding that the Church can never be separated or divided, only people can fall away from the Church, taking with them only part of Church Truth, partial truths which will inevitably become mangled, subtracted from or added to further, in the course of time. Thus, we should also be careful in using the phrase ‘the Undivided Church’, since this phrase, misused, could suggest that somehow the Church can be divided. She cannot. The Church is Undivided and will remain Undivided until the end of time.
Having spoken of these myths, what then can we say of the holy and glorious apostles Peter and Paul?
First of all, we can say that they were very different.
Peter was one of the twelve disciples. Paul was converted after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.
Peter was a fisherman, probably illiterate. Paul was a highly-educated rabbi.
Peter was a provincial from the back of beyond Galilee. Paul was a Roman citizen who was able to speak in public in sophisticated Athens.
Peter’s real name was Simon, meaning ‘he who obeys’ and his nickname was ‘Cephas’ in Aramaic or Petros in Greek, meaning ‘the rock’, because his confession of faith in Christ the Son of God was rock solid. Paul’s real name was Saul, meaning ‘the destroyer’, which was changed to Paul, meaning in Latin ‘short in height’ or ‘small’, no doubt because he was short and small.
Peter renounced Christ three times before His Crucifixion, which is why he had to repent three times after the Resurrection, answering Christ’s threefold question ‘Lovest thou me?’, as is related to us at the end of St John’s Gospel. Paul persecuted the Church and probably took part in the stoning of the First Martyr, the Archdeacon Stephen. Peter worked to convert the Jews, travelling to Egypt. Paul travelled everywhere he could and is known as ‘the apostle of the Gentiles’, the Non-Jews.
Despite all these differences, the two apostles had one vital thing in common.
This is that they both took part in the regenerative miracle of repentance. The disciple Simon showed obedience and faith, was called Peter – a rock – and so was given keys to the kingdom, as all who confess the faith. This is why today’s Gospel concerns him. And the persecutor Saul was converted on the road to Damascus, as is recounted in Acts Chapter 9, and so Saul became Paul. That is why today’s Epistle concerns him. Thus both apostles Peter and Paul entered Rome and their repentance was crowned with martyrdom.
Thus, together, they show us that the path to salvation is through faith and repentance.