Today we celebrated the Day of two Christian saints, Peter and Paul. Peter was one of Jesus’s disciples who tried to emulate his master and follow him in his footsteps but couldn’t quite do so. He was afraid to walk on water, and, despite his own expectations, refuted Jesus three times. Following the Resurrection, he became the leader of disciples and an ardent professor of faith.
Saul, on the other hand, was a staunch persecutor of Christians until the angel knocked him down and revealed God’s will. And so Saul became Paul and wrote many epistles to pagans and Christians alike. Caravaggio’ The Conversion of Saul depicts the moment of epiphany.
Both eventually martyred: Peter was crucified head down (at his own request), and Paul was beheaded for he was a Ronan citizen. As a result, Paul is often depicted with a sword, as in this painting by El Greco.
Paul may also be depicted with a book which is a nod to his literary activity, and Peter is portrayed with the keys to Kingdom of Heaven in his hand. In this Russian icon another aspect is noticeable: Peter is older and is always on the left side of the picture.
The saints were celebrated in Russia practically since the Christening, and the Cathedral of St Sophia in Kiev has the earliest surviving image of Peter in what was Ancient Rus.
The popular expression says “Peter and Paul reduce the day by an hour”. By August 2nd, St Elijah’s Day, the day will have lost two hours, which is commemorated in another expression.
The story of Peter and Paul is that of a person’s following his or her vocation with faith. At the beginning of this short fasting period I went to St Clement of Rome’s church where I wrote down something of my own epiphany, that Christianity is not about suffering but about faith and service. When one has found their vocation, they should follow it, not in the hope to martyr or to die a peaceful death, but in the determination to fulfill their vocation. Martyrdom or a good death is not the end in itself; the vocation is. The story of Peter and Paul is a good illustration of this thesis. After all, there were St Nicholas and St Spyridon of Trimythous who died a peaceful death but whose contribution to Christianity was no less than that of the apostles’.
There are two lessons Peter and Paul teach us. One, follow your vocation. And two, none of us is ever good enough for a task. Peter betrayed Christ but came to be the guardian of the heavenly Kingdom. Saul used to destroy Christians but eventually became the most ardent propagator of a new religion. Whatever we used to do in the past, we can always change our ways and start anew.
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