The feast of the holy, glorious, all praiseworthy and chief apostles Peter and Paul is the feast day of our cathedral parish.

The first line of the irmos of the day expresses the sentiment of the feast well when it says:

O my soul magnify Peter, the solid rock of Christ’s church

And Paul her chosen vessel.

It is a dual feast of two apostles who stand at the foundation of the Church. Because of that it is also a major feast of the Church itself. They are equal to one another in dignity because of their function. They stand out in the New Testament accounts of their ministry. An account of their respective biographies as narrated in the Bible would take far more time and space than we have allocated here. So we will confine ourselves to the readings of the day which give us what is central and outstanding about each of them.

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Let me turn to Peter first. The most prominent duty assigned to him in his ministry is to strengthen the brothers and sisters in the faith. He preserves the gospel tradition and reliably interprets it. The New Testament makes it clear that the Petrine Ministry is exercised collegially even Peter remains the head of the college. The ministry of Peter is also to preserve the unity of the universal Church understood as unity under the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Matthew also gives us the classic account of the ministry of Peter. It contains three verses. First Peter is blessed by Jesus and is addressed as Simon, Bar Jona. This makes room for a second move where the name Petros meaning stone or rock, upon which the Church is built, is bestowed upon Peter by Jesus. Finally the keys are presented to Peter as the guarantor and guardian of the gospel.

However, Paul claims equality with the other apostles; he goes to consult Peter to receive confirmation of the authority of his ministry. Peter and the other apostles accept him, but there is conflict. The issue is the mission to the Gentiles. Peter and the Jerusalem apostles are reluctant to accept or endorse the mission to the Gentiles. Paul wins his fight for a Church which is truly inclusive in obedience to the universal gospel of Christ.

In today’s Church too there will sometimes be similar struggles over what pastoral practices are essential to being truly the Church founded by Jesus and therefore to be prioritized.  We should not be shocked by this but like Peter and Paul we should struggle to find what compromises will best serve the kingdom of God.

A rather strange passage is quoted in support of Paul. In his own words he is talking like a fool when he boasts of his life for Christ. We need to understand that Paul lives, breathes and sleeps in Christ. Anything that takes him away from Christ sends him into a fury. That is exactly the case here where he is addressing such an issue with the Corinthians. Thus we come to know a great deal about the inner spiritual life of Paul.

The readings of this feast give us just a hint of the comprehensive account of both apostles in the world off the New Testament.

Fr Brian Kelty