A sermon given on July 12, 2009 on the Feast of the Apostles
St. Peter and St. Paul
We thank our Lord Jesus Christ because He [provided] this opportunity to have the blessing of celebrating the holy liturgy in this blessed church on this day. And I have to congratulate you, all of you, for the Feast of the Martyrdom of our important apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul. I have the opportunity to extend to you all the blessing and prayers of our holy father, Pope Shenouda III, who is praying and caring [for] his flock all over the world. I am very thankful to the Fathers of the church for inviting me [on] such occasion to have the blessing of this service.
And we have [on] this day the opportunity to celebrate one of the important feasts of the church: the Feast of the Martyrdom of Saint Paul and Saint Peter. Both of them are honored in our church. We believe in the intercession of the saints and we believe that when we celebrate their feasts we [receive] the blessings of the celebration. And also, we look at their deeds and we have to follow them. The church is celebrating the martyrdom of both, although they are different personalities. Their lives were also different. Nevertheless, there are important [characteristics] that [we should] follow.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul were different apostles in many [ways] but there are some principles which they both lived by for the sake of the purity of the mission, for the fulfillment of the goals, and for glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ.
Saint Peter met Christ during His life. Saint Paul didn’t meet Christ until after His ascension. Saint Peter lived with Christ more than 3 years – something not done by Saint Paul. Saint Peter was married. Saint Paul was unmarried - a virgin. Saint Peter was a married fisherman. Saint Paul was a philosopher. St Peter [didn’t have] the opportunity to be taught by Gamaliel (one of the important teachers in the Jewish community). He was living by the river, living in a very humble way. But Saint Paul was taught by Gamaliel, one of the [highly] considered teachers in the Jewish community. Saint Peter preached to the Jews. Saint Paul preached mainly to the Gentiles. Saint Peter wrote only 2 epistles. But Saint Paul wrote 14 epistles. You [may note that] the words [of] St Peter are very simple. St Paul was very educated; he was a philosopher, even his books and epistles in the international libraries are in the philosophy department. There are many things [that differ between them].
[The differences are] not important; their similarities are more important. They followed Christ in a very honored and conservative way. Both fulfilled the commandment: "If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, bear the cross, and follow Me." Although they were different in many ways, the characteristics of their apostolic lives were the same. They expressed their real love of Jesus Christ by following Him from their hearts.
When the Lord Jesus Christ met Saint Peter on the shore, after he caught an abundance of fish, He told him that he would have to leave everything behind to follow Him. Although Peter was well-off and proud of his gains, he was asked to leave everything behind. Then Saint Peter left everything and followed Jesus Christ. When Saint Paul met Christ on the way to Damascus the Lord Jesus Christ called him to follow Him and go to Ananias to teach him about following Jesus Christ. He left everything.
So, in our community there are many differences: married and unmarried, educated and uneducated, man and woman, living here or living there in the Motherland. There are many things that differentiate us. But these differences are not important, they can’t prevent us from the real life of Christianity. What we can and must do is this: increase in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and to follow His commandments. We can't say that we can't follow Jesus Christ in the Diaspora. The Diaspora is different than the Motherland. Jesus Christ is the same here and there. Jesus Christ can help me here as He helped me there. Jesus Christ can work in me in spite of the personality differences between the members of the church.
We feel the importance of real fellowship and the real desire to follow our Lord Jesus Christ. It is important for me to forsake the things that prevent me from the real fellowship with Jesus Christ. Saint Peter left the following behind: fish, ships, shores, friends, and entertainment. Saint Paul was a distinguished person in the Jewish community. He knew that he would have to leave this community: he would lose his [social standing], and many gains. He decided that “Everything I left is dust.” [Arabic interjection] “Everything I have left is rubbish.” Saint Peter left everything and followed Jesus Christ. Christ said to him, “Go to the depths, and throw your nets." He caught an abundance of fish. Jesus Christ found that these fish would prevent him from following Him. So He told him, "Peter, it is good to have fish but you must leave everything and follow Me." Then he left everything - a total, a real obedience to Christ. Saint Paul too had total and real obedience to Christ even though he left much behind.
How can we experience this life of happiness? We have to leave many things for the sake of Christ, we have to leave many things for the sake of Everlasting Life. We have to leave many things. Every day we are introduced to many things which attract the people of God. Things that we follow and that make us anxious. Every day the media gives us a model of life that attracts the people of God. But God’s people know, feel, and believe that it is very important to follow Christ. In the depth of obedience to Christ we have to live happily, joyfully, without any hesitation because we believe [in Him]. We must follow Christ regardless of: changes in the community, changes between the Homeland and the Diaspora, media attractions, worldly attractions, varieties, young age, or old age. There are many attractions in this community but the [true child of] Christ feels and recognizes the real obedience to Christ.
Peter was in a situation. He was poor and in one night or in one hour he became very rich. He has ships filled with fish. Saint Paul was a distinguished member of the Jewish community, honored with a body guard, and [going about] with authority. But when Jesus met him and called him to come to follow Him, he left everything.
Although there are differences in community, and country we have Christ. And we must feel the importance of real fellowship [with Him]. We follow Him to express real obedience, real love, real belief in Eternal Life, real belief that in Christ we can do everything which it is impossible in the world. We have to believe that in Christ we are able to reach to the goal which [was] given by our Lord Jesus Christ. On the Feast of St Peter and St Paul we meditate [on] the differences between them, recognizing that they were similar in how they followed Christ. They followed Chris in a real obedience leaving everything for the love of His sake remembering that Eternal Life must be purchased [yageb an nashtaree el abadeya]. We have to feel the importance of gaining our Eternal Life. We have to love Eternal Life – it is so precious. So if we feel the importance of our Eternal Life, we must feel the importance of [its worth]. It’s cost is real obedience, real fellowship, real following of Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless us all now and forever, Amen.