Feast of the Apostles Peter
Exegesis of vespers Readings
June 29 2011
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we read the epistles of Saint Peter. Tomorrow we will read the epistle of Saint Paul for the Feast of Saint Peter and Paul. They are very different, because they came from different backgrounds. Of course, Peter was a fisherman. He was simple, and was not highly educated. He was very forthright in how he wrote; he wrote simply and directly. There was always application to what he wrote.
Saint Paul was different. He was highly educated, highly intelligent, and much of what he wrote was very, very complicated and difficult to understand, and there is great application in his teaching. But there is also a lot of very deep and difficult complex theology. You don’t see that with Saint Peter.
What I see with Saint Peter perhaps you do too. I see a very wise grandfather who has lived a good and long life and learned many of life’s lessons, imparting his wisdom to his children and to his grandchildren, and doesn’t have to speak with citations and proofs. He speaks with authority, and he speaks with experience. This is the way that Saint Peter writes, and also the way that Saint John the Theologian writes as well.
If you look at the epistles of Peter, you will see that they are all about moral admonitions based upon what God has done for us, what Jesus Christ has done for us. He generally will give a moral admonition and say, because of this, or might say something that is wonderful that God has done and then tell us what we should do.
This is the Christian life, and I would say that Saint Peter’s epistles and Saint John’ s epistles, more than any of the other apostles or the other letters of the Scripture, have shaped my preaching because, really, life is aboutperfection, and Saint Peter gets right to the point.
Saint Paul gives the groundwork, and it’s very necessary to have that groundwork for the Church to be safe from heresy. But Saint Peter is like, as I said, a holy grandfather sitting by the fire, perhaps, let’s say, and teaching with authority from his life experience.
He begins his first letter, after giving a little bit of a salutation,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ which according to His abundant mercy had begotten us again unto a livelihood by the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.”
And he goes on and says a few more things. And then what does he say?
“Wherein ye greatly rejoiced. Though now for a season if need be are in heaviness through manifold temptations.”
He knew what his flock was going through. They were going through periods of persecution. And even if there are not periods of persecution, perhaps we would say that we are not being persecuted now, although the Christian faith is being heavily persecuted around the world, and it will come here soon, very soon; it’s already coming in bits and pieces. Mostly it’s political now and economic, but it will happen. Even if there is not persecution that is direct, there is heaviness because of the difficulties of life. But if we are like Peter, we remember what God has done for us. We remember that He has given us a lively hope or a love that turned afraid.
Lively. Our hope is not dead. Our hope is alive. Our hope is full of life. It is refreshing like the Holy Spirit refreshes as a wellspring of water. So it is lively. We should not forget this because there are times in our life that are difficult. We must remember, we were called to this lively hope, and because of this lively hope we will sometimes suffer.
At the end of this first reading, after speaking of asking his flock to endure because of this lively hope, he says,
“Receiving the end of your faith even the salvation of your souls.”
This is the purpose of what we go through. We should never forget it.
We don’t do things for no reason. Peter didn’t do things for no reason. The reason why he labored as an apostle was because of his great love for the Lord.
Now, we didn’t read this today, but the last one of the eleven resurrectional Gospels - have Peter figuring prominently. There was the fishing and then they brought the fish to land of course, and Peter had pulled the fish, a hundred and fifty and three, and though there were so many, the net was not broken, and then they sat down to eat.
And Jesus restored Peter by saying three times, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” And He used the word for love that is the highest word possible, agape, the love that God has for us and that we should have for God. And by extension, since we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is like the first Commandment, we should love our neighbor with this love. This is a pure love, an unselfish love. And each time of the first two that Jesus asked, Do you love Me with this love of God, Peter answered, I have great affection for You. This is a lower love, more of a human kind of love, certainly a good love to have, but not the love of God.
And the third time Jesus changed and says, Do you have affection for Me? And Peter was grieved, the Gospel tells us, because the third time the Lord changed the word. But Peter still didn’t have courage enough to say that he loved God with a love that God has for us. So he said, I have affection for Thee, three times in answering the Lord.
But we see in the end of Peter’s life when he writes his epistles, if the Lord were to ask him this question again, he would emphatically say, Yea, Lord, I love Thee with the love that Thou has for me. He loved the Lord with not just an affection, not just a great attachment, but a perfect love, because he was perfected by his trials.
And so he is sharing with us that there is another side to these trials. There is the perfection of our faith, the salvation of our souls. He speaks with experience. We should understand this. It means much more when you know some measure of man, the one who was timid about saying, I love thee as Thou lovest me, and afraid to say it. But in the end of his life he spoke with conviction. His epistles are permeated with great love for God. St. John’s are the same way. There is this confidence, absolute knowledge of God’s love, that permeates both of the writings of the Apostle John and the Apostle Peter.
In the second reading he says,
“Wherefore gird up your loins of your mind, and be sober and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
There are only a couple of sentences removed from the first reading still in what we would call the first chapter. So he’s again making a moral application. Girding up your loins means being ready, being ready to fight. Not to fight against man, but to fight; as the Lord said, the Kingdom of Heaven is being won by violence.
It goes on to say,
“As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: (15) But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (conduct)”
These words really resonate for me right now because I see a complete breakdown of morality that is happening in our society, and it is happening even among those in the Church. As a pastor, I pay attention to some certain mailing lists and, I’ll tell you, it is frightening how easily people will say what is politically correct and believe it with all their heart. There are many that would believe that any type of sexual expression, if it is supposedly monogamous, is okay because it’s about people loving one another. And of course the Scripture recoils against this idea. Scripture recoils against lusts and against fornication and certainly against unnatural sexual expression.
And yet there are many who do not experience the words of Saint Peter who believe the things that are said by our politicians, and they’re swept away. We should not be like this.
There’s only one way to avoid being swept away, brothers and sisters.
It’s not by studying the Scriptures and making sure
you know, what the Church teaches about this, this and this; to know what
they teach about sexuality, and know what they teach about fasting. No, these
things by themselves are not going to help you.
Of course, you should know those things. I’m not against studying those things; I do - But what will help you is if you live with conviction as Saint Peter obviously did.
Then, in your heart you know what is right and what is wrong and it’s obvious to you what lust is and what good desire is, because God will reveal it to you just as He revealed it to Peter. So we must live in this way. You must, when you read the epistles of Peter - and I recommend that you do several times a year - understand that he is writing from conviction because of how he lived. He experienced it. We must experience this.
If Christians experienced holiness, they wouldn’t be saying foolish things about monogamous relationships of unnatural kind, because they would understand in their heart about holiness.
This is very, very important.
This is how we fight the immorality of the age:
By living in a moral way.
By living with conviction.
Now, you see that Peter went through ups and downs. He made some serious errors. He denied our Lord three times, a very serious and grievous sin. But he had great strength of character. He did not abandon the Lord even after he had denied Him. And the Lord restored him.
So we can see that there is no sin that we could commit that the Lord will not restore us. But we must have an inner conviction in our heart about the Lord, that He is true, that only the things that He gives us have meaning and nothing else has meaning.
Then we will be able to read the epistles of Peter and have every word resonate with us and know that they are true, not because we say, “well, it’s in the Bible and it’s true.” - but because we feel the resonance of the words from experience.
We must do this if we are to be saved, especially in this world now that is calling righteousness, sin; and sin, righteousness. And will eventually, I believe in my lifetime, it will be successful in large part, in calling righteousness mental illness.
We must be ready for this.
We must be ready by living a moral life, and then you will have conviction, and you will not believe the great lie because you will be living like Peter did - with conviction. This is how we must be.
The night is stretching on; it’s getting late. I’d like to talk about the next epistle, but that is enough for now. Please, read the epistles of Peter with expectation that he would reach out to you, because he can, and enlighten you with God being his helper and our helper, to know the truth by living it.
This is very, very important. Saint Paul is important too. Perhaps, overall, if one can actually say such a thing, Saint Paul perhaps is more important in keeping our theology intact, our dogmatic theology safe, because it was attacked in many places and many times by many robbers, and Saint Paul’s writings were instrumental in protecting the church. Saint Peter, though, has his place as does Saint John. They write from authority because they lived in the way that they wrote. Of course, Saint Paul did too. But there is a different perspective.
So I recommend to you, if you can, tomorrow, read the epistles of Saint Peter with expectation.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.
Transcribed by the hand of Helen; may the Lord save her and her loved ones.
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 1 Peter 1:3
 There is a repeating cycle of 11 Resurrection Gospels, each read in its turn at Sunday Matins. The first is form Mark, the second two are from Mark, the next three are from Luke, and the last five from John, They all detail events from the end of the Gospels, from the day of the Resurrection onwards. These are among the most important AND LEAST LISTENED TO Gospels in the church year, since most Christians do not consider Matins to be an important service, judging from their attendance. This is a great tragedy for them. We cannot hear or meditate enough about the resurrection, and in the Matins service, there is a great grace that increased the understanding when we hear these scriptures.
 This stuff is really important, and therefore has been mentioned in other homilies,. This one - http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-saints-06-29_2008-07-12+holy-apostles-peter-and-paul.html has a more lengthy discourse about the kinds of love “agape” and “phileo” and why the way Christ asked and Peter answered is significant. Also in Word form: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-saints-06-29_2008-07-12+holy-apostles-peter-and-paul.doc and Audio: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-saints-06-29_2008-07-12+holy-apostles-peter-and-paul.mp3
 The word for love used by Christ the first two times is “agape” which denotes the highest, purest love. It is the love of God for us and the love we should have for God. It is the perfect fulfillment of the Greatest commandment, and certainly by extension, since the “second one is like it”, the way we must love everyone. “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, (36) Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (37) Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (40) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mat 22:35-40 KJV) – footnote taken from http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-saints-06-29_2008-07-12+holy-apostles-peter-and-paul.doc
 Agape – the highest love.
phileō - to be a friend of, to have affection for (Philadelphia Pennsylvania is known as the city of brotherly love)
Eros – often refers to erotic love. Ibid.
 1 Peter 1:13
 Mat 11:12 KJV “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”
 1Peter 1:14-15 KJV
 This homily was given at the Vigil for the Apostles Peter and Paul, between Vespers and Matins. Because of work schedules,
the service did not begin until about 7:45 pm.
 The last blessing of Vespers, when served at a vigil after which the Six Psalms immediately begin.
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