Becoming New Peters and Pauls
Archpriest Andrei Efanov
From the very beginning of Christ’s proclamation of the glad tidings, the Apostle Peter was right next to the God-Man. He saw the multitude of healings and raisings from the dead that the Lord performed; he was present both on Tabor and in Gethsemane; he received Communion at the Mystical Supper; and he was the first to confess Christ as God.
But except the Lord build the house, in vain do they labour that build it (Psalm 126:1). Simon did not become Peter until the Lord renewed him. His threefold denial of Christ demonstrates that human weakness can be very great.
But this betrayal did not extinguish Peter’s love for His Teacher. His words to Christ – Thou knowest that I love Thee – were not empty, because Christ replied to them with words full of confidence: Feed my sheep (John 21).
Renewed by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter became a zealous preacher of the Gospel who was no longer afraid of suffering and death, but ascended the cross in the steps of His Divine Teacher.
The Apostle Paul first appears to us as a persecutor of Christianity, taking part in the first Christian persecution in church history: the execution of the Apostle Stephen. To him, a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” Christianity seemed like a dangerous heresy.
But love for God saved him. The Lord revealed the truth to Paul, who went from being a persecutor to one of the most fertile plants in Christ’s field. His entire life became a living witness to how God’s grace can transform the soul, wholly filling it with the aspiration to serve the Supreme Truth without reservation.
Nowadays it is often said that the Apostles’ Fast arose as a sign of solidarity with those who were unable to fast during Great Lent and who thus used this time to make up for their omission. But this fast has another, equally important meaning. The Lord said that His disciples would fast when the Bridegroom shall be taken away (cf. Mark 2:18-20).
Our spiritual condition is often that of losing Christ, to one degree or another. In order to acquire strength of faith (inasmuch as lack of faith is driven out by prayer and fasting), we impose abstinence and increased prayer on ourselves. We can await the gift of God: His renewing and strengthening grace.
But why do we not become new Peters and Pauls by the day of their feast? What prevents us from acquiring such zeal? The main obstacle, it seams, is our own indolence. Because of it, we cannot sincerely repeat after the Apostles: Lo, we have left all, and have followed Thee (Mark 10:28).
Something always gets in the way: earthly inclinations, attachments, and habits that might not be especially sinful, but that are dangerous in that they become fine but impenetrable barriers between freedom in Christ and the narrow confines of our customary existence. On many farms in Australia, in place of a gate they place a frame hung with strips of rustling material. There is free passage, but animals still cannot pass through.
It is the same with our spiritual lives: it seems that there is not the slightest obstacle to the life in Christ, but a shadowy veil of worldly habits, which makes life in Christian freedom seem difficult, prevents us from fully opening up to God, from standing before God and following Christ.
The Lord commanded us faithful to “take up our cross and follow Me” (Matthew 10:38). But this call should not frighten us, For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Each of us can gauge the burden of sin based on his own experience of life.
The world of sin is limited. C. S. Lewis says that the entirely of hell would not contain even a single apple from the threshold of Paradise. The fast is the best time to leave behind the limitations of sin and to surrender to God’s wide expanses. This is not first and foremost about food: what is most important is one’s own spiritual disposition. The special prayers and the recognition that many other faithful Christians are fasting with you make the soul more amenable to accepting God in one’s heart.
Frequent Communion renews one entirely: not only the soul, but even the body is made to participate in God. Even if we often lose this divine gift quickly, this encounter with eternity does not pass by unnoticed.
Day by day, Communion by Communion, a Christian is gradually pulled out from the state of sinful affliction, being renewed from flesh to spirit.
Sometimes a fall comes after a time of spiritual ascent. We are weak, and modern man is not just doubly weak, but weak many times over. But not every fall should serve as an occasion for despondency. On the contrary, seeing the example of the chief Apostles, we can and should rise from the sleep of sin and put on the full armor of Christ.
If Peter, who denied Christ three times, could regain his apostolic dignity by his love; and if Paul, the passionate persecutor of Christianity, could become a wondrous preacher of the glad tidings, then nothing prevents our own spiritual perfection.
It is important not to rely on ourselves, recognizing that we are only God’s fellow workers in our salvation, that without Me ye can do nothing (John 15:5), and doing everything within our power.
Everything else is done by the Lord Himself, Who is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” In this shared labor, we await results of which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man (1 Corinthians 2:9). Namely, we can become not just righteous, but sons of the Kingdom. This is not only a gift of God, but the Lord’s plan for every person.
So let us follow Christ along with Peter and Paul, not in splendid isolation, but with our brothers and sisters in Christ – with those who, like us, have heard the Holy Spirit’s call in their hearts and not remained indifferent!