Two men more unlike each other can hardly be found, and yet here they are, cheek to cheek, the father and father of the Church, proving that there is more than mere flesh and blood involved in spiritual parenthood.
"What is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Yet the flesh is not to be discounted, for that is what we are made of to begin with, where we start from, but that is not where we end up.
Today is the commemoration of holy apostles Peter and Paul. The ikons show their appearance as it has been handed over to us generation after generation. I love it that the family is so faithful in keeping the treasury of faith intact. Peter is always shown with a head of thick white or gray hair and a short beard and mustache, an industrious and fair small businessman. Paul always has his characteristically balding pate, his hair and mustache dark, his beard and sidelocks curly, just as you would expect of a man who was groomed to be a great rabbinical scholar in Israel.
Did they ever really hug each other like this? Well, probably not often, but even once would be enough to warrant it being recorded on spiritual film. Two men almost fated by their backgrounds to be enemies, or at least to feel superior to each other. The one a man of the people, roughly educated, speaking just enough Greek to trade and just enough Hebrew to pray, attending to the business of wife and family and providing others with a livelihood, a small town fisherman, careful of his affairs, clannish with his friends, loyal, trusty and true. The other, a cosmopolitan man of some means, a tent-maker probably by hereditary trade, though trained for better things, the study of Tanakh—the Torah (law), the Nevi'im (prophets) and the Ketuvim (writings)—unmarried because not yet a rabbi worthy of a wife, Greek and Hebrew second nature to him, Aramaic for dealing with all classes of men, prepared to meet every man on his own ground, a man for all seasons.
Our ikons and paintings show them together, but this is a spiritual unity not a historical and personal one, for little did they actually collaborate in their preaching of the Good News. Between them, though, the Lord who chose them, "you have not chosen Me, I have chosen you" (John 15:16), has all the bases covered until the end of time, with the help, of course, of the other ten. When we see Peter in the ikon, we should remember that it is not he alone, but all the original apostles, that are there represented. The holy eleven, or twelve if you count Matthias who was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot, are with Peter. And among them all, there is not a single one that is not a friend for our inmost soul.
They walked with the Lord. They were present for most of His miracles. They touched Him, ate with Him, lived with Him. He slept in their presence, and they in His. They were as close as a band of brothers could be. Their fellowship seemed impenetrable, but for the intrusion of the "one untimely born" Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8), who would not have been found walking with them and with Jesus during His three year mission. He had more important things to do then, to sit at the feet of the sages of Israel thirstily drinking in their words, so that he would become worthy of their company and fellowship. If Paul had been among the Pharisees who knew and met Jesus, like Nikodemos and Joseph, he wouldn't have been quiet about it. But no, he admits to having been born "too late."
We are now at the end of the Apostles' Fast, and tomorrow the rest of the holy apostles will be commemorated. With them we share the Good News of the Kingdom, of the Living One, Jesus the Christ, "the Word co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, born of the virgin for our salvation" (Ton synanarchon Logon, Resurrectional Apolytikion, Tone 5). We are not imprisoned as holy apostle John was on Patmos, "for having preached God's Word and witnessed for Jesus" (Revelation 1:9). We are still free to do these things, there is still a little more time left for us to go out into the field of the world to the harvest of souls.
What is keeping us idle? What treasure have we counted more precious than the death of God's Son which has granted us eternal life and great mercy?
Now is the acceptable time of the Lord, now if ever, the fields are white for the harvest, and the sower and reaper rejoice together, to reap what in reality they have not worked for, to reap what others have planted, following Jesus the Lord of the harvest, who says,
"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters" (Luke 11:23).
Though it be the eleventh hour, come, brethren, labor on.
The Lord of the harvest is always ready for us.
Let's not just honor the apostles.
Let's join them.