"We worthily exalt the all-praiseworthy Peter and Paul, the defender of the rock of the Church, and the net of the world."--Sessional Hymn I, Matins of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
Glory to Jesus Christ! The fast has ended, and the feast begun: we now celebrate the all-glorious Prime Apostles, Peter and Paul. We can see this feast as the final feast in continuation of Pentecost, which in turn continues Pascha, and thus the Great Fast, and thus Theophany, and thus even Nativity. For we can see a progression in time in many of our great feasts, beginning with the Nativity. We celebrate Christ's birth, and then His Baptism and the manifestation of the Trinity to the world, the great Theophany. Not long thereafter, we walk the way of the Cross during the Fast, remembering in part Christ's temptation in the desert falling His Baptism, and in part those days when He approached His death. At the end of the Fast, we remember His glorious entrance into Jerusalem and the following events: the betrayal, the Mystical Supper, and then "the Cross, the nails, the spear, and death." Yet death is not the end, of course: for then comes the greatest feast, the Feast of Feasts, all-glorious Pascha. For forty days we celebrate Pascha, and then we wait in eager anticipation of Pentecost. At Pentecost, the Spirit descended on the Theotokos and the Apostles and impelled them to preach the Gospel to all. Yet we do not cease our remembrances there: for a few weeks after Pentecost, after fasting, we celebrate this feast, the feast of the Prime Apostles, who were inspired by the Spirit given at Pentecost. Finally, we have in a month and a half the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Mother of God. As the Church Year comes to a close, we remember her dormition; yet shortly after it opens (September 1), we remember her nativity (September 8), and from there the cycle begins again, with Philip's Fast and the celebration of the Lord's Nativity.
So this feast is no isolated remembrance: it is joined to the rest of salvation history which we remember, for it is intimately joined with Pentecost that precedes it. The rock of the Church, Peter, was the first to preach that day, and his were the words that cut the Jews to the heart, circumcising their hearts, and leading to the great conversion of thousands. Yet, though we have stories of many conversions that occurred through St. Peter, he is the rock, and not the net. For it is Paul, formerly Saul, who spread the Gospel across all the known world. He is truly the net of the world, as is obvious if we merely look at the many maps formulated to show his missionary journeys. Look at the addressees of his epistles: Rome in Western Europe, Thessalonica in Greece, Ephesus in Asia Minor, Titus in Crete. He spoke of even wishing to travel to Spain to preach the Word, as St. James did.
These two Prime Apostles had different, yet complementary, roles. After all, there are many gifts, but the same Spirit, and this is true of these two. Peter was the leader, the rock. He preached some, he wrote some, yet his role was to lead the Apostles and the Church, for this was the role given him by Christ. He was no autocrat, and he was not called to answer every question of every local Church. He was to lead his own flock, as the other apostles were, yet he was also to guide the rest of the churches when necessary. This did not mean he was perfect, even after Pentecost, as is evident in St. Paul's famous rebuke to him in Antioch. But he was called to be "the defender of the rock of the Church," the one whose special gift and role was to keep the Church in unity when error or anger strove to tear her apart.
While Peter was the rock, Paul was the net. For I have already discussed many of his missionary endeavors throughout the world. Yet besides his many travels to preach, he also preached through the written Word. It is from him that we have so much of the text of the New Testament: his epistles comprise a large amount of these Scriptures. These were the words that affected his addressees to such an extent that they were circulated and proclaimed in the liturgy, for they are the authentic teaching of the Apostles. So he caught the world in the net of the Gospel not just with his physical travels, but with his words, which resound through all the earth.
Let us, then, rightly praise these two Prime Apostles, with differing graces yet the same Spirit, being differing members of the same Body. Let us recognize the graces the Lord has given us, and let us live them; and let us, too, recognize the graces the Lord has given to others, for all of them are for the edification of His Body, the Church. Let us thank the Lord for the glorious gift of Sts. Peter and Paul, the rock and the net, and let us extol Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for His are the kingdom and the power and the glory unto the ages of ages.
Nota Bene: The opening quote is from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute.