By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
At Great Vespers on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
Saint Paul Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Hempstead, New York
June 28, 2022
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I rejoice to be with you tonight as we enter the feast of your heavenly patron, the Apostle to the Nations, Saint Paul.
The feast of this beautiful cathedral is cause for much celebration, although you may have pain in your hearts because your former assistant priest, Father Constantine, took up his own pastorate in Youngstown, Ohio. You were a very good community for him, and he was a very good priest for you. You should be proud of all he has learned from you and that he will pass on the pastoral experience he has mastered here – especially under the tutelage of Father Chris – and pass it on to others. Your benefit will become their benefit, and that is a deeply Christian gift to give.
Just like your patron saint, who prepared dozens of leaders in the early Church, this cathedral prepared many, many clergy to go forth and serve the faithful throughout the Archdiocese. It is the mark of a true leader that they see their own success in the agency of others. Therefore, I would say without hesitation that St. Paul’s Cathedral is a true leader of our Church.
The leadership you give to the Church still resembles your patron, whom we celebrate with Saint Peter. We usually see these two saints together, standing in an icon and holding a model church, and they usually share a brotherly kiss of peace and love.
But why do we show them like this? Well, that’s because they fought and they argued. As you may know, it was St. Paul who ultimately prevailed, which was about something that we wouldn’t even be discussing today, because it’s been settled since the very early days of the Church. .
The argument was: Do Gentile converts have to convert to Judaism before they can be baptized? St. Peter thought it best that they did, even though he was conflicted about it.
On the other hand, Saint Paul declared that in Christ:
There is neither Jew nor Greek; slave nor free; male nor female. For, you are all one in Christ Jesus.*
Paul openly challenged Peter on this, even though Peter was the leader of the first band of disciples and had been with our Lord from the beginning of his earthly ministry. So why do we show them in our icons exchanging the brotherly kiss of peace? Because at the end of the day, they were attached to the love of God and the love for each other. The greatest commandment of all: Ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους – “Love one another”. †
That same love permeates this St. Paul’s Cathedral. Because love is the one thing that will never fail us and will endure when all else passes.
In the life of the Church there are often disagreements, even disputes, about the best course of action. Even holy people like Saints Peter and Paul used to argue – and their feast is celebrated worldwide by Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants!
But they argued out of principle, not out of pride. To seek God’s truth, not to seek their own gain. From their desire to increase the ministry of the Church, not a desire to inflate their own ego.
They teach us a most valuable lesson. We can disagree – even strongly – as long as we never lose our commitment to love God and each other. Remember, Saints Peter and Paul died in the same persecution in Rome. Saint Paul by the sword and Saint Peter by the cross. But they both died out of love for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us therefore embrace their love, which we see in the icons of the Church, and implore them to inspire us with such love, so that we too may become beacons of love in our Church and throughout the world.