Sermon: You should always strive to reach the Kingdom of Heaven

Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)

On the feast of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul.

In the name of the father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost!

All over the world their teachings will spread, in each corner of the universe their prophecy will be heard (Psalms, 18:5). By these words king and prophet David glorifies the saint Apostles, who were destined to spread the wisdom of Gospel all over the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, today the Church of Christ is dressed in festal clothes and spiritually glorifies two great apostles – Peter and Paul. All the apostles worked on the establishment of the Church, but Apostles Peter and Paul made the greatest contribution. For their fervent faith and love to God and their close ones they are called the Supreme Apostles. The whole Christ’s Church appreciates all they have done, all the diseases, sorrows, persecutions, and disasters they have suffered while they were spreading the faith and turning people from the darkness of pageantry to the light of Christ.

Saint Apostle Peter (he was also called Kifa or Simon) was from the small city of Vifsaida, and he was a fisherman. After he had been summoned, he followed Christ relentlessly and was honored to become His favorite disciple, as well as Jacob and John the Evangelist. These three apostles became the witnesses of many divine mysteries. Saint Peter was loyal to God until his died. However, he forsook God in the high priest’s garden because of his cowardice. But he redeemed that betrayal with hot tears of repentance. After the Resurrection of Christ, God asked him three times: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” (John, 21:15). Then he was restored in his position of apostle.

At first apostle Peter was preaching Gospel mostly among the Jews in Jerusalem, but then he moved to Samaria, Syria, Ashiya, Bithynia, Pont, and Galatia. Finally, he came to Rome, where he was imprisoned. His martyrdom proved his loyalty to God and faith. In 67 A.D. he was crucified head down. The story says, that when Emperor Nero began the persecution of Christians in Rome, the Christians asked apostle Peter to leave the land. Finally he did so, and when he was going through the outskirts of Rome he saw Christ on his way, Who was going towards him. He asked: “Dear Lord, where are You going?” “To be crucified again”, - answered God to him. So that Peter understood that it was time, when he had to spill his blood for Christ. He came back to the city and was sentenced to death by Emperor Nero. Apostle Peter considered himself unworthy to be executed in the same way as Christ was. He asked to crucify him head down and so it was fulfilled.

What concerns Apostle Paul (whose first name was Saul), we know he was from the city of Tars. Before the conversion he was a persecutor of Christians, who tracked them down and martyrized them. One day, when he was going to Damascus to pursue Christians, he saw a flash of light and heard the voice:

“Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord?
And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
And the Lord said unto him,
Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts, 9:4-6).

That divine light made him blind. But when we came back to his city, he was baptized by Christ’s disciple Ananias, and recovered his sight at once. Thus he turned from a persecutor into a loyal preacher of Christian faith. Since that time apostle Paul became the chosen one, who had to preach the Gospel all over the pagan world. He was preaching in Asia Minor and Greece. He crossed on foot the whole world and tried to plant a seed of piety everywhere and to bring people to God. He understood well, that the preaching of  the Gospel is rather important for people’s lives and salvation. That is why he was preaching heartily, although he suffered from severe opposition of pagans. They endured more grief and temptation than we can count.

Let us see what the Apostle himself says about this: “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Corinthians, 11:23-29)

These are the feats, the love to God and people which were typical to Saint Apostle Paul. Saint John Chrysostom said about Saint Paul’s love, that it was wider that see and stronger than fire. The holy soul of Apostle Paul’s covered the whole universe and embraced everyone, because he considered our relationships through God to be stronger than any other relationships.

Saint Paul loved people so much, that there was no father who could love his own child more. In spite of all the dangers and deprivations Saint Apostles Peter and Paul rejoiced in hope, as they knew that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts, 14:22). And their feat of benign acceptance of all the sorrows should be an example for us. When problems cause, we used to grieve and depress. And then we grumble at God, and then fear and annoyance grasp our hearts. But this is not how the Holy Fathers teach us to overcome oppression.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian once said: “If those, who want to get material wealth suffer from dangers and setbacks, then we, who tend to reach the Kingdom of God and relish it forever, must despise any difficulties and dangers. Because if we would not heartily endure any work and would not humbly cry bitter tears, then how can we reap what we deserved there, on the other side? If you could reach the Kingdom without any grief and temptation and without the feat of patience and other goodness, then what for God made the saints to suffer, but not let them live in luxury and self-will? That is why we should not despond in case of oppression, but rejoice we can go the paths of the saint fathers”.

Saint John the John Chrysostom teaches: “The souls can be cleared when it suffers from oppression in the name of God. Oppression roots out arrogance and makes the soul wiser. All the passions, such as jealousy, lechery, predilection to wealth, arrogance, fear and many others spiritual diseases cede to oppression. Sorrow for the soul means the same as fire roe gold. It makes the soul clean from corruption, makes it bright and clear. Grief leads us to the Kingdom, but carelessness – to hell mouth”.

Pious people knew the meaning of oppression and even worried when everything was good for too long. Thus one of the Fathers told a story to another one: “Once, when I came to Alexandria and visited a cathedral to pray, I saw there a woman dressed in black. She was crying and praying without cease: “God, you left me alone. Dear Lord, have mercy upon me!”. “It seems the woman is a widow and someone has abused her, that is why she is so sorrowful” – I thought. I decided to come closer and to speak to her. I said: “It seems someone has abused you, because you are very sad.” “No” – she answered still crying – “This is not the reason. I live among people and no one offends me. So I cry, because God forgets about me, just like I forget about Him. I’ve been living without any grief for three years. I was not sick, neither was my son. No chicken was stolen from me. That is why I think, that God doesn’t sent me any sorrow, as He has left me because of my sins. And now I am asking Him to have mercy and bless me with His grace.” Pious people considered any oppression to be the sign of God’s grace and love.

Dear brothers and sisters. In our lives we often face different problems and sorrows. That is why to cope with them with humble and patience we should to pray heartily to Saint Apostles Peter and Paul, our patron saints, and ask them to pray for us and help us to cope with our arrogance, to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to get enduring love to our Lord, purity of life, and meekness and humility.

First-enthroned of the apostles, teachers of the universe: Entreat the Master of all to grant peace to the world, and to our souls great mercy! (Saint Apostles Peter and Paul Troparion, Tone 4)


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