“The feast of Peter and Paul and the Birth of John the Baptist are ranked as great feasts, after those of Christ and the Theotokos. Icons of the apostles grouped at the Ascension or at Pentecost always picture Peter and Paul at the head of the assembly, although, historically, Paul was not present at either.
The rapid spread of the early Church is due mainly to these two apostles. Peter was crucified in Rome during the time of Nero in 61 AD. He was married and worked as a fisherman with his brother Andrew in Galilee. When the Twelve were called, Peter took up the role of senior. He openly acknowledged Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah. Although he faltered during Christ’s passion, he still remained first. Peter called for an election to replace Judas. He was the first to preach on Pentecost, and the first to heal and to raise the dead. Peter was, above all, a man of great faith. This earned for him the name Rock, and the assurance from Christ that the Church would be built on such faith.
Paul was born in Tarsus, outside the Jewish homeland. He was a Hellenized Jew, at home in the Graeco-Roman culture. Thus, he was well-qualified by background and personality to be apostle to the Gentiles. Over half of the chapters in the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to Paul’s missionary activity. Thirteen of Paul’s letters, in the New Testament, portray the mettle and stature of his burning zeal for the Word of God. He was beheaded in Rome a few years after Peter met his own death. (NS)