Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pillars of the Church: The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Occasionally on this blog I must share some of the "literature" of the Eastern Catholic tradition. The ancient texts that we sing for great feast days are poetic, scripture-steeped reflections on the theology of the feast, often written by saints. The services of Vespers and Matins are particularly chock-full of them. Beautiful imagery sung to ancient melodies in two- or three-part harmony, for the better part of an hour...a true immersion in the joy and solemnity of the day.
Peter and Paul is one of the bigger saints' feasts in the Byzantine Church, if the number of hymns for the services are anything to go by. As I sit here writing I am having a terrible time choosing just one to share. The Church has so much to say about these greatest of apostles! But if I is a hymn from the Litija (pronounced lit-YAH), a portion near the end of Vespers celebrated on particularly important feasts:
The wisdom of God and the Word who is co-eternal with the Father
Has truly foretold in the Gospel, O all-praise-worthy Apostles,
That you are the two most fruitful vines;
For you bore in your branches the ripe and fruitful cluster
From which we believers are now nourished
And whose taste brings us both sweetness and delight.
Therefore, O Peter, rock of faith, and Paul, pride of the universe,
Strengthen the flock that became yours through your teachings.
I love the metaphor of Word of God being nourishing like wine. And now I can't help myself; here's another hymn from Vespers focusing in particular on St. Paul:
O glorious apostle Paul,
Who can describe your bondage and sorrow in the cities,
Your tribulations and hardships,
Your vigils and sufferings?
You have suffered hunger, thirst, and cold,
Nakedness and scourging with rods,
The crossing of wilderness, shipwreck and stonings.
You have both angelic and human character,
Bearing all with the help of Christ who strengthened you,
So that you might gain the world for Christ, your Lord.
We, who celebrate your memory in faith,
Beseech you to intercede for the salvation of our souls.
I have long been specially attracted by St. Paul; who wouldn't be, really? His is a story comparable to the most thrilling adventure novels, complete with close escapes, shipwrecks, and encounters with kings (although Paul usually shows up much better than the royalty). And such a protagonist, too! His zeal, wisdom, humor and faith shine out in every line of his letters. Who can forget his hearty boasting of his weaknesses? Or his awestruck words on beings "snatched up to the third heaven"? Or his unforgettable plea to the Corinthians, "I beg you, therefore, be imitators of me!"
I would if I could. As it is I've adopted him as my patron saint when it comes to my writing, though I admit I could be a lot more consistent in prayer. I tend to only ask for intercession when sitting down to a scene I've been dreading (and procrastinating) for days. But Paul's come through for me most of the time nonetheless!
The feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is one of the Church's major summer celebrations, and a special one to me as a writer. They have given such richness and wisdom to our Faith. Let us all try, as best we can, to be imitators of both of them--holy in life and insightful in word.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!