The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
We have officially arrived at one of the key feasts in the post Pentecost Liturgical year for Eastern Christians. Today is the Vigil of the Feast of the All-holy and Praiseworthy Apostles Peter and Paul, our fathers among the saints. Since the Monday after the Eastern feast of All Saints, we have been in one of the “lesser” fasts in Eastern Tradition: the Apostles Fast. This fast is much like other seasonal fasts that Roman Catholics are familiar with, such as Lent. The Eastern Church also recognizes Advent and two other periods as fasts. These being the period prior to the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, and the period prior to the Feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Theotokos.
Some scholars believe that the tradition of having a “mini” or “practise” Lent before the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul goes back to Pope Leo I in the 5th century. It appears unclear why it fell out of practise in the West, but my own opinion favours the introduction of Feast Octaves and Triduums that imitate the celebratory aspect of the feasts and focusing the penitential practises for Lent and Ember Days.
The typical practise for the Fast includes an increase in works of mercy, prayer and fasting. But this is done with less austerity than Lent. Many traditions wear green vestments to honour the fast.
The Feast-day is celebrated with festivity and a solemn character as well. Red is the liturgical colour of the day. Remembering the witness of the chiefs among the Apostles calls to mind the universal Christian call to witness to Christ’s Sovereignty, even with our very lives. For Byzantine Catholics this is also a time to remember the Primacy of Peter as Pope and Successor of Christ. It is also a time for recognizing the collegiality and synodality of Eastern Churches. Many parishes and Eparchies are dedicated to these two great saints and it is common for Name’s Day banquets to accompany the liturgical celebrations. Family and relatives will travel many kilometres to reunite with their kinsmen.
Recognizing St Peter and St Paul in Iconography
It is common to see images of Peter and Paul together in Eastern iconography. They are often embracing each other, or are standing apart with their token items. Peter will typically be represented as an older man, with short grey hair and beard. He carries the Keys to the Kingdom in one hand, and a scroll in the other, representing his Epistles or the Gospel message. Paul will be shown with brown hair (with a receding hairline), a long brown beard, a sword (representing the Gospel message and Paul’s role as missionary) and a scroll, representing his Epistles.
Find a Divine Liturgy near You
This day is a Holy Day of Obligation for Byzantine Catholics. Look to your local church and be sure to attend any Vespers or Divine Liturgies scheduled for this magnificent feast!