“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles, but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:11)
Beyond evidence that no person, be he bishop or patriarch, is infallible even when speaking officially, the blunt comment above from St. Paul expresses two ways to experience and witness to the one true faith. Sts. Peter and Paul are portrayed on our icons in an embrace of love, and that without reservation or hesitation. Their spiritual bond is both ideal and real; however, each is an expression of one understanding of a life in Christ. St. Peter represents tradition. In his time and for all times, Christianity is built upon the foundation of Abraham’s covenant with the Almighty as received, understood and lived in the Hebrew heritage. Blessed with leadership attributes despite having lived as a simple fisherman, he was anointed by our Lord Jesus Christ as chief of the apostles. We witness to his inspiration on the Day of Pentecost preaching in Jerusalem about our Savior Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, and the Holy Spirit. He began with reference to the prophet Joel anticipating that blessed day. Yet his struggle was within [Acts 2:14-36]. It took a vision from God to enlighten him beyond the strict dietary rules inherited from his ancestors – otherwise it were impossible to eat and mix with Gentiles [Acts 10:9-19] and further, to enter the house of the centurion Cornelius [Acts 10:24-48], also forbidden for a Jew.
St. Paul came to Christ when the Lord came to him on his way to Damascus. He related that event three times in the scriptures, and the way it changed his life forever. But he was unlike the original apostles – a brilliant intellectual, indeed, a scholar and rabbi. More than an average Jew, he epitomized Jewry until that event on the road. He spent years considering what his new faith meant. His fertile mind plumbed to the roots of his new belief and reached out to the implications of Christ’s gospel message. St. Peter was his mentor, and yet he dared confront the chief apostle when it was apparent St. Peter was equivocating – not that St. Paul was audacious, but he realized that there was no hope of reaching out to humanity beyond Judaism unless the isolationism and separation demanded by the laws of Moses should be not just ignored or suppressed but rejected.
Orthodox Christianity in our times especially here in America deals with, endures and suffers from the two truths of the faith. The Petrine tendency is to identify Orthodoxy with our heritage from the Old World and to make conversion for conventional Americans a challenge filled with obstacles such as language and customs barriers. In such parishes one can feel anti-acceptance. One senses he or she is tolerated, possibly politely welcomed, but not embraced. You are not one of us. Marry into an ethnic family and a person might take the religion with the tradition. Otherwise, conversion is fraught with challenges.
Fortunately or otherwise, we have in recent decades a Pauline expression of Orthodoxy. Here the neophytes go to the sources of spirituality, theology and scriptural studies. Something new emerges, but not always in conformity with traditional ethos and venerated expressions of belief. At times, in fact, patronizing of what had been cherished for centuries, those “little t” traditions, irrelevant when once the essence of Tradition has been filtered out. A new expression of an ancient faith has emerged, yet one that is even proud of what it considers something original. Religion has to do with culture, and cult embraces the way we discover the Spirit at work to bring to the Father in Jesus Christ. In that sense, faith worship is an expression from “One mouth and one heart,” united globally and with those who had gone before us to their rest. In other terms, only when those in the Spirit of St. Peter kiss those in the Spirit of St. Paul dare we affirm One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.