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the feast of Saints Peter and Paul

symbolism to look for in the icon

Peter is easily recognizable by his white, short, curly hair and beard. He is also shown with keys in hand, a reference to the words Jesus said to him: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 

Though not one of the original Twelve, St. Paul has always been known as an Apostle (literally meaning “one who is sent out”), and moreover a leader of the Apostles. Paul is always depicted with brown hair and beard tapering to one or two points. He is balding with a high forehead (signifying great wisdom and learning) but with a tuft of brown hair in the center. He is often shown carrying a large Gospel book, an affirmation of the number of epistles he contributed to what became the New Testament.

Saints Peter and Paul, both martyred in Rome, are depicted holding the Church between them, showing their shared pre-eminence among the Apostles.

Troparion (tone 4)

o Leaders of the Apostles and Teachers of the universe, implore the Master of all creation to grant peace to the world and great mercy to our souls.


Kontakion (tone 2)

o Lord , You have received the steadfast Preachers of the divine truth, the first among Your Apostles, into the enjoyment of Your good things and repose, for You have accepted their sufferings and death before any other sacrifice, the only One knowing the hearts of men.

Saints Peter and Paul are the principal patrons of the city of Rome.  Each year on June 29 the Pope celebrates Mass, during which he blesses the pallium.  All those who have been appointed archbishops during the year travel to the Vatican for this Mass. They will then receive the pallia, a liturgical vestment, at a later date when it will be placed on the Metropolitan Archbishop in his own diocese, by the Pope’s representative, the Apostolic Nuncio. Each year on Saint Agnes’ January 21st Feast Day the Pope blesses two lambs. The wool from these lambs is used to make the pallia.  Once woven, the pallia are then placed in an urn at the Tomb of Saint Peter, until they are blessed by the Pope at the June 29th Mass.  The pallia symbolize the unity of the Archbishops with the Pope and Rome, as well as symbolizing that the Archbishops are the shepherds of their flocks. (excerpt from the Institute for Christan Formation)


In our domestic church, we have a blessing of wool (in the form of a pallium) on the feast of St. Agnes, and then we put that wool pallium away into a special urn with an icon of St. Peter. 

On the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, we hang it up to remind us of the unity of the Church & the role of our priests and bishops as shepherds as we pray for them.

Taking from a Hungarian custom, we carry straw crowns in procession with our icons and then hang them over the dining table


In the East, this major feast day is preceeded by Petrovka, or St. Peter's Fast. Similar to St. Philip's fast, it suggests fasting from red meat, poultry, meat products, eggs, dairy products, fish, oil, and wine. Fish, wine and oil are allowed on all days except Wednesdays and Fridays.

The scriptural foundation for the Fast is found in the Synoptic Gospels, when the Pharisees criticized the apostles for not fasting, Jesus said to them, "Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast." In the immediate sense, Christ was referring to his being taken to becrucified; but in the wider sense it is understood in terms of his Ascension into heaven, and his commission to preach the Gospel, which can only be accomplished with prayer and fasting.

The tradition of the Fast has existed at least since Pope Leo I (461 AD), as is evidenced by his homilies, though it has subsequently been forgotten in the West. The Fast is thought to have been instituted out of thanksgiving to God for the witness of the apostles of Christ. With this Fast, believers express their thanks for the apostles' endurance of persecution during their mission.

(source on the Apostle's Fast:

“The passion of the most blessed Apostles Peter and Paul has consecrated this day for us. We are not speaking of some obscure martyrs. Their voice has gone forth into all the earth and their words to the ends of the world (Ps. 19:4). These martyrs had seen what they preached. They followed the Truth, they professed the Truth, and they died for the Truth . . .

“One day of suffering for the two Apostles. But they, two, in spirit were one; even if they had suffered on different days they still would be one. Peter died first. Paul followed.”

~ St. Augustine, Sermon 295, 1

Both in the Eastern and Western Churches the Feast of Peter and Paul was observed as a holyday of obligation from the fifth century on. It has remained so through all the centuries since.


Saint Peter is patron of fishermen and sailors, of key makers (because he carries the keys of the Kingdom) and watchmakers (because of the cock's crowing — an ancient time signal). He used to be invoked against fever (because Christ cured his mother-in-law from fever). Above all, however, he was highly venerated from the tenth century on as the heavenly gatekeeper who guards the gates of eternity and admits or turns away souls. This power, of course, is ascribed to him in connection with the "granting of the keys" by Christ and the power of "binding and loosening."


Another "patronage" shared by Peter and Paul alike seems to be taken from the ancient Germanic mythology of the gods Thor (Donar) and Woden. These two gods had been the leaders of the Germanic group of gods, but after conversion to Christianity the people invested Peter and Paul with the function of the "deposed" gods as far as nature is concerned. Thus Peter and Paul became the "weather makers." Many legends ascribe thunder and lightning to some activity of Saint Peter in Heaven (usually bowling). When it snows, he is "shaking out his feather bed." He sends rain and sunshine, hangs out the stars at night and takes them in again in the morning. Saint Paul is invoked against lightning, storms, hail, and extreme cold. It seems that he is entrusted with the task of persuading Saint Peter to do the "right things" regarding the weather.


Saint Paul alone is venerated as patron of tentmakers and weavers (having been one himself) and of theologians (because of his profound theological writings).


Both Apostles have been invoked from ancient times against the bite of poisonous snakes. If you pray very hard on Peter and Paul's Day no snake will bite you all through the year, say people in many places even today.


Various flowers and herbs are under Saint Peter's patronage, especially those with a hairy stem. The "Peter's plant" (primula hirsuta) is collected, dried, and kept to be used as a medicine (in tea) against snake and dog bite.


In Hungary, grains are blessed by the priest after Mass on Peter and Paul's Day. People weave crowns, crosses, and other religious symbols from straw, have them blessed, and carry them on wooden poles in procession around the church. Afterward they take them home and keep them suspended from the ceiling over the dinner table. Bread is also blessed in a special ceremony on this day in Hungary.


A moving custom is practiced in rural sections of the Alpine countries. On June 29, when the church bells ring the "Angelus" early in the morning, people step under the trees in their gardens, kneel down and say the traditional prayer the "Angel of the Lord." Having finished the prayer they bow deeply and make the sign of the cross, believing that on Saint Peter's Day the blessing of the Holy Father in Rome is carried by angels throughout the world to all who sincerely await it.


LITURGICAL PRAYER: O God, who has sanctified this day by the martyrdom of Thy Apostles Peter and Paul, grant that Thy Church may in all things follow their precepts, as she has received from them the beginnings of her faith.


Source: Holyday Book, The by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York, 1956

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