Most of the apostles and lots of saints have their own feast day, but how about the two most famous saints of the early church? There is February 22nd in which the Church celebrates the “Chair of Peter” the sign that Peter was the first among the apostles and the one designated to lead the early Church after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension. But there is no “Feast of St. Peter.”
St. Paul, although not one of the Twelve, was an Apostle commissioned by Jesus. There is the January 25th celebration of “The Conversion of St. Paul” which commemorates the Damascus Road episode described in Acts of the Apostles: 9:1-31, 22:1-22, and 26:9-24. It is the scene made famous by the “Conversion on the Way to Damascus” painting by Caravaggio. But there is no “Feast of St. Paul.”
The two leading saints of the early Church are celebrated together in the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul as they are the founders of the See of Rome, through their preaching, ministry and martyrdom there. This celebration is a liturgical feast in honor of the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul and is observed on June 29th – without declaring that to be the day of their deaths. St. Augustine of Hippo (late 4th century) says in his Sermon 295: “One day is assigned for the celebration of the martyrdom of the two apostles. But those two were one. Although their martyrdom occurred on different days, they were one.” Thus it is clear that the celebration is of ancient origin.
Clearly from the earliest days, the Church has recognized them jointly. As St. Augustine continued in his Sermon, “And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.” Saints Peter and Paul – each in their own unique way – made the choice, decided for Christ, and set out on mission to make the Good News known to the world. 2,000 years later we remember and honor them.