The final witness to the mind of the early church, and thence to the mind of Christ, is the liturgy. Being the official prayer of the church, it is a testimony to the belief not of individuals but of the whole community. Needless to say, the liturgical feasts do not all date back as far as the fathers, but they compensate in official status for what they lose in antiquity. Above all the liturgy represents the mentality of the church prior to the schism between East and West, and it was too firmly established to be changed after the separation.
It would be superfluous to search for testimonies to St. Peter in the liturgy of the Western Church. Even the most superficial knowledge of the matter shows that the Western liturgy is in full accord with the tradition of St. Peter’s authority over the whole church. What is frequently overlooked, though, is the strength of this attitude in the Eastern liturgy. A pro-Petrine liturgy is to be found as far afield as among the Jacobites of India, and the Greeks and Russians honour him as head of the Apostles even at the present day.
In the liturgy of the Greeks and Russians the feast of SS. Peter and Paul is observed on June 29th. To give solemnity to the occasion, it is preceded by a period of fasting, similar to Lent, which begins on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The hymn of the dawn office contains the following verse:
“Thou art rightly called the rock,
In whom the Lord consolidated the unshaken faith of the Church,
The Lord appointed thee as prince and shepherd of the rational sheep,
So that thou mightest admit all those who approach in faith.”
The Book of Homilies assigns to this feast of the sermons of St. John Chrysostom, in the course of which St. Peter is addressed as “Leader and Commander, supreme pastor of the Apostles.”
These are not random examples. The tone of the whole liturgy is consistent in this matter. Many other feasts could be referred to but the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin is the most deserving of mention. For this feast, the Book of Homilies contains a sermon of John of Thessalonika, who died iin about the year 630. He describes the death-bed scene of the Blessed Virgin, and tells how she wished to give to St. John the palm branch which the Angel Gabriel had presented to her on the occasion of the Annunciation. St. John is unwilling and says: “I cannot accept it without the other apostles while they are not here, in case there should be a quarrel among us, for among us there is one senior to me who has been set in charge of us.” The identity of the senior Apostle is soon disclosed. When all are assembled St. Peter is unwilling to be the first to pray, but the others persuade him with the words: “Father Peter: thou hast been set in charge of us, do thou pray before us.” When the actual funeral ceremonies are taking place Peter turns to John and says: “You are a virgin, and you must chant the hymns at the bedside, holding the palm.” To this John replies: “You are our father and supervisor, it is for you to stand at the bedside chanting, while we give place to you.”
These brief extracts are typical of the attitude of the Eastern and Western liturgies to St. Peter and are all the more significant in the East since they represent the pre-schismatical tradition.
– Michael M. Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes
(Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1960), pp. 79-81.