(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Peter (and St. Paul), whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
A visiting dignitary is honored with a symbolic key to the city as a token of respect, but for eternity the keys to the kingdom of heaven have been placed by the Messiah himself, out of respect to one of his greatest disciples, into the hand of a man called Peter, the constant companion and beloved friend of Jesus Christ. This magnificent disciple, whom trust places at the gates of heaven to examine the credentials of those who would enter, had a master key in his lifetime which unlocked the hearts of men to admit the Savior, and his wisdom was the key to men’s minds which in turn admitted the intelligence to give meaning to the Christian faith.
Brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew, a fisherman like himself, Peter forthwith acknowledged the Master and undertook a lifetime of casting his fisherman’s nets for the sake of Jesus Christ and so excelled himself in his personal and total dedication to the Savior that in the two thousand years that have elapsed any roll call of the disciples finds the name of Peter among the most prominent. He ranks with St. Paul as one without whom the new faith could not have survived the whips and scorns of the pagan era of superstition and spiritual darkness.
Several accounts are given in the New Testament about St. Peter and his strong bond with the Nazarene, but the stirring passage in Matthew should be etched in the mind of every Christian, that which says “And I say to thee that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in the heavens, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in the heavens.” This divine authority vested in Peter as well as in all of the disciples of Christ, placed a sacred trust in Peter, whose name means “rock,” from the Greek word petra.
It was upon this rock of faith, as depicted in holy Scripture, that the formation of the Christian Church, the disciples’ handiwork, was not only a success but a triumph as well.
Peter, the redoubtable fisherman who had never strayed far from his home in Capernaum on the shores of Galilee, was at the side of Jesus in his ministry throughout the Holy Land and as one of his closest apostles planned the campaigns for the winning of converts.
In the course of this spiritual campaign, he came to witness the many miracles of the Master, such as the walking on water, the miracle of the loaves and fishes and many others which were to lend an aura of divine authority to all of the apostles in the stewardship of the Church.
Peter, together with many others, was privileged to witness the glorious resurrection of Christ, an event which all Christendom views with such reverence as to regard the first followers of Christ as next to divine.
Peter struck out on his own in missionary work of renewed dedication after the death of Jesus, but he favored Jerusalem and together with other followers of Christ assisted diligently in the formation of the Christian community in Jerusalem.
Peter, whose presence at Gethsemane had further fueled the fires of Christian zeal in his heart, joined John in Samaria, Lydda, Joppa and Caesaria in a propagation of the truth of the Messiah, but returning to Jerusalem found that a famine had set in and that the Christian commu-nity was somehow being blamed for the economic woes that ravaged the land. With the help of Paul and Barnabas
they restored the confidence of the people and led them out of their hapless state to an era of new prosperity.
Ultimately Peter established the first church in the ancient city of Antioch and became its first bishop. Later in Rome, he was sentenced by Nero to be crucified, a manner of death in which he emulated the Messiah.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.