June 29, 2014

Saint Peter the Apostle as a Model for our Lives

Holy Apostle Peter (Feast Day - June 29)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Apostle Peter had fiery zeal and great love for Christ. Of course, during the Passion he denied Him three times with an oath, but he repented. He remembered, after the crow of the rooster, the word of Christ, who had foretold his fall into the sin of denial, and after he went out and wept bitterly. Christ, after His resurrection, restored him to the apostolic office, after he asked three times if he loves Him, and gave him the mandate to shepherd His reasonable flock.

The love of the Apostle Peter for Christ is clearly seen in the following events:

- When Christ, shortly before His Passion, washed the feet of His disciples, Peter did not want his feet washed by his Lord and Teacher. But when Jesus said that unless He wash his feet he could not be near Him, then the Apostle Peter said: "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but my hands and head also."

- Also, when Christ told His listeners that in order for them to have true life they must eat His Body and drink His Blood, they did not understand, became scandalized and left. Then Christ asked His Twelve disciples if they also wanted to leave. Peter immediately replied: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed in You and come to know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

- At one time the Apostle Peter was bothered, and influenced by the worldly concepts concerning the Messiah, or perhaps due to his spontaneous character, he tried to prevent Christ from going to His Passion, and for this he accepted a severe rebuke. Another time, however, he was praised by Christ for confessing Him to be the Son of the living God. Then he called him blessed, because he received the revelation not from man, but from God Himself. He told him that on this rock, which was the confession that Christ was the Son of God, His Church would be built, and "the gates of Hades would not overcome it".

The end of the Apostle Peter, as it was foretold to him by Christ, was martyric.

His life and his work give us the opportunity with much brevity to highlight the following:

First, after his fall into the sin of denial he was not led along a wrong path, like Judas, who remained unrepentant, but he fled to the love and philanthropy of God and corrected the error of his denial with sincere repentance. In this way he was restored to his apostolic office, but also became for sinners a bright example to imitate. For there is no man who doesn't sin, but there are only the repentant and the unrepentant. With sincere repentance man is purified of his sins and receives the uncreated grace of God. There is no sin, no matter how heavy it is, that can conquer the love and philanthropy of God. The only sin unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, or unrepentance. Indeed, sincere repentance requires humility. For arrogance and pride lead to despair and whatever they entail.

Second, everyone has their own personality and their own character and the Saints are no exception to this rule. After all, they are human like everyone else. The road to theosis may be the same and experiences similar or identical, but each expresses their own personal experience in unique personal words. The List of Saints in the Orthodox Church is like a garden full of flowers. But each flower is unique and gives off its own fragrance. The character of a person is not easily changed, but it can transmute, altered by the Grace of God. When uncreated divine Grace comes into human existence it sanctifies and renews.

Natural virtues are not criticized, but they also are not praised by the Fathers of the Church, because on their own they are neither good or evil. For example, the natural love of a parent for their child, which even an unreasonable animal has, is not criticized, nor is it praised. However, it does have the ability to alter, by the Grace of God, into unselfish love, just like it can evolve, without divine Grace, into passionate love. Passionate love is not true, but false, because it is associated with the passions, namely selfishness, greed, sensuality, vanity, etc. This is why we find the tragic phenomenon of hostility between parents and children or between siblings, which leads to hatred, and sometimes even crime. And an "evil hour" is not to blame for this, as we have become accustomed to say, but passionate love. The Saints by their asceticism, divine worship and continuous prayer purified their hearts of the passions and acquired uncreated divine Grace, the fruit of which is unselfish love, which embraces even enemies. Remaining in the Church through repentance, humility and obedience to the ecclesiastical institutions, regenerates, sanctifies and saves man.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΠΕΤΡΟΣ", June 2003. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.