January 20, 2022

Saint Peter the Publican as a Model for our Lives

St. Peter the Tax Collector (Feast Day - January 20)
 By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Peter the Publican lived during the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. He was responsible for collecting taxes in Africa, and in various ways he managed to get rich at the expense of others. He was greedy, hard-hearted and ruthless. Once a poor man visited him and asked for mercy and he expelled him abruptly. The poor man, however, would not leave and stood his ground still begging. Then, full of indignation and anger, Peter snatched a hot loaf of bread, which his servant happened to be carrying from the oven at that moment, and threw it with force, like a stone, at the poor man to injure him. He, however, took it, thanked him and left. After a few days, Peter became seriously ill and felt that he was facing a judgment seat, where he was asked to give a defense for what he had done in his life. He saw a scale and on its left side were gathered wild people with a dark face, where they placed his evil deeds. On the right side of the scale he saw white-clad men with bright faces trying to find something good he had done, to place it on the right side of the scale. They did not find anything, however, except that bread which he threw against the poor man. When Peter saw these things, he was moved with compassion, and came to himself, and as soon as he was healed, he distributed all his belongings to the poor, even the clothes he wore, and he dressed himself in the garments of the poor. After this act he saw Christ in his dream wearing the clothes which he gave to the poor. This led him to even sell himself as a slave and the money he received he gave to the poor.

Later, realizing that he was in danger of being exposed, he decided to go away from his master's house to avoid the honors of the people, and said to the doorman, who was deaf and dumb, to open the door for him, "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." When he said this the doorman suddenly heard and spoke and opened the door. Leaving, he went to Jerusalem and from there to Constantinople, where he lived a truly venerable life, and his life ended in peace.

His life and his conduct give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, charity is an act of love and philanthropy, and whoever is merciful and philanthropic is blessed richly by the merciful and philanthropic God, and not only himself, but also his descendants, who will never be forsaken by God or go hungry. This truth is emphasized by the Prophet David, who writes in the 36th Psalm: "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread."

The unrepentant man is narrow-minded and hard-hearted, because sin hardens man and transforms him into a God-hater and man-hater. When, however, he repents and strives to live according to the commandments of God, there comes and encamps within him, throughout his existence - in his soul and in his body - the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and then man is "transformed", his heart softens and widens, and he becomes a God-lover and man-lover. His nous, which is the eye of the soul, is illumined and can discern things and evaluate them in their true dimension, that is, to discern good from evil, truth from error, the divine from the demonic. Then he understands what benefits him and what harms him, what is his true wealth and what is his real and eternal interest. When, on the contrary, the nous is darkened by the passions and sin, through which the proud devil acts, then man becomes like the devil, that is, cruel, God-hating, man-hating and unmerciful.

Secondly, the accumulation of material goods by some people creates a "social attack", like the attack that occurs in the heart of man, when it accumulates blood, with the result that the person suffers and dies. That is, it creates social problems, unrest and conflicts between people, since the poor, when they have too much difficulty, revolt against the rich.

Also, the attempt to accumulate material goods is the cause of great temptations and many problems. The main thing is that man loses his freedom and is enslaved to creation and the devil, because "whoever wants to get rich, falls into many temptations and into the traps of the devil," stresses Basil the Great, who in turn asks: "What do you need wealth for? To dress in expensive clothes? Two garments is all you need. Perhaps you will spend your wealth on food? One bread is enough to fill your stomach." He also says: "If you save it, you will not have it, if you distribute it, you will not lose it." Referring to those who say they are pious, but their piety is without "expense", and even counterfeit, because they are trapped within themselves and within their problems, not allowing themselves to care about others, he writes: "There are many who have inexplicable piety," since "they fast, they pray, they mourn," but they are not interested in the sufferers and "they do not leave a penny to those who are grieved." And he goes on to say that the human heart is weighed like a scale, "if it leans towards real life or towards temporary enjoyment," from the fact that when it gives it either rejoices or it is sad and weeps. In fact, he characteristically says that, if an avaricious man has a wife that is like him, "then the disease is double," because one does not help the other in their healing. Finally, he addresses the question: "What will you answer to the Judge for the fact that you adorn your walls and not your fellow man? Where you decorate horses and despise your brother when he is naked? When you store gold and despise the oppressed? What will you say to Christ at His Second Coming when the oppressed shall encircle you and accuse you?"

Love for Christ, which is expressed by the observance of all His commandments, transforms man from a selfish and misanthropic man to a man who is godly and philanthropic.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.