6. THE APOSTLE PETER
The Apostle Peter, brother of the first-called Andrew, was from the town of Bethsheba on the shores of lake Gennesaret . His name was Simon. He was named Peter by the Lord, when, in Philip's Caesaria he confessed and preached Christ's divinity (Matthew 16, 18). In Capernaum where he resided, the Lord had healed his sick mother-in-law. (Mark 1, 29-31)
Peter was a disciple of John the Baptist originally. He met the Lord through his brother Andrew; after that, he became one of Jesus' most dedicated disciples. After the capture and imprisonment of John the Baptist, the Lord invited Peter and Andrew to follow Him, leaving behind them their fisherman's trade. And they " immediately left their nets and followed him .." (Mark 1, 18 and Luke 5,11). We shall see Peter as first amongst the apostles and his name at the top of their list. Christ's beloved triad of disciples was Peter - James - John. Peter will be with Him during the Transfiguration, during the resurrection of Jaerus' daughter and during Christ's agony in the garden of Gethsemane .
Peter will maintain his leading role, even after Christ's Ascension. He speaks to the crowds on the day of the Pentecost, and acts fearlessly, performing miracles and preaching to the people. His adventures will not be long in arriving. He was firstly imprisoned by the Jewish Sanhedrin, then by Herod Agrippa I, but was miraculously released from his prison cell. Following his action in Palestine , he ended up in Rome . He spent the last years of his life there, and finally became a martyr during Nero's persecutions between 64 and 67 A.D.
Dositheos of Jeusalem writes of Peter's martyrdom: " Having evaded Nero, the Lord met with Peter and told him to go to Rome in order to be re-crucified; therefore, having understood the riddle, Peter returned to Rome and was crucified upside-down and buried in the place called the Aurelian Way " (Dodecabiblos, Thessaloniki, p.60)
In the evangelical text, we can see his character: enthusiastic, forceful, brave. He was easily disillusioned but would regain himself because he had pure sentiments and a genuine devotion to the Lord. He also wants the recipients of his two epistles to be genuine. His first epistle is addressed to the faithful "of Pontus , Galatia , Cappadocia , Asia and Bithynia ". It is uncertain how he had preached there; it certainly seems as though he really knew their problems. Thus, he recommends that maintain the faith, hope and love in Christ during their persecutions and their ordeals. They must also be brotherly and fond amongst themselves. This is why he advises: "My beloveds, do not wonder about the temptations that are burning you as though something strange is happening to you; instead, you must rejoice, inasmuch as you are communing Christ's ordeals, and in the revelation of His glory, you will rejoice with jubilation" (Epistle 1 - Peter 4 12-13)
Peter's second epistle advises the faithful to lead an ethical, pure and clean life, which is the core of Christian living. A beautiful excerpt is this apostolic text: " and from this, you must hasten to include virtue in your faith; in virtue is knowledge, in knowledge is continence, in continence is piety, in piety is brotherly love, in brotherly love is love itself. Having these in abundance, you shall not be lacking or fruitless in your cognizance of Jesus Christ ." (Epistle 2 - Peter 1, 5-8)
Should anyone live differently to the above code, punishment will not be far away. The Lord " shows extended patience to us, not wanting us to perish, but hoping to bring us all to repentance " (Epistle 2 - Peter 3,9)
The hymns of June 29 refer to Peter's place in the group of apostles ("as the prominent one amongst the apostles"); his confession of Christ's divinity ("therefore have you justly and truly proven to be a rock of faith and the key-bearer of Grace"); his miracles, his denial but also his loving of the Master - in other words, his restoration. Here is one hymn that praises his graceful character: " You have justly been addressed as a rock, on which the Lord has affixed the unshakable faith of the Church, making you the arch-shepherd of logical sheep; from now on, He - the benevolent one - has ordained you as key-bearer of the heavens' gates, to open them to all those who have lived in faith. Therefore, you have been justly honored with crucifixion as was your Lord, whom we ask you to beseech in saving us and illuminating our souls ."
In the June Book of Saints, we have a physical description of the apostle: " The superb Peter was, in the physical description of his character, white in skin colour, somewhat pale, bald-headed but the rest of his hair curly, his eyes looked bloodshot, and similar in colour to wine; the hair on his head was white, and his beard was white and dense; his nose was long, and his eyebrows raised; he was of medium build; the shape of his body was upright; he was prudent and sensible; he moved very acutely out of divine zeal against injustice; he was forgiving to the penitent; he was quick to change, and would easily and fearlessly alter his prior decisions ." (Nicodemus of the Holy Mount Athos - Book of Saints Vol.b, p.231)
The last phrase is indicative of the apostle's changeable character. A characteristic example is the scene where the Lord was washing His' disciples' feet (John, 13,1). Saint Nicodemus notes here: " As he thus showed in practice, when the Lord said unto him 'If I do not wash you, you have no place with me'. Having heard these words, he (Peter) immediately changed his mind and revoked his original decision, because, having previously said to the Lord 'You shall never in eternity wash my feet', he now changed his mind, saying to Him: 'My Lord, not only Your feet, but Your hands and Your head!'; thus, from this exaggeration he appeared to be a fervent believer of his first and his second statements, out of piety and religious intentions, in the opinion of Cyril of Alexandria .."
Description of the icon. Our icon of "The Apostle Peter" is found in the Holy Mount Athos, in the Stavroniketa Monastery, and is the work of the Cretan artist Theofanis.
The apostle is portrayed to the waist, and turned slightly three-quarters to the left. His one hand is extended in blessing and the other hand holds a partially opened scroll. Our artist has attempted not only to depict the general physical characteristics as described above in the book of saints, but his inner world and his peculiar character as well. His dynamic and impulsive traits are evident in his expression. His round and full face, his sturdy neck, his fiery and piercing eyes, everything corresponds to his character: the impulsive, the fearless, the decisive. Every feature of Peter's countenance has an expressive power, an intense human presence. He draws us closer to him, so that we might read his thoughts and so that he might convey to us the power of his beautiful soul. This is in fact the unsurpassable craftsmanship of the artist Theofanis. Manolis Chatzidakis says of him: " Theofanis' love of mankind, his incessant preoccupation and concern that brings him to an almost intuitive communication with it, is made evident in the faces of solitary saints, who, during that period, acquire an exceptional expressive power, in a broad range of facial characteristics that are almost precise images of unique personalities" The sense of human presence becomes in this way singularly powerful and comprises one of the chief characteristics of Theofanis' art, at least during its latter phase ." (The Cretan painter Theofanis, p.117)
After the aforementioned information, we ask the illustrious and the first among the apostles: " For those who with untaught faith commemorate your divine memory, Peter, beseech the Lord to open wide His kingdoms " (Canon of the feast-day, ode 4)