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St. Peter of Alexandria

 

The Holy Martyr St. Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria

(300-311)

 

by H.E. Makarios Tillyrides, Metropolitan of Kenya & Irinoupolis

 

ďLet us therefore take the way towards the wonderful city of Alexandria and let us see in our minds the strange and momentous events which have taken place there. The great hierarch Petros, who sacrificed himself and went as a lamb to the slaughter, is the one  who invited us here today. Let us proclamation together - Hail Petros, rock of faith.Ē

 

The lives of the saints of our Church, and in particular of the martyrs, like Saint Petros, serve as a reminder to us all. It is the duty of every Christian to imitate their saintly lives which were dedicated to God and which are relevant to our own lives if only we follow their example faithfully and truly try to copy them. We may be sure, that in following in their path, we will find strength and will taste the first fruits of their eternal beatitude. All the saints loved God and were dedicated to Him because their lives were made admirable by Him. Like them, so we, faithful to Godís commandments, are strengthened in Christ. (Philippians. 4.13).    St. Petros lived at a time when there was still strong dispute between the Christians and the heretics and the Church had not recovered from the terrible persecutions under which many of its supporters were martyred for their faith and their love of the Lord.  

      Petros I, before undertaking the high office of Archbishop of Alexandria, was director of the Catechitical School of Alexandria, a fertile institution of intellectual stimulation, which gave education to the young who were thirsty to learn the true message of the Church of Christ. There Petros showed the rare talents with  which God had endowed him. He was a teacher of souls who offered not only his knowledge, but his holy life and work. This not only continued but became more se persecutioevere at the very time that Petros was elevated to the sacred Apostolic Throne of St. Őark, in the year 300 and as a result, in the year 303, the Archbishop was forced to leave Alexandria.Even in exile, however, he continued in prayer and fasting to show deep concern for his flock and for "the common good of the Church".

 

      The persecutor Diocletian, was vile and bloodthirsty towards the Christians and intent upon annihilating the power of Christianity by any means. Naturally he also wanted to destroy the leader who gave the Christians the strength and courage to withstand the  persecutions and suffering inflicted upon them. And so it was that   the tyrant Emperor Diocletian began to search for Petros,  determined to destroy him and the faithful who followed him despite being forbidden to do so.

 

      When he was discovered by the Emperorís soldiers, Petros did not resist but went with them "like a lamb to the slaughter" and the soldiers, following their orders, tied him with ropes. When people heard of this, many were incensed and called for explanations of the rough treatment their Father was receiving. But the Saint was  imprisoned before any explanation was given and the angry tyrant, in reaction to the outcry, ordered that he be beheaded.

 

      St. Peter, realising by the grace of the Holy Spirit that his end was  near, called two elders to him and made the following most moving statement :

 "The end of my life has come and I martyr myself to the Lord, who  has announced to me that He has chosen you, wise Achilla, to be  successor to my Throne and Alexandros to be your heir. Take care of my flock and keep them safe from heresy. It was always my wish and desire to drink of this cup which would cleanse my soul; to participate in the passion of Christ, so that I might share in the resurrection of our Lord."

 

      Saint Petros continued this wonderful narrative until his last  moments on Earth. He summoned his favored clergymen and  laymen to whom he gave his message of hope. And after he had  blessed them all and sent them on their way, his cruel captors  took him to the place where he was condemned to die a martyr - in the same place where St.Mark the Evangelist was martyred, at a place called Voukolon. When they reached this place, the Saint asked that the soldiers allow him to pray at the tomb of St. Mark to make his final confession and beg forgiveness. When he knelt to pray, St. Petros said these words:

 "Venerable Father and Evangelist of Christ, witness of His suffering and passion, founding father of this Church which was entrusted to me by God. I, your unworthy successor, have been thirsty to become communicant in the passion of our Lord. As I end my existence in martyrdom, pray for me, Father, to meet this end with dignity and without surrender."

 

      The unhesitating murderers took him then to the place where in    311 under the rule of Maximian, Archbishop Petros of Alexandria  was beheaded.. Miraculously, the body of the Saint remained standing for some time. Then the Christians, with great devotion,wrapped his body in a clean white sheet and stole it away to begin preparations for the burial. The body was placed with appropriate decorum upon the sacred synthrone so that the people of Alexandria and the surrounding areas could pay their last respects to the Archbishop.

 

      Petros I was buried in a tomb which he himself had prepared, in a place called Lefkada and it was from the time of his burial that  the Saint began to perform miracles and bless the people whom  he had loved and who had so loved him.

 

          Historical Events Relevant to the Life of St. Petros:

 

                            The Vision of Arius

      It is said that the heretic Arius, who had been condemned by the   Church, learned of the imprisonment of Archbishop Petros and sent his representatives to ask the Saint to receive him and grant him forgiveness. Petros refused to accept Ariusí repentance giving  the following explanation : He said that while he was praying in prison one morning, he saw a strange vision. Christ, aged around twelve, so bright and beautiful in form that He lit up the surroundings, appeared before him. The young Jesus wore a torn shirt and held the tattered shreds around him to hide his nakedness. Petros asked the boy who had torn his clothes, and He replied : "Arius has stripped me naked. Take care not to receive from him communion. Tell Achillas and Alexandros, the presbyters who will become shepherds of my Church after your death, they  must dare not to forgive him."

 

                            The Melitian Schism

       When the Saint was in exile and far from his flock, a bishop from  Lykopoleos or Thivaidos named Meletios (or Melitios) interceded in Alexandria and began to carry out ordinations, anathemising the followers of the Saint and generally acting in a manner  contrary to the canons of the Church. To deal with the matter, Petros called a meeting of the Synod which met in 307 and which defrocked Meletios. It is from this event that the term "Melitian Schism" came about.

 

          The Theological and Ecclesiastical Works of Saint Petros

 include the following : 

                On the Resurrection

                On Easter

                The Epistle to the Alexandrians on Melitios

                On the Divinity of the Saviour

                On the Soul

                Epistle on Repentance

 

          The feast of Saint Petros, of Alexandria is celebrated on 24th November.

 

 

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