Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chair of St. Peter at Antioch

That Saint Peter, before he went to Rome, founded the see of Antioch is attested by many Saints of the earliest times, including St. Ignatius of Antioch and Pope St. Clement I. It was just that the Prince of the Apostles should take under his particular care and surveillance this city, which was then the capital of the East, and where the faith so early took such deep roots as to give birth there to the name of Christians. There his voice could be heard by representatives of the three largest nations of antiquity — the Hebrews, the Greeks and the Latins. St. John Chrysostom says that St. Peter was there for a long period; Pope St. Gregory the Great claims that though he was seven years Bishop of Antioch. He did not reside there at all times, but governed its apostolic activity with the wisdom his mandate assured.
If as tradition affirms, he was twenty-five years in Rome, the date of his establishment at Antioch must be within three years after Our Lord’s Ascension, for he would have gone to Rome in the second year of Claudius. He no doubt left Jerusalem when the persecution which followed St. Steven’s martyrdom broke out (Acts 8:1), and remained in Antioch until he escaped miraculously from prison and from the hands of Herod Agrippa, while in Jerusalem in 43 at the time of the Passover. (Acts 12) Knowing he would be pursued to Antioch, his well-known center of activity, he went to Rome.

In the first ages it was customary, especially in the East, for every Christian to observe the anniversary of his Baptism. On that day each one renewed his baptismal vows and gave thanks to God for his Heavenly adoption. That memorable day they regarded as their spiritual birthday. The bishops similarly kept the anniversary of their consecration, as appears from four sermons of Pope St. Leo the Great on the anniversary of his accession to the pontifical dignity. These commemorations were frequently continued by the people after their bishops’ decease, out of respect for their memory. The feast of the Chair of Saint Peter was instituted from very early times. St. Leo says we should celebrate the Chair of St. Peter with no less joy than the day of his martyrdom, for as in the latter he was exalted to a throne of glory in Heaven, by the former he was installed Head of the Church on earth.

As this feast most often falls in Lent, certain churches celebrated this feast at an earlier date, in January. Hence the two feasts of the Chair of St. Peter, which the Church distinguished by connecting the more ancient one on February 22, with the Chair at Antioch and that on January 18 with the Chair of Rome. St. Peter resided indeed for some time at Antioch about the years 51-52.

It is to St. Peter, who proclaimed that Jesus was “the Christ, Son of the living God” (Gospel) when all Palestine rejected Him, that the Master commits the power to bind Satan by closing the gates of hell to open for us the gates of Heaven (Gospel). And the Head of the Church teaches us in his first Epistle that it is “by faith in the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ that the Holy Ghost sanctifies us and reconciles us to the Father.”

The commemoration of Saint Paul immediately follows the Collect, Secret and Postcommunion of the feast, for the liturgy does not separate those who have so justly been called the two pillars of the Church.


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