Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Last Days of Apostles Peter and Paul.

   Apostle Peter.
   There were two women in Nero's household, remarkable for their beauty, whom he loved more than all of his other concubines. Having accepted the holy Faith, they resolved to lead a life of chastity and no longer wanted to submit to the lustful desires of the Emperor. But he, a most shameless and insatiable fornicator, became en­raged against the entire Church for this, and especially against the Apostle Peter, who was responsible for the conversion to Christianity of the above mentioned women who had begun to lead a chaste life (and the Emperor also remembered the death of his beloved friend Simon Ma­gus who was killed while performing magic tricks with demons flying in the air and have fallen because of Saint Peter’s prayers); and he initiated a search for St. Peter, intending to have him put to death.
The aforementioned ecclesiastical historian “Hegesippus” reports that, when they were seeking for St. Peter to execute him, the faithful pleaded with him, for the sake of their common good, to hide himself and depart from Rome. The apostle would in no wise consent to do so, desiring rather to suffer and die for Christ; but with tears the faithful entreated the apostle to save his life, which was so necessary for the holy Church, which was tempest-tossed amid the waves of tribulations caused by the ungodly. Yielding to this tearful plea of his reason-endowed flock, St. Peter promised to hide himself outside the city. On the following night, after praying with his spiritual children, he bade farewell to all and departed, alone. But when he was beyond the city gates, he saw the Lord Jesus Christ coming towards him. Bowing low before Him, the Holy Peter said: "Whither goest Thou, Lord?", "I go to Rome, to be crucified anew!" the Lord said in answer, and then vanished.
   Astonished, the apostle understood that Christ, Who suffers in His servants, as in His own members, also desired to suffer in his body. The Savior prophesied the crucifixion which would fall to Peter's lot, when He said: "Amen, Amen, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." This He said, signifying by what death he should glorify God (Jn. 21: 18-19). The Apostle Peter himself spoke in his second epistle to all Christians: "Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me" (II Pet. 1: 131-14). He therefore returned to the faithful and was arrested by the soldiers and taken to his death. St. Symeon Metaphrastes says that St. Peter was not taken alone, but with a multitude of the faithful, among whom were Clement, Herodion and Olympus. The tyrant condemned them to decapitation, but ordered St. Peter crucified. Laying hold of the con­demned, the soldiers brought them to the place of execu­tion. Clement, as a kinsman of the Emperor, they took pity on and set free; but Herodion and Olympus, who had come to Rome with the Apostle Peter, they beheaded, together with a multitude of the faithful. The apostle requested that he be crucified head-downwards, saying: "I am not worthy to be crucified as my Christ, upright; for thus He was crucified, so as to look to the earth, where He would descend into hades to deliver the souls therein. Crucify me head down, that I may look to heaven, whither I will go." Thus the great apostle of the Lord, the holy Peter, reposed, glorifying God in his death by the cross; enduring great torment from the nails in his hands and feet, he surren­dered his blameless soul into the hands of God, on the twenty-ninth of June, in the year of our Lord 67. His disciple, the holy Clement, having begged the body of the apostle, took it down from the cross, washed it, and, having called together the remaining faithful and clergy, interred it with honor; they likewise gave decent burial to the bodies of Herodion, Olympus and the others who suffered with him, glorifying Christ God, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is glorified forever. Amen.
   Apostle Paul.
   St. Symeon Metaphrastes writes that, after his Roman imprisonment, the apostle Paul labored in spreading the good news of Christ. Departing from Rome, he passed through Spain, Gaul and all of Italy, illumining the pagans with the light of the Faith and converting them from idolatry to Christ. When he was in Spain, a certain noble and wealthy woman, "Xanthippe" by name, hearing of the apostle's preaching concerning Christ, desired to see the Apostle Paul in person and persuaded her husband, "Probus", to ask the holy apostle to come to their home, that they might cordially show him hospitality. When the apostle entered their home, she looked upon his face and saw written on his brow in golden letters the words: "Paul the Preacher of Christ." When she saw this (though no one else was able to see it), she fell at the apostle's feet in joy and fear, confessing Christ to be the true God and begging to be baptized. Xanthippe was the first to receive baptism; she was followed by her husband, Probus, and all the members of their household, as well as by "Philotheus", the magis­trate of the city, and many others.
   When he had passed through all these lands in the West and illumined them with the light of the holy Faith, he foresaw his own approaching martyrdom; then the holy apostle returned to Rome, from whence he wrote to his disciple, Timothy, saying: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day" (II Tim 4:6-8).
   The time of the holy Apostle Paul's sufferings is vari­ously cited by ecclesiastical historians: "Gaius", the ecclesi­astical chronicler, "Zepherinus", Bishop of Rome, and "Dionysius", Bishop of Corinth, concur that the Apostles Peter and Paul were martyred together in the same year, on the same day, the 29th of June, A.D. 67, the thirteenth year of Nero's reign. They were held in the "Mamertine" prison in Rome, and from there they were led out simulta­neously to be executed. Outside the city gates, the leaders of the apostles bade farewell to each other. "Nicephorus Callistus" (+1350), in the second book of his history, chap­ter 36, also writes that St. Paul suffered in the same year and on the same day as the holy Apostle Peter, after the demise of Simon Magus, whom he had helped Peter to vanquish. Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the chroniclers Justin and Irenarus, say that Paul suffered a full year after Peter, but on the same day, June 29th, on which the holy Peter had been crucified. They aver that the reason Paul was put to death was that, in his preach­ing of Christ, he exhorted maidens and women to embrace the life of chastity. Yet in these accounts there is no great discrepancy; for in the life of St. Peter (according to Symeon Metaphrastes) it is stated that the holy Peter did not suffer immediately after the destruction of Simon Magus, but several years later, because of two of Nero's favorite concubines whom the Apostle Peter had con­verted to Christianity and taught to live chastely. Since the holy Paul also lived in Rome and the neighboring lands at the same time as Peter, it could easily have been that St. Paul did aid St. Peter against Simon Magus during his first sojourn in Rome; and when he arrived in Rome the second time, he, with the holy Peter, advanced the salva­tion of men, instructing men and women alike to live a pure life of chastity. Thus the holy apostles' incurred the wrath of the ungodly Emperor Nero, who lived a depraved life, and who, having condemned them to death, executed Peter as a non-citizen by crucifixion on the "Janiculum Hill", but Paul, as a Roman citizen (whom it was forbidden to execute in a dishonorable manner) by decapitation, if not in the same year, at least on the same day. When the honorable head of Paul was cut off, milk flowed from the wound along with his blood. The execution was performed a little distance from the city, on the road to Ostia. His precious relics were interred by the faithful in the place where he sealed his witness with martyrdom.
   A miracle had occurred outside the city when the Apostle Paul was being escorted by soldiers for his behead­ing. He encountered a certain woman, "Perpetua", who was blind in her right eye. The apostle spoke to her, saying: ''Woman, give me thy kerchief, and when I come back, I will return it to thee." The soldiers, teasing, remarked: "Quickly, O woman, wilt thou receive it!". When they arrived at the place of execution, they covered the apostle's eyes with this very kerchief. And what did God provide that He might glorify His servant Paul?... Invisibly, the blood-stained kerchief was found in Perpetua's hands!. She rubbed it on her eyes and received healing. When the soldiers returned and discovered her cured, they too be­lieved in Christ, and exclaimed: "Great is the God Whom Paul preacheth!". When Nero learned of what had hap­pened, he grew exceeding wroth, and ordered that each of the soldiers be executed differently: by decapitation, immolation, stoning, dismembering into quarters, hang­ing, drowning, and flaying. Finally, Perpetua, who loudly proclaimed Christ, was apprehended; a heavy weight was then tied to her neck, and she was cast into the Tiber River of Rome.
   Thus reposed Christ's chosen vessel, the teacher of the nations, the universal preacher, the eyewitness of the heights of heaven and the beauties of paradise, an object of amazement to both angels and men, the great struggler and athlete, who bore on his own body the wounds of His Lord, the holy pre-eminent Apostle Paul; and for a second time, though without his body, he was borne up to the third heaven and took his place before the light of the Trinity together with his friend and collaborator, the holy and pre-eminent Apostle Peter, being translated from the Church militant to the Church triumphant, amid the joyous thanksgiving, lifting up of voices and jubilation of those who keep festival; and now they glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the one God in Trinity, to Whom all honor, glory, worship and thanksgiving is ren­dered by us sinners, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Reader Isaac E. Lambertsen and Holy Apostles Convent (1990), The Lives of the Holy Apostles, Holy Apostles Convent, Colorado, U.S.A.