The Commemoration of the Honourable Chains of the Holy and all-praised Apostle Peter
IN about the year 42, King Herod Agrippa1 began to oppress and persecute the Church of Christ. “He killed James, the brother of John (and first bishop of Jerusalem) with a sword.2 And when he saw that it was pleasing to the Jews, he proceeded further and arrested Peter also. This was during the Days of Unleavened Bread (the Passover week). And when he had seized him, he put him in prison and delivered him to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him forth to the people after the Passover.
“So Peter was kept in prison; but fervent prayer for him was persistently made to God by the Church. The very night before Herod was about to bring him forth, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, standing beside him, and a light shone in the place where he was. And the angel gently smote Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, ‘Get up quickly!’ And the chains fell off his hands.
“And the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and bind on your sandals’. And he did so. And he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me’.”
Then Peter rose up and followed the angel, and “When they had passed through the first guard and the second, they came to the iron gate which leads into the city. Of its own accord, the gate swung open,3 and they went out and passed on through the street; and at once the angel left him ...”4
Having been thus saved from death by God, the Holy Apostle Peter left Jerusalem and set out to preach the Gospel in other places. Word of his glorious deliverance from prison spread immediately throughout the entire city and some of the faithful secretly acquired the chains of the Apostle and reverently preserved them as sacred relics.
For three centuries, these treasured chains were kept in Jerusalem and many healings and miracles were worked through them. Then in 438, the most pious and God-fearing Empress Eudoxia visited the Holy Land with her husband, the Emperor Theodosios.5 Since Eudoxia had been especially zealous in caring for the Holy Places and in building churches, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Juvenal6, presented the sacred chains of St. Peter to her for the imperial city. In 439, the wonder-working chains were carried over into Constantinople in great triumph.
Sometime later, one of the chains was sent to Rome for the church built in honour of the sacred chains of St. Peter with which he had been fettered by the Emperor Nero before his martyrdom. The Holy Church established the sixteenth day of January as the feast of this wondrous deliverance of the Holy Apostle Peter and the commemoration of his sacred chains.
Here is a great testimony to the unity, oneness and truth of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ: for just as in ancient times, just as in the year 42 when the Apostle was yet alive on earth, the chains of his holy imprisonment were venerated, so now in the Church they are venerated and the miracle of his deliverance is celebrated with joy.
Which of the sectarians or the secular “Christians” of our day can boast of such a bond and unity of love with the holy Apostle and with the Christians of Jerusalem in those first days of suffering and martyrdom?
Those chains when they were wrought were base and unsightly pieces of metal, made for a despicable purpose. And yet, the moment they were clamped upon the holy chief of the apostles, they became sacred treasures. And one might think that the holy apostle himself was the first to venerate them, for by them and in them he suffered the imprisonment of the Saviour, and in his prison cell, humiliated, reviled and in chains, he journeyed still further along the path of the cross so that those chains bound him all the more firmly to his beloved Master. How more precious are they to us when we consider how, in celebrating them, we are keeping faith with our forefathers in Christ, how we are manifesting a unity of mind and soul with those Christians who glorified God scarcely a decade after the Resurrection and Ascension of our Saviour. Those chains thus bind us to them and in that we venerate them for the sake of the holy Apostle Peter, they bind us to him and through him to Christ Whose ikon Peter was.
Therefore, let us keep faith with the Holy Church and by that with the Holy Apostles and by that with Christ so that the sacred chains of Peter may truly be for us a bond to Christ our Saviour.
1) Herod Agrippa I, reigned AD 41-44, King of Judea and Samaria.
2) St. James the Apostle and first bishop of Jerusalem was martyred in about AD 42. He had composed the original Divine Liturgy of the Holy Church, which is the essence of the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy. The feast of St. James the Apostle is kept by the Orthodox Catholic Church on October 23.
3) cf. The Life of St. Genevieve of Paris, Orthodox Life, Vol. 22, No. 6, 1972.
4) Acts 12:1-10
5) Theodosius the Younger reigned 408-450 A.D.
6) Reigned 420-428. He is commemorated on July 2. St. Juvenal formulated the dogmatic resolutions at the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon.
Taken from Orthodox Life, Volume 23, No. 1, January – February 1973, published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York.
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