15 February 2012
St. Peter the Publican
The Life of St. Peter, the Former Publican
(Peter the Tax-Collector)
Whose memory the Holy Church celebrates on 22 September o.s.
There lived in Africa a certain hard-hearted and merciless publican whose name was Peter. He never took pity on the destitute; thoughts of death never entered his mind; he never went to the churches of God; and his heart was ever deaf to the entreaties of those who begged alms. Yet, the good God Who loves mankind does not desire the death of sinners, but is concerned that all be saved, and in His ineffable providence would save everyone. He showed forth His mercy even upon this Peter, and saved him in the following manner.
One day, the poor and destitute who were sitting by the wayside began to praise those people who had shown them kindness, and they besought God in their behalf; but the pitiless they reproached. Conversing thus, they chanced also to mention Peter, relating how he dealt so cruelly with them; and they began to question one another as to whether anyone had ever received any alms from Peter's household. And when they failed to find even one such man, one of the paupers arose and said: 'What will ye give me if I go now and ask alms of him?' And, reaching an agreement, they collected a certain amount; and the pauper, departing, made his way to the gates of Peter's house. In a short time, Peter left his house, leading a colt laden with loaves of bread for the prince's table. The poor man then bowed low before him and began loudly to beg for alms. But Peter caught up a loaf of bread, cast it in the pauper's face, and went his way. Taking up the loaf, the poor man returned to his colleagues and said: 'Behold, I have received this loaf from the hands of Peter!' Then he began to glorify the Lord and give Him thanks because Peter had been so merciful.
Two days later, the publican fell so desperately ill that he came close to dying. And lo! he had a vision wherein it seemed to him as though he were on trial and his deeds were being weighed in the balance. On one side there stood foul and evil spirits, and on the side opposite the demons were luminous men of noble mien. The wicked spirits brought forth all the evil deeds which Peter the publican had committed in the course of his life from his very youth, and they set them in the scales; but the radiant men could not find so much as a single good deed worked by Peter, which they could set on the side opposite that of the demons. For this cause, they were sad and said to one another in consternation: 'We have nought to place in the scales!' Then one of their number said: 'Of a truth, we have nought to place there, save only a single loaf of bread which he gave for Christ's sake two days ago, yea and that unwillingly.' So they set that loaf of bread on the side of the scales opposite that of the demons and it tipped the balance toward their side. Then the luminous men spoke to Peter saying: 'Get thee hence, wretched Peter, and add to this loaf of bread, lest the demons lay hold or thee and lead thee into everlasting torment!'
When he came to himself, Peter began to reflect on all that he had seen, and he understood that what had transpired had been no mere apparition, but the truth. Furthermore, he remembered all his sins, even those which he had long ago forgotten, and there came clearly to mind all his transgressions which the evil demons had gathered and placed on the scales. Then Peter, marveling, thought: 'If a single loaf of bread which I cast in the face of a pauper helped me to such an extent that the demons were unable to seize me, how much more doth compassionate almsgiving, rendered with faith and sincerity, help them that unstintingly distribute their wealth to the poor? And thereafter he became generous to such a high degree that he did not spare even his own person.
One day, he was walking to his customs-shed and met along the way a certain ship-owner; the latter was naked, for in consequence of the wrecking of his ship he had lost every penny he owned. And lo! this man, falling at Peter's feet, besought him to give him some garment, that therewith he might clothe his nakedness. Peter then removed his magnificent, costly mantle, and gave it to him. But the man, ashamed to go about in such rich vesture, sold it to a certain merchant. But Peter, returning from his customs-shed, chanced to notice this garment hanging for sale in the marketplace. This so terribly grieved him that when he arrived at his house he could not even bear to partake of food, but shut himself in his chamber and began to weep and lament, saying: 'God hath not accepted my alms! I am not worthy that even a beggar should remember me!' Weeping and lamenting in this fashion, he fell into a light sleep; and behold! there appeared to him a Man of noble visage, shining more brightly than the sun; on His head was a cross, and He was arrayed in the very garment which Peter had given to the impoverished ship-owner. And this Man said unto Peter: 'Wherefore dost thou weep? Why are thou troubled, brother Peter?' And the publican replied: 'How can I refrain from weeping, my Lord, if when I give unto the poor from that which Thou hast given unto me, they take what I have given them and sell it in the marketplace?' Then He who had appeared to him said: 'Dost thou not recognize the robe wherein I am attired?' And Peter replied: "Yea, Master, I know it. It was mine. It is the one wherewith I clothed the naked man' And the Man in the vision then said: 'Cease then to grieve, for the garment which thou gavest the poor man I have myself received, and I am wearing it as thou canst see. I commend thee for thy good deed, for in one who was perishing from exposure, thou has also clothed Me!'
And awakening, the publican marveled and began to emulate the life of the poor,saying: 'If the poor are as Christ Himself, I swear by the Lord that I shall not die until I make myself one of them!' And straightway he distributed all his possessions amongst the destitute and freed all his slaves, retaining only one of them; And to this slave he said: 'I wish to tell thee a secret; keep it and obey me. If thou dost not keep the secret and dost not obey me, know that I shall sell thee to pagans.' And to this the slave answered: 'All that thou commandest me I must do, master.' Then Peter told him: 'Let us go to the Holy City and worship at the life-bestowing Tomb of the Lord; and there do thou sell me to some Christian, and the money which thou wilt receive from the sale, give to the needy. Then thou thyself shalt be a free man.' The slave was astounded by this strange intention of his master and refused to obey him, saying: 'I must needs accompany thee to the Holy City, for I am thy slave; but I cannot sell thee, my master; this I shall not do.' Then Peter told him: 'If thou dost not sell me, I shall sell thee to pagans, as I have told thee!' And they set out for Jerusalem.
Having worshipped at the holy places, Peter again said unto his slave: 'Sell me, for if thou dost not, I shall sell thee into grievous slavery among the barbarians.' Perceiving that his master was inflexible in his intention, the slave perforce found it necessary to obey him, even though it was against his will. Encountering a certain man noted for his fear of God, a silversmith by trade, whose name was Zoilus, the slave said to him: 'Heed me, O Zoilus, and buy this good slave from me.' The silversmith replied: 'Brother, believe me, I am so poor that I have nought with which to purchase him.' Then the slave made him a proposal: 'Borrow some money from someone and buy him, for he is very good, and God shall bless thee for it.' Hearkening unto his words, Zoilus borrowed thirty pieces of gold from one of his friends, and with this money bought Peter from his slave, unaware that Peter was himself his slave's master. The latter, receiving the money in payment for his master, departed for Constantinople. Telling no one what he had done, he distributed the money amongst the poor.
Thenceforth Peter began to serve Zoilus; and he had to do that to which he had not before been accustomed; he labored in the kitchen, he removed the night-soil from Zolus' house, he cultivated the garden. And with these and other onerous tasks he exhausted his flesh in boundless humility. And Zoilus saw that Peter was bringing down God's blessing upon the house, as of old the house of Potiphar was blessed because of Joseph. And he saw also that his wealth was increasing. For this cause, he came to love Peter. Perceiving at the same time his unusuaol humiolity, he accorded him his respect. One day he told him: 'Peter, I wish to free thee. Be thou my brother.' Yet Peter did not desire freedom, but preferred to serve in the guise of a slave. Quite often, one could see that the other slaves mocked him, and sometimes even beat him and pestered him in every way possible; but he endured it all with patience, uttering not so much as a word.
One day Peter beheld in a dream that same radiant Man who had appeared to him in Africa clad in his garment. That Man, holding thirty pieces of gold in His hand, said unto him: 'Be thou not troubled, brother Peter, for I Myself have received the money for thee. Endure but for a while longer, until they recognize the.'
After a time, there came from Africa certain silver-merchants to worship at the holy places. And Zoilus, Peter's master, invited them into his home to dine. During the meal, the guests recognized Peter and said to one another: 'How like unto Peter the publican is this man!' Overhearing their conversation, Peter began to hide his face from them, lest they be certain in their identification. However, they were sure that they recognized him, and said to the master of the house: 'We wish to inform thee Zoilus, of something of great import: art thou aware that thou hast a great man serving in they home, named Peter? In Africa, Peter was a most prominent personage, but he unexpectedly freed all his slaves and then disappeared himself. The prince is very sad and laments the fact that Peter hath left us. In view of this, we would like to take him back with us.'
Standing outside the door, Peter heard every word. Setting down the platter which he had been carrying, he hastened to the gate to effect an escape. The porter was a man deaf and dumb from birth, so that only by certain signals known to him could he be induced to open or shut the gate. The holy Peter, in haste to depart, spoke to the deaf-mute saying: 'I adjure thee in the name of our Lord Jesus the Christ: open the gate for me with all dispatch!' Then the lips of the mute were opened and he said: 'Very well, master; I shall open it forthwith!' And with these words he opened the gate and Peter made good his escape. Then he that before had been mute went to his master, and in the presence of all began to speak; and all that were in the house marveled when they heard that he could talk. And straightway they all began to search for Peter, but could not find him. And the former mute said: "Watch that he doth not escape! Know ye that he is a great servant of God. When he came to the gate, he said to me: "In the name of the Lord Jesus the Christ I adjure thee to open the gate!"' And I immediately noticed a flame proceeding from his lips, which touched me; and I began to speak."
Lives of the Saints as Set Forth in the Menology of St. Dmitri of Rostov
- from Living Orthodoxy Magazine, Vol. III, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 Back issues available: http://www.sjkp.org