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The Liberation of the Apostle Peter or St. Peter’s Chains (August 1)

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

The Collect

O God, who didst cause thy holy Apostle Saint Peter to be loosed from his chains and to depart unhurt: loose, we beseech thee, the chains of our sins; and mercifully preserve us from all things that may hurt us; through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Acts of the Apostles: Chapter Twelve

Each year, on August 1st, we read from St. Luke's 12th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It is in these sacred readings that we learn about the liberation of the Apostle Peter. Over the centuries this story has been the fodder for many theological debates and has been the inspiration of many artistic endeavours. This event has been deemed so important to the Church that it celebrates a special Feast day in its commemoration. It is the celebration of God's giving upon His people the miraculous deliverance of St. Peter from imprisonment.

The Narrative

In the narrative we learn about Herod Agrippa, a son of Aristobulus, who was favoured by the Roman Emperor Claudius. Herod ruled over Judaica as a king. In order to keep this Roman Province politically stable and to win favour with the local population he attempted to do whatever it took to be loved.

One of his methods of appeasement was to persecute Christians, especially those who courageously proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostles were obvious targets. Herod used the usual heavy-handed methods of a dictator. For example, he captured and beheaded James the great, brother of Saint John, which gave many in Judea a great deal of satisfaction.

To make the local population even happier, Herod also ordered the capture of Saint Peter with the intention of killing him. Indeed Peter was taken prisoner, chained and locked inside a tiny dungeon cell. The room was quite narrow and guarded to the point where he could not escape. To make things more painful, Saint Peter's execution was ordered to happen just before the upcoming Easter festival. The rather small Christian community was naturally in deep distress. They understood full well that there was no outside human power that could save the Apostle. They prayed day and night that God would prevent the killing of their Shepherd. And fortunately God heard their prayers and delivered St. Peter. It was a miracle!

The night before Saint Peter was about to be executed, God sent an Angel to set him free. Even though the Apostle was weighed down by his chains, he still managed to sleep peacefully while being guarded by soldiers. All of a sudden, with the assistance of the Angel, the dungeon cell lit up brightly and Saint Peter heard the Angel order him to “Arise quickly. Gird thyself; put on thy sandals and cloak and follow me.” The chains fell from his body onto the ground. Saint Peter must have thought that he was dreaming. Luckily for him, however, he was alert enough to follow the Angel's instructions.

In his escape, Saint Peter passed the first and then the second watches without attracting any attention; finally reaching the gate that led him into the street. Even the gate opened without the aid of any human hands. As soon as the Apostle was on the street and visibly free, the Angel vanished into thin air.

It was at this point that Saint Peter realized that his deliverance was not a dream and that his escape had actually happened. He was liberated! He was free! The moment that the the Christian Faithful found out about Peter's escape they gave praise and thanks to God for this miracle, proclaiming: “Now I know truly that the Lord has sent his Angel and delivered me out of the hands of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of Judaea.”

Saint Peter immediately went to the house of Mary, the mother of the Apostle John Mark, where many of the Faithful gathered in prayer. When Saint Peter knocked at the door, a servant, named Rhode, came, and asked who was there. She recognized that it was the voice of the Apostle Peter. She was surprised, but joyful, when she opened the door and saw that it was indeed him. Rhode ran back to the others to give the great news. They thought she was mistaken finding it very hard to believe that Peter could have ever escaped prison.

Everyone came to the door and were amazed that it was undeniably their beloved Shepherd, safe and free. They were beside themselves with absolute jubilation after having been so full of grief. Saint Peter quieted them and told the story of his imprisonment and escape. When he finished they all gave thanks for the Divine intervention.

A great lesson was learned for this young Christian community. They learned about trusting in the future, as well as in the heavenly Love, Power and Mercy of God. According to the early Church Father, Saint John Chrysostom, the actual physical chains which held Saint Peter down to the ground were later obtained by the Christian community and given a place of honour. This was considered such a miraculous event that the chains were held in very high esteem. Saint Augustine also noted that the iron from the chains was more precious than gold and that “If the shadow of Saint Peter possessed a healing virtue, how much greater power must the chains of his sufferings have derived from him.”

Freeing ourselves from the Chains that bind us

What we take away from this story is that we see the Apostle Peter, an innocent man, persecuted and imprisoned. He's literally being held down in a confined cell and sentenced to die. One of the big lessons we learn is that even someone who is as faithful a servant as Saint Peter must face the reality of his impending death. However, he was not really surprised with his imprisonment nor his upcoming execution. It did not disturb him. It did quite the opposite. The question is why.

I believe that the Apostle placed his complete trust in God. His captivity bothered him so little that he slept peacefully in chains. This is our lesson. Saint Peter's experience instructs us how to conduct ourselves during our own tribulations. The trick for Peter, and for us, is that we submit ourselves in good conscience to the Divine Will of God.

In this way, we become blessed with the ability to rest easy as Saint Peter did. We can remain calm and placid without being fazed by an oppressive environment which can sometimes surround us. If we endeavour to keep our own sense of justice in an unfriendly world, then our minds can become peaceful and serene. It is through this kind of faith, the faith that Saint Peter so perfectly demonstrated, that the freedom to unloose the chains that bind us will manifest itself.

In our Gospel readings we learn that Saint Peter was, as it were, at the end of his rope. But God delivered him through this miracle. Scriptures tell us that we are not alone when we are at the end of our rope. The Almighty is with us when darkness and despair fall upon us. It is at this moment of Grace that His power and mercy becomes evident. So my dear brothers and sisters, never give up or never give way to that sense of hopelessness, even in times of grief and sorrow. Trust in God. As Saint Chrysostom reminds us, “If it has reached its height, hope most; for it is then that God shows most clearly his might.”

Reflection for the Liberation of the Apostle Peter (Saint Peter's Chains - August 1st)

Published on July 15th, 2019 in The Traditional Anglican News Volume 7 Issue 7 {Revised on June 16th,2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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