Today is the feast day of Saint Peter of Alexander. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Peter of Alexandria, the successor of St. Theonas in the See of Alexandria, was, by his learning and holiness, the glory of Egypt and the light of the whole Church of God. Such was his courage under the terrible persecution raised by Maximian Galerius, that the example of his admirable patience strengthened a great many in Christian virtue. He was the first to cut off from the communion of the faithful Arius, deacon of Alexandria, for favoring the schism of the Meletians.
From the best historical evidence, we learn that this schism began when St. Peter was forced into temporary exile by the persecution. Nonetheless, St. Peter arranged for the continued government of his See, as well as those of others who were subject to him as Bishop of Alexandria, and whose bishops were then in prison for the Faith. A certain Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis, who apparently considered St. Peter too lenient with those who had compromised their Faith under the persecution, took advantage of his absence to usurp his patriarchal functions, and, contrary to Church Law, consecrated bishops for those Sees whose bishops were in prison. Meletius then went to Alexandria, where, encouraged by the deacon Arius and others, he set aside those whom St. Peter had left in charge of the government of that See. St. Peter eventually excommunicated Meletius and Arius. He returned to Alexandria in 311 and was promptly arrested.
After Peter of Alexandria had been apprehended and cast into prison, Arius became fearful that the Saint would die without giving him absolution. He asked, then, for principal members of the clergy to intercede for him before the Bishop. Those priests went to visit St. Peter in the prison.
After the customary oration, they prostrated themselves before him, and with groans and tears while kissing his hands, they implored him, saying: “Most blessed father, by the excellence of your faith, the Lord is calling you to receive the martyr’s crown. Therefore, do you not think it is right that, with your accustomed piety, you should pardon Arius, and extend your indulgence to his lamentations?”
The man of God, moved by indignation, raising his hands to Heaven, exclaimed: “Do you dare to supplicate me on behalf of Arius? Both here and in the next world, Arius is forever banished and separate from the glory of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Struck with terror, the priests were silent, realizing that the Bishop gave forth such a sentence against Arius by divine inspiration.
In fact, St. Peter later took aside Fr. Alexander, his companion in prison, and told him the reason for his severity:
“The hidden treachery of Arius surpasses all iniquity and impiety. What I said, I did not assert of my own self. For last night, while I was solemnly pouring forth my prayers to God and you were sleeping, a Boy of about 12 years, the brightness of whose face I could not endure, appeared to me in this cell, making it radiant with an intense light. He was clothed with a linen tunic torn into two parts, from the neck to the feet.
“At this vision I was stupefied with astonishment. When I could make bold to speak, I exclaimed: ‘Lord, who has rent your tunic thus?’
“He answered me: ‘Arius has rent it.’ And he added: ‘By all means beware of receiving him into communion; for tomorrow priests will come to intercede for him. See, therefore, that you not be persuaded to acquiesce. Rather, tell Aquillas and Alexander the priests, who will be your successors and will rule My church, not by any means to receive him. As for you, you shall very quickly fulfill the lot of the martyr.’”
St. Peter was beheaded and thus went to receive the crown of martyrdom on the sixth of the Kalends of December (November 26), in the twelfth year of his episcopate.
Let us offer our homage and prayers to the great Bishop whom the Church thus commemorates today. He has been called the seal and complement of the Martyrs, as he is believed to have been the last Christian officially executed by the Roman authorities. For a long time he went by the name of Peter the Martyr, until in the thirteenth century another Peter the Martyr (St. Peter of Verona), himself illustrious among all, came to claim the title, leaving his glorious brother in the Faith to be known as St. Peter of Alexandria. (1)
Research by REGINA Staff