Saint Peter’s Chair at Antioch
That Saint Peter, before he went to Rome, founded the see of Antioch is attested by many Saints of the earliest times, including Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Clement, Pope. It was just that the Prince of the Apostles should take under his particular care and surveillance this city, which was then the capital of the East, and where the faith so early took such deep roots as to give birth there to the name of Christians. There his voice could be heard by representatives of the three largest nations of antiquity — the Hebrews, the Greeks and the Latins. Saint Chrysostom says that Saint Peter was there for a long period; Saint Gregory the Great, that he was seven years Bishop of Antioch. He did not reside there at all times, but governed its apostolic activity with the wisdom his mandate assured.
If as tradition affirms, he was twenty-five years in Rome, the date of his establishment at Antioch must be within three years after Our Saviour’s Ascension, for he would have gone to Rome in the second year of Claudius. He no doubt left Jerusalem when the persecution which followed Saint Steven’s martyrdom broke out (Acts 8:1), and remained in Antioch until he escaped miraculously from prison and from the hands of Herod Agrippa, while in Jerusalem in 43 at the time of the Passover. (Acts 12) Knowing he would be pursued to Antioch, his well-known center of activity, he went to Rome.
In the first ages it was customary, especially in the East, for every Christian to observe the anniversary of his Baptism. On that day each one renewed his baptismal vows and gave thanks to God for his heavenly adoption. That memorable day they regarded as their spiritual birthday. The bishops similarly kept the anniversary of their consecration, as appears from four sermons of Saint Leo the Great on the anniversary of his accession to the pontifical dignity. These commemorations were frequently continued by the people after their bishops’ decease, out of respect for their memory. The feast of the Chair of Saint Peter was instituted from very early times. Saint Leo says we should celebrate the Chair of Saint Peter with no less joy than the day of his martyrdom, for as in the latter he was exalted to a throne of glory in heaven, by the former he was installed Head of the Church on earth.
Reflection: On this festival we are especially bound to adore and thank the divine Goodness for the establishment and propagation of His Church, and to pray earnestly that in His mercy He will preserve it and extend its dominion, so that His name may be glorified by all nations and all hearts even to the boundaries of the earth.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 2.