Two Great Sinners Who Became Two Great Saints
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to Thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.”
Acts 9:13-15
O Master, Lord our God, Physician of souls and bodies, it is You Who soothes the chronic pains and heals every infirmity and malady of the people Who desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, and Who wills not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should repent and live. For You, O Lord, in the Old Covenant, ordained repentance for sinners: for David and the Ninevites, and for those before and after them. But also in the new dispensation of Your coming in the flesh, You called not the righteous but the sinners to repentance; like the Publican, the harlot, the robber, and the blasphemer and persecutor Paul the great, receiving them all through repentance. Peter, Your great Apostle who denied You three times, You received in repentance, and promised him, saying: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give You the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” For which cause, O Merciful and Loving God, encouraged by Your faithful promise, we pray and entreat You at this hour. Hear our prayer and accept it as incense offered to You. Visit these Your servants, and if they have trespassed either in word or deed or thought, by night or by day, if they have come under the ban of a priest or under their own anathema, or have sworn an oath, we pray to You; loose, pardon, and forgive them, O God, overlooking their iniquities and their sins, committed by them knowingly or in ignorance. And if they have transgressed Your commandments, or have erred, as bearing flesh and living in the world, or by the prompting of the devil, forgive them, as a merciful and loving God; for there is no man who lives and does not sin. Only You are sinless; Your righteousness is to all eternity, and Your word is truth. (from the 7th Prayer)
Saint Peter and Saint Paul have the title “Paramounts of the Apostles.” There were the original twelve apostles. There is another group of followers called “the Seventy Apostles.” And there are several saints who have the title “equal to the Apostles,” like St. Mary Magdalene and Sts. Constantine and Helen. Saint Peter and Saint Paul are the top two names on this list of Christ’s most accomplished followers. Saints Peter and Paul also committed some of the most egregious sins.
Saint Peter denied Christ three times when it really mattered. He had boasted that he would be willing to die with Christ. And then on the very same night, after Jesus had been betrayed and arrested, Peter was asked three times if he knew Jesus and he denied it. The last time, he even denied it with an oath.
Saint Paul took the lead in persecuting the fledgling Christian church. He was present at the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
Denying Christ. Killing those who believe in Him. There can’t be any two sins more egregious than these.
If these men who committed the greatest of sins can become the greatest of saints, then there is hope for all of us.
I take great comfort in the words that Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” The prayer references a different translation which says “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Each time I offer this prayer and pray these words, it inspires confidence. As the world seems like it is turning away from Christianity, in many ways even persecuting Christianity (putting up all kinds of obstacles in the way of the message of salvation), I take comfort from these words, “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” If the gates of hell cannot destroy the Church, then neither will the media or the politicians or the distractions.
The Scripture verse chosen for this reflection not only highlights the repentance of Saint Paul, but it also reminds us that God calls each of us to do different things and that we need to trust God in His call for our life. Ananias was a devout Christian. He was told by God to go to Paul and to restore Paul’s sight after Paul had been blinded by a light on the road to Damascus. Ananias was afraid to go, having heard that Paul was doing evil things to Christians. When the Lord told Ananias that Paul was chosen by God to be His chosen instrument, Ananias would have had every right to complain, why it was Paul, and not Ananias who had been chosen. However, Ananias went obediently and played his role in the story of salvation. Paul was to be God’s messenger to the world. Ananias was to be God’s messenger to Paul.
Most of us will probably never have the profound conversion experience of St. Paul. We are not likely to be blinded by a bright light. However, we can all have a powerful conversion experience, the moment we decide that Christ is in the lead in our lives, the moment when we give Him the controls, the moment we decide that He is the most important aspect of our existence.
We will likely not be told, like St. Peter, that God will build His church on us. However, the purpose of the Church is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all nations and each of us has a role we’re called to play in that. In this sense, we should all see ourselves as a Peter, (petros, meaning rock), as rocks on which the church can be built up.
The prayer reminds us that there is no one who lives and does not sin. Only God is without sin. Therefore, every saint is also a sinner. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. There is no saint who does not sin and no sinner who doesn’t have the potential to become a saint. Saint Peter and Saint Paul provide the most significant examples.
Blinded spiritually, I come to You, O Christ, as did the man born blind, crying out to You in repentance: “You are the super-bright Light of those in darkness.
Even sinners can become saints. Two of the greatest sinners became two of the greatest saints!

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0

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