Christian Traditions 002: Feast of the Confession of Peter

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria makes no mention of this feast.


Most blog posts in this series will describe a special event the day before it is to occur. However, the Feast of the Confession of Peter and the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity fall on the same day: January 18. After going back and forth on whether to write one blog post or two, I decided one blog post would be too long. So here’s one on the Feast of the Confession of Peter. Tomorrow, I’ll post one on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

18 January 2015WHEN IS IT?

The history of this feast is that two liturgical feasts (18 January and 22 February) were celebrated in Rome commemorating chairs associated with the Apostle Peter (specifically with his stays in Rome and Antioch, respectively) hundreds of years before the present “Chair of Peter” relic was created. In 1960, Pope John XXII removed the 18 January feast from the General Roman Catholic calendar and demoted the 22 February feast to a less-important “Second-Class” Feast. In 1969, the 22 February feast was relisted as Feast rather than Second-Class Feast. Other traditionalist Catholics continue to celebrate “Saint Peter’s Chair at Rome” on 18 January and “Chair of Saint Peter at Antioch” on 22 February. Some Anglican and Lutheran churches celebrate the Feast of the Confession of Peter on 18 January as an alternative to celebrating a relic or the papacy. I could find no information on when or how these denominations came to celebrate this feast in this way.

confession of peterWHAT IS IT?

The original Catholic commemoration was of the Chair of the Apostle Peter, a relic, not his Confession, a Biblical event. However, Orthodox, Protestants, and Evangelicals generally (and even some Catholic groups specifically) do not venerate relics or believe in them, and so commemoration of a relic would be pretty specific to some Catholics. (See Footnote 1 at the end of this post on relics for more information on why Protestants and Evangelicals do not venerate or believe in relics.)

The “Chair of Peter” is symbolic of the papacy because Catholics consider Peter to have been the first pope, so for Catholics, this feast celebrates not only Peter but also the papacy. The actual “relic” chair of Peter was commissioned by Charles the Bald and gifted to Pope John VIII in 875 AD. A sculpted bronze casing designed by Bernini and constructed between 1647 and 1653 now encases the chair, and it sits in St. Peter’s Basilica, a church in Vatican City.

The Protestant version of the feast commemorates not an item of questionable worth but a significant event in Peter’s life: his confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The story (as found in Matthew 16:13-19, Mark 8:27-29, and Luke 9:18-20) takes place after Herod and others speculated that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist (whom Herod had recently beheaded), the prophet Elijah, the prophet Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets (recounted in Mark 6:14-16 and Luke 9:7-9); and immediately after Jesus fed 4,000 people following him with seven loaves of bread and a few fish (recounted in Matthew 15:32-38 and Mark 8:1-9, and briefly referenced in Matthew 16:10 and Mark 8:20). After traveling a bit, Jesus asked His disciples who people thought He was. The disciples repeated the theories posited by Herod and others, as described above. Then Jesus poses to them this question: “But whom do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, Mark 8:29, and Luke 9:20) Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16; see also Mark 8:29 and Luke 9:20) In all three Gospel accounts, Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone. However, in the Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus first responds directly to Peter’s confession, blessing him, stating that God and not people revealed it to him, and goes on to say that He will build His church on Peter: “…thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18)

The Catholic Church takes this event as the founding of the papacy (office of the pope) and states that Peter was the first pope. They further take the statement that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” as indicating papal infallibility (meaning the pope cannot be wrong, which makes for interesting conversations when one pope contradicts another). Protestants and most Evangelicals, on the other hand, believe this verse means that Peter was the foundation stone of the Church but do not believe it infers a lineage of popes. Furthermore, they take the statement “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” to refer to the Church, not an individual, and believe it to mean that the Church will never become extinct. Orthodox churches also reject the theory of a succession of popes and believe the Church as a whole to be infallible while individuals of any position may err. Some Evangelicals believe that the actual confession of Peter (that Jesus is the Christ), and not Peter himself, is the foundation of the Church.


Later this month, we will celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Paul (another feast commemorating an important event in an apostle’s life), and in June, we will celebrate the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, which commemorates their martyrdom.


In this case, I can find no evidence of any specific traditional activities (with the exception of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which starts on the Feast of the Confession of Peter) for this event other than Scripture readings and prayer.

  • (Traditional) Scripture Readings: Read the story of the confession of Peter.
    • Matthew 16:13-19
    • Mark 8:27-29
    • Luke 9:18-20
  • Kids’ Activities: There are no particular crafts associated with this feast. If you have children, you may provide them with coloring pages such as this one.
  • Reflection / Study Questions: Answer the following questions:
    • Have you openly confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
    • Do you confess it daily with your words and/or activities?
    • How can you “confess” Him in creative ways?
  • (Traditional) Prayer: Pray the following prayer or use it to guide your own prayer (see Footnote 2).
    • “Grant, we pray, almighty God, / that no tempests may disturb us, / for you have set us fast / on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith. / Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, / who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, / one God, for ever and ever. / Amen.”


Since I love knitting (I don’t crochet at all), I wanted to add knit-specific activities. However, I understand some people who read this may want to crochet instead of knit, so I’ll try to add crochet-specific activities as well. Please understand that since I don’t crochet, I can’t vouch for the ease or difficulty of these projects.

My plan is to create a small ornament for each feast or tradition throughout the year. At the end of the year, I plan to hang them all on a calendar or maybe a Christmas tree or banner or wreath, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll create a color-themed wall mount on which to hang them since each liturgical season has a special color associated with it. What do you think?

What is the activity? Recall that after Peter makes his confession, Jesus praises him and, among other things, says, “…I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18) So the ornament for this feast is a key!

  • Knit Pattern: “Key to Heaven” by Schaabling Shire Shoppe (here). Note: I couldn’t find a knitted pattern for a key that I liked for an ornament, so I created one! I previously posted the pattern on my blog.
  • Crochet Pattern: “key key ring” by Justyna Kacprzak (here).





Footnote 1: Relics. A relic is usually the bodily remains or personal effects of a saint or venerated person. It is preserved for veneration and/or worship and is often believed to retain spiritual power. The first relic mentioned in the Bible is the skeletal remains of the prophet Elisha. A group of Jews were burying a man but, when they saw a group of raiders coming their direction, they quickly threw the body into Elisha’s tomb. When the dead man’s body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). In the New Testament, Paul’s handkerchiefs were imbued by God with the power to heal people on one occasion (Acts 19:11-12). However, there’s nothing in the Bible proper to indicate that the above described events regarding Elisha’s bones and Paul’s handkerchiefs were anything but isolated events, and the Bible says nothing to suggest that this power exists in other relics. Many Catholics, however, believe relics are imbued with spiritual power. In fact, veneration of relics (either for their spiritual power or as an indirect means of venerating God) seems to have been taken for granted by Christian writers as early as Augustine (354-430 AD). However, that was one specific item a Catholic monk named Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Lutheran Church, protested against in Catholicism. The Catholic Church had a habit of “finding” relics everywhere and charging people good money to view or venerate the relics in exchange for reduced time in Purgatory and/or magical healing of various ailments. In fact, it is said that if all the fragments of the cross now displayed across the world were gathered together, they would need a ten-ton truck to carry them. In regards to bodily remains relics, Luther specifically pointed out that 26 of the 12 apostles were buried in Germany alone. I could go on about relics, but the point is that because of the lack of Biblical reference suggesting the existence of more relics with spiritual power and because of the fraudulent history of current relics, most Protestants and Evangelicals do not believe relics have power and do not celebrate, commemorate, or venerate relics in any way. The same is true of most Orthodox groups.

Footnote 2: On Prayer. Some groups of Christians recite memorized prayers. Others point to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:7 (“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”) as indicating that we should pray with purpose rather than with memorized or repetitious words. (They also point out that two verses later, when Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer, He says, “After this manner therefore pray…” rather than “With these exact words therefore pray…”) If you are of a group that uses memorized or set or written prayers, do so in this case. If you are of a group that chooses to “pray with purpose,” use these written prayers as a guide as to content for your own prayer.


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