Peter & the Fall
I wonder if Simon Peter’s threefold denial of our Lord was more serious than the self-confidence and pride that brought him to that offense. It is not clear to me that “I do not know this Man of whom you speak!” was a more grievous transgression than “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29,71). It is scarcely obvious, that is to say, that Peter’s denial was a worse sin than his boasting.
Indeed, the very opposite appears to be the case: One perceives a sense in which Peter’s open denial of the Lord may be said to have improved his spiritual state, inasmuch as this more manifest sin led him to repentance. He became contrite that he denied, whereas he was not the least bit contrite for boasting, “I will not deny” (14:31). That boasting, in fact, he mistook for virtue; there was no danger of such a mistake in his open denial.
We should make the case, then, that sin without self-deception is an improvement over sin with self-deception. It is a better thing, in other words, to be a sinner and to know it than to be a sinner and not to know it. Thus, when Peter denied the Lord, he was better off, inasmuch as he no longer suffered from self-delusion. He had been very much self-deluded, on the other hand, when he imagined himself incapable of denying the Lord.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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