With the life and career of Peter the Iberian (c. 409-488), we emerge from
the local traditions of the Georgian Church into the wider arena of Byzantine
religious and political affairs. During the events surrounding the Council of
Chalcedon,, held in the year 451, Peter stood out as champion of the Monophysite
or anti-Chalcedonian cause, denying the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ as
formulated at that Council. While the orthodox Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem
indignantly refers to Peter as that putrefaction from Georgia, with his
barbarous mind, the Syrian, Coptic and Armenian Churches, which also refused to
accept the dogma of Chalcedon, regard Peter as an eminent saint and ascetic.
Peter's native Georgian Church has tried to gloss over his doctrinal deviations.
Born the son of a Christian king of Georgia, Peter renounced his royal lineage for an ascetic life in the Holy Land. His biography provides valuable material for the history of the Christian Orient during the 5th century, since Peter was personally acquainted with many prominent personalities of the time, including the Emperor Theodosius II and his consort Eudocia, St. Melania the Younger, and the famous Patriarchs Nestorius, Juvenal, Proterius of Alexandria and Timothy the Cat, and has handed down vivid reminiscences of them. Furthermore, the late Professor Ernest Honigmann sought to identify Peter the Iberian as author of the important mystical writings purporting to have been composed by the Apostle Paul's contemporary', Dionysius the Areopagite. This theory has aroused considerable discussion in recent years, hut tins not found general acceptance.
Peter's life has come clown to us in two versions. First there is the
biography originally written in Greek by Peter's disciple John Rufus soon after
the saint's death. Of this, we now have only the Syriac translation, in a
manuscript dating from the 8th century. Another biography, preserved in a
Georgian version, apparently derives at third-hand from the lost Greek life of
Peter by Zacharias Rhetor, bishop of Mitylene, and in its present form is not
older than the 13th century. This Georgian text has been much distorted by its
pious redactors, who wanted to present the heretic Peter as an impeccably
Orthodox saint. For this reason, we have preferred to draw on John Rufusí
version, adding a few episodes from a collection of Peter's reminiscences known
as the Plerophoriae, also preserved in Syriac. It should be noted that such
terms as 'orthodox' and 'God-fearing' are used in Peter's biography in the sense
of Monophysite and anti-Chalcedonian, while the partisans of Chalcedonian
Orthodoxy are termed 'renegades' and 'apostates.'
The blessed Peter's fatherland was the renowned country of the Iberians, those northern people who dwell towards the rising of the sun - a land perpetually at war with the Romans and the Persians, because each of these nations was attempting to annex it for strategic reasons. In the language of their count, he first bore the name Nabarnugios, but when he was made worthy to bear a monk's holy garb he was given instead the name of Peter, after that of the first of the Apostles.
Now the father of the blessed Peter was Bosmarios,. king of the Iberians, and
his fatherís father was also called Bosmarios. His mother was Bakurdukhtia, and
his grandfather on his mother's side was the great Bacurius. On his fatherís
side, his grandmother was Osdukhtia, whose brother Pharasmanios enjoyed great
favour with Arcadius, Emperor of the Romans, and occupied the rank of general in
the army and a position of supreme distinction. Later, however, the intrigues of
Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, forced him to seek refuge in flight. Returning
swiftly to his homeland, he reigned over the Iberians and called in the White
Huns [A.D. 395] who were neighbors of the Iberians, as a result of which the
peoples subject to the Romans suffered great disasters.
The brother of the great Bacurius was the saintly Archilios, who reined jointly with Bacurius and Bosmarios according to the custom of the Iberian royal house. He attained a great age, and ended his life in chastity and all piety.
The blessed Peter had no blood-brother. He had a half-sister on his father's side, born of a concubine, and her name was Bomisparia. In accordance with his father's wishes, however, he treated her as a full sister. A holy and renowned woman called Tsutso brought Peter up as a child, and he remained hidden in her home to avoid being handed over as a hostage to the Persians, who sent many envoys to gain possession of his person.
After he had thus been conceived, born and brought up under the protection of God's grace, he was dispatched [A.D. 421] at the age of twelve as a hostage to the God-fearing and Christian king of the Romans, Theodosius the Younger, since his father Bosmarios valued the friendship of the Romans as Christians more highly than that of the godless Persians. He was sent off with great ceremony and pomp, and when he came to the blessed Theodosius he was welcomed affectionately and brought up and loved like a son.
Observing the reverence and love which the Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Eudocia bore towards Christ, as also did the men and women who served them, and notably the eunuchs who are called chamberlains, he was inflamed with zeal. And there was a certain deacon, a native of Antioch, and one of the outstanding members of the clergy, whose name was Basil. It was he who set Father Peter on the road to salvation when he was a child at the imperial city, and lit in him the flame of monastic life.
When still living at home with his parents, he had already imbibed the love of God, so that it was like a spark within him. Now therefore he fanned this spark carefully from day to day by feats of pious austerity, until he had made himself into a complete flame of heavenly goodness. Next to his body he wore a hair tunic, on top of which, to hide his virtuous conduct, he wore a brilliant and resplendent robe. His food was that which Daniel and his friends used to eat, and this he took in moderation only once in three or four days, or sometimes only once a week. To subdue the disorderly pleasures of the flesh he resorted to self-chastisement, and the earth served the young and tender prince as a bed.
He had with him the relics of holy martyrs, Persian by nationality, who had died a martyr's death in those days. (Their names air known to us even today from tradition handed clown by the blessed Peter, so that we still celebrate their anniversaries and react their acts.) These he had laid with all honour in a coffer in the same room where he performed his pious devotions. There he would sleet before them on the ground and perform sacred rites with candles and incense, hymns and prayers.
Now once when the festival of the Holy Epiphany had arrived, at which time custom demanded that every senator pay a visit to the emperor and to one another, he shut himself tip in the martyrs' room and sent to his chamberlain for oil to be brought to light the lamps. But the latter was indignant because Peter took no delight in the things of this world and said, 'Woe to the great hopes placed in him by his country', now that he who was sent to the Romans for the sake of honour and royal splendour wants to become a monk and bring misery on all of us his companions ." And he refused to send any oil. But when the holy youth and sage perceived the activity of the Evil One, he filled all the lamps with water alone, and no oil, and lit them. And they stayed alight continuously night and day for the seven days of the holy festival. When the emperor and all his family and the members of the Senate heard of this, they were amazed, so that many of them conceived the desire to mutate his conduct and ascetic way of life.
Our father and bishop, the venerable Abba Peter the Iberian, used to tell us that he was in Constantinople when Nestorius was still alive and exercising the episcopate. 'When Ncstorius was ending the commemoration of the Forty Holy Martyrs in the church which is called Maria, he rose in my presence to expound the scriptures before all the people. He had a clear and feminine voice. In front of me, he began to blaspheme and say in the middle of his sermon: Thou shalt not be glorified, O Mary, as if thou hadst given birth to God; but O excellent one, thou hast given birth not to God, but to a man, the instrument of God. - As soon as he had said this, he was possessed in the pulpit by a demon, so that his face and right hand were twisted askew. As he was all bent up and on the point of falling, the attendants and deacons seized him quickly and carried him into the sacristy. Front then on, most of the townsfolk cut themselves off from communion with him, especially the people of the palace, and in particular I myself, although he was very fond of me.'
'While I was still a child,' he used to tell its, 'and residing at the palace in Constantinople, holding vigil and living an ascetic life, I used to reason in my mind on the mystery of the Holy Trinity how it is that when we confess one single God, we believe at the same time in a Trinity of the same essence, eternal, without beginning; and also whether He who was incarnate for us is one of the TrinityĒ. Then be told us that he had a vision in which tire Apostle Peter led him to a high place and showed him in the heavens a great light, inaccessible and incomprehensible, in the shape of a wheel, like the sun, and said to him That is the Father. Then he showed hint a second light which followed the first and resembled it completely, in the middle of which was our Lord, represented with the features of the Nazarene and he added : That is the Son. Finally he showed him a third light similar in every way to the preceding ones, and St. Peter said to him That is the Holy Spirit - one essence, one nature, one glory. one power, one light, one Godhead in three hypostases; but while all three are inaccessible, only that in the centre was represented with the figure of the Nazarene, to show that He who was crucified is one of the Holy Trinity and not another - far from it! But the two others are simply a light inaccessible, unimaginable, unattainable, incomprehensible.
Now as Peter grew in age and spiritual love, he experienced a compelling urge to retire from the world and its emptiness and undertake a pilgrimage, that most virtuous of enterprises. But though he tried many times to flee away, he could not succeed in doing so for the devil and his myrmidons found it out. Peterís slaves, namely the spearmen who carried him around in his litter, went so far in their hate for him that they made many secret attempts on his life. The god-fearing Emperor Theodosius himself was concerned to keep Peter as a hostage, in ease his own people demanded him back. If he could not then return Peter to them, the emperor feared that he might make them into militant enemies instead of friends and allies. So he had him strongly guarded to stop him leaving secretly.
But nothing is stronger than the power of Christ, and nothing warmer than the love of those who love Him uprightly. Christ had loved Peter from his childhood days, and protected him as one of His sheep. So now Peter found a helpmate given by God in the person of his godfather, John the Eunuch, who shared his aspirations and was like him in his longing for the life eternal. Originally John came from the land of Lazica, and was adorned with all reverence and meekness. Peter united himself with him by the bonds of affection, like Paul with Barnabas, and availed himself of his advice and companionship in his escape.
As Peter knew that it was through the activities of the demons that their plans failed to remain secret, he took John to the coffer where the bones of the holy martyrs were laid. While they both had their heads bowed over these relies and spoke to each other there, they arranged the time and manner of their escape.
Now that they felt themselves to be secure, they looked for a ship. Through the help of the martyrs, they found one, and boarded it immediately. But the feared they might be captured if they were pursued, or if they were recognizes at the straits of the Bosphorus, so they hanged into shabby slavesí costume. Then by the protection of God, they managed to escape the vigilance of the people who were stationed in the Bosphorus to intercept them.
At this point they left their ship and continued on foot. They went on their way alone through Asia Minor, in company with the holy martyrs, whose venerable relics they carried in a golden casket. In joy and happiness, as if it had been a short excursion, they covered the distinct from the New Rome to Jerusalem. When they had reached the outskirts of the holy city of Jerusalem which they loved, they saw from a high place five stades away the lofty roof of the holy church of the Resurrection, shining like the morning sun, and cried aloud, 'See, that is Sion the city of our deliverance !' They fell down upon their faces, and from there onwards they crept upon their knees, frequently kissing the soil with their lips and eyes, until they were within the holy walls and had embraced the site of the sacred cross on Golgotha.
Seeing tat they were strangers in the Holy Places, God Himself led them to good hosts, guides and helpers in their holy purpose, namely the blessed Melania, a Roman lady residing there with her husband Pinianus and her mother Albina. Among the senatorial families of Rome, they had occupied the first place, possessing lineage, riches and honor, but since they loved Christ dearly and despised all these things, they had renounced the world and departed to live in prayer at the Holy City. When they had arrived there they built two large monasteries on the Mount of Olives, near the holy church of the Ascension, one for men and one for women, and endowed them for the glory of God.
When Melania heard of the arrival in Jerusalem of the holy youths Peter and John - at this point, however, they were still called in the language of their homeland Nabarnugios and Mithradates - she received them gladly. She remembered that site bad once visited Constantinople and seen the blessed Peter there as a young boy when he was being brought up to a king's estate. So Melania welcomed the saints like beloved sons, and they became held in honor for the exemplary life they led in the monastery which she had built. Without delay they received the monk's habit from the renowned Gerontius, who was priest and abbot on the Mount of Olives. This Gerontius enjoyed a great reputation, and lived until the days of the apostasy of the synod of Chalcedon, when he showed the zeal of true witness throughout his bondage and afflictions.
Now that they were living in peace in the monastery of which Gerontius was abbots they deposited there the venerated relics of the holy martyrs, side by side with those of the renowned Forty Martyrs of Sebastia, over whose interment the righteous and blessed Cyril, archbishop of Alexandria, presided [AD. 438-39]. For when Cyril was requested by the pious Empress Eudocia to come and inter the relics of the protomartyr Stephen and to consecrate the beautiful temple which she had built outside the northern gate of the city, he accepted the invitation with gladness. After he had arrived with a company of bishops from all Egypt, he also acceded to the request of the holy Melania to celebrate the interment of the Persian martyrs together with the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia in the smaller temple on the Mount of Olives, which had also been splendidly restored by the Empress Eudocia, as is commemorated by an inscription on one of the walls there.
At this time, the holy city of Jerusalem was still lacking in inhabitants, as
well as being deprived of walls, since the former walls had been destroyed by
the Romans. As the bishops residing in Jerusalem wanted to increase the number
of citizens, they gave free permission to anyone to take whatever site he liked
gratis, and build there a dwelling place. Accordingly the blessed Peter chose a
place on the north side by the holy church of Sion near the so-called Tower of
David, and built there a cloister which is called to this day the Abbey of the
Iberians, and lies to the left when you go from the second door of that tower
towards the holy church of Sion.
We must not omit to mention a miracle which occurred while they were building this place. Their neighbor was a prominent member of the clergy who had also taken a site and was building a residence on it. While Peter was sitting quietly in his cell, a quarrel arose over the boundary line, as often happens between neighbors. John the Eunuch, who was outside with the workmen, spoke to the other in peaceable and conciliatory tones, as was his custom. The other, who was in the wrong, hit him violently on the cheek. In spite of the pain he felt John made no attempt to retaliate but went indoors to join Father Peter, holding his cheek with his hand. Then they both went down on their knees and gave thanks to our Lord, because He had deemed them worthy to be partakers of the blows which He had suffered. On the following morning that shameless man was dead, although he had felt no previous pains. All the citizens of Jerusalem realized that God the righteous was prompt to punish the shame inflicted on these holy men, to whom He afforded every assistance.
As they were living by themselves and still had some money left out of what they had brought from Constantinople, they decided to perform good works by welcoming and refreshing the pilgrims and poor folk who came from all sides to pray at the Holy Places. They laid in a supply of provisions, and invited in pilgrims in such numbers that it often happened that they had ten tables in one day, especially on high feasts.
However their residence there was not fated to be of long duration. The Empress Eudocia, consort of the pious Emperor Theodosius the Younger, heard of the zeal of the afore-mentioned Melania, and likewise conceived the desire for the calm and tranquillity of the Holy City, to worship and be near the scene of the Passion which Christ, the King of Glory, suffered for us. In pomp and ceremony she passed through various towns, and arrived at the Holy City for which she longed. When she heard that Father Peter lived there she was anxious to see him, since she had brought him up with a mother's tender love at the royal palace. At first, he begged that he might be excused from leaving his cell, since he regarded this as a temptation. But since she insisted, he came out on one occasion to talk to her. She observed with attention his great meekness and wisdom and said, 'Blessed are you, my son, for you have chosen the good thing! Remember me in your holy prayers!' But he rejoined, 'What benefit can a sinner's prayers bring?' But she replied, 'May your sins be upon my head, my son.' And so he returned to his cell in peace.
But when she again insisted on seeing him, he hastened to the holy Zeno, the hermit and prophet, a pupil of the great and renowned Silvanus, and revealed his thoughts to him, as he was accustomed to . From him, Peter received the counsel, 'Save yourself and flee.' Accordingly, he left the holy city of Jerusalem, handing over his cloister to a group of men who had likewise renounced the world, and went to stay in the monastic community which is situated between Gaza and the small town named Mayuma which is by the seaside. It was divine providence which guided his wandering to this place, thus providing for this most Christian town a high priest and bishop particularly suited for this time of apostasy, at which there was need for a man who could be at once an inspirer of reverence and a preacher, a custodian of the orthodox faith and an intercessor for our souls.
While he was living in this community he used constantly to go with his cell-mate John to visit the holy Zeno who then lived in the village of Kefr-Searta fifteen miles from Gaza. The blessed Peter used to relate in after years, 'Once when I came to him, the holy Zeno was standing in prayer. And he turned to me and said, Pray! This he repeated three times. In astonishment I said to him, Forgive me, reverend Father, but do you not know that I am a layman and a sinner? Then he said, Yes, yes. Forgive me. He himself completed the prayers and sat down.' And seven days later Peter was himself ordained!
A.D. 445. How this came about we must not pass over in silence. When Peter was still living in the Holy City, Juvenal, who was then its bishop, sought many times to ordain him, but could not succeed in doing so, for God was Peter's protector. Now at this time when Peter was residing in the vicinity of Mayuma, Juvenal's nephew, Paul, was bishop of that place. On the commemoration day of the glorious martyr Victor, when an assembly of many bishops was in session, Paul drew one of these aside and persuaded him to carry out the ordination. This bishop took with him as his assistant the blessed father superior Irenaeus, who was on good terms with these holy men, and caught Peter and John by surprise. and ordained them to the priesthood under duress in spite of their struggles and resistance. Then Peter recognized the foreknowledge and prophetic wisdom of the holy Zeno.
A.D. 451. After he had thus received the laying on of hands, Peter refused obstinately for seven years to carry out the priestly offices, until it fell to him to be raised to the episcopate in the time of the transgression of Chalcedon. It was then that the apostasy of all those schismatic bishops, sanctioned by the godless Tome of Pope Leo, and attended by the adoption of the scandalous doctrine of Nestorius, resulted in Dioscorus, chief of the bishops of Egypt and a zealous fighter for truth, being driven into banishment, while Juvenal, who bore the tide of bishop of Jerusalem, signed the act of apostasy and thereby assumed the role of the traitor Judas.
A.D. 452. When this became known to the clergy and monks of Palestine they came out into the streets before Juvenal and implored him to remember his promise to eschew godlessness and fight for the true cause. When he refused to yield they assembled in the Holy City and elected the blessed Theodosius, a man devoted from his youth to the monastic way of life and imbued with the fear of the Lord, and who had distinguished himself even at the godless synod by his championship of the orthodox faith, and they made him pastor of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Afterwards Theodosius chose pious men from among the monks and bearers of the cross to consecrate them as bishops and confessors of the faith. Then the citizens of Maya which belongs to Gaza, who knew the blessed Peter to possess every' virtue, hurried to the spot where be was living in tranquillity and carried him off by force, although he bolted the door against them. A crowd of prominent burghers and clergy and common people bore him to the Holy City, so that they might receive a pastor and bishop from the hands of the chief of the priesthood.
On the way they came to a village called Sokha, and turned into an inn nearby, while the saint and his attendants spent the night in a house at the upper end of the village. In the depths of the night, when everyone was tired out from the journey, he asked his guardians for permission to go out on to the roof as if to satisfy a need of nature. When he had emerged by himself he hastened to cast himself down from the height on to a rocky place nearby, in the expectation that he would either escape completely, or be so maimed and disabled that his captors would release him. When he was about to commit this action he heard a voice saying, 'Peter, Peter, if you do this, you will have no share in me!' So he was prevented from carrying out his intent and was brought to Jerusalem. He protested his unworthiness, and when he was nevertheless consecrated bishop, he would not perform any church services until he had again been admonished by the voice of God. On the seventh of August, he arrived at the holy church of Mayuma and was borne inside and seated on the throne amidst general rejoicing.
He remained some six months in his holy church, during which time the people of Mayuma joyfully celebrated all the religious festivals, rejoicing in the protection of God who had granted them such a pastor, whom they cherished as an angel with love and affection. Then there arose the devil, that prince of renegades and arch-counsellor of apostates, who was unable to endure the sight of such great glorifying of God and salvation of men. Accordingly he entered into the monarch who now held the reins of government, the Emperor Marcian, who readily listened to the devil's commands and he incited him to issue a decree deposing the righteous bishops who had been appointed throughout the towns of Palestine by the apostolic Patriarch Theodosius. In case of resistance, they were to be forcibly expelled from their sees and killed, while the Patriarch Theodosius was condemned to death. They all chose to go into exile, as the Patriarch Theodosius himself advised, since he deemed it more pleasing to God for the preachers of truth to he saved, rather than that they should perish and deprive the orthodox folk of comfort and support.
So the blessed Peter departed into Egypt and arrived by God's will at the city of Alexandria, where the rebel Proterius was now patriarch. Peter went into hiding and afforded encouragement and solace to the orthodox. Celebrating the divine service in secret, he did not allow their zeal and faith to be quenched.
It was granted him to see a fearsome vision in the following circumstances. While all the townsfolk were watching a play in the theatre the faithful believers were filled with zeal and suddenly shouted out, 'Up with Dioscorus and the orthodox ! Bum Proteriusí bones! Throw out the Judas !' They demanded the return of the pious Dioscorus from his unjust exile, and the expulsion of the ravening wolf and anti-Christ Proterius, the new Caiaphas. The authorities brought in a troop of armed soldier's ho surrounded the theatre and menaced the people with slaughter, so that they fled outside and threw each other down in the narrow passages of the theatre many of them losing their lives. At that time the blessed Peter was celebrating the holy sacrament in secret. In an ecstasy he saw many souls being carried up by the angels into heaven. When people came from the city and td him what had occurred, it transpired that the number of those who had perished by violence in the crush and confusion was the same as that of the blessed souls that he had seen in his vision.
At last the blessed Peter could no longer conceal himself from the godless
Proterius, who was eager to deal him a mortal wound and send murderers in the
night to seize and kill him. But he succeeded in escaping from then, for our
Lord revealed the plot to him. When the emissaries approached and knocked on the
door of his hiding-place, they pretended to be some of his friends among the
orthodox and begged him to baptize a little boy whom they pictured as being in a
critical condition. But a divine voice said to him, 'Do not open, these are
scoundrels!' So he and the brethren with him shouted out loud, 'Father in
heaven, look down! Robbers! Help!' When the neighbors and others nearby heard
this they came running and drove off the villains.
After they bad thus been delivered from the snares of the hunters they departed and wandered in the upper regions of the Thebaid until they arrived at the town of Oxyrynchos. There Peter stayed, being cared for by one of the notables of the town, Moses by name. Oxyrynchos was a great and rich town of the Thebaid, in which the grace of God prevailed to such an extent that all the inhabitants were Christians, and the number of monks in the monasteries round about reached ten thousand.
A.D. 457. Later the blessed Peter left Oxvrynchos and returned to Alexandria. Now when the news of the death of Marcian, the leader and arch-inciter of all these evil deeds, reached Alexandria, the God-fearing populace breathed again and gave thanks to our Redeemer Christ. By unanimous resole they sent into the wilderness to fetch the holy Timothy, that renowned and true confessor, and brought him to the city, right into the church which is called the Kaisarion, to consecrate him as high priest and champion of the faith. But they could find only one of the orthodox bishops, namely Eusebius of Pelusium, the others having hidden themselves from the persecution. Learning that the blessed Peter was also there, the people hurried to the spot where he was living and carried him on their shoulders to the Kaisarion, where the populace was assembled. And the blessed one together with that other bishop carried out the consecration of Archbishop Timothy, the grace of God being with them.
Seeing himself menaced, the wicked and unprincipled Proterius was even further incensed. So he bribed the authorities with much gold, and notably an officer called Dionysius, a choleric and murderous individual, whom Proterius roused to such a pitch of frenzy that he hastened with an armed troop of brutal soldiery into the holy church of God and murdered many laymen, monks and nuns. Since the multitude could not endure this, they were inflamed with the zeal of martyrdom and daily resisted the soldiery with all the bloodshed of civil war. Then the civic authorities were afraid that this royal city would he altogether mined. When the news of the accession of the new Emperor Leo reached them, they decided to remove Proterius from the city until instructions were received from the sovereign. While Proterius was being escorted out by the soldiers one of them lost his temper and killed him, twenty days after the consecration of the blessed Timothy. They left him lying in the road like a pig or a dog, which he resembled in his manners and ferocity.
A.D. 457-74. After this, Peter went about Alexandria and the monasteries
nearby in secret, and visited many other towns and villages of Egypt, edifying
the hosts of true believers like a second Paul and providing for all an
exemplary model of pious ardour. The wonders and great miracles and deeds of
healing which he performed there we have not the power to describe in full
When all this came to the ears of the orthodox brethren in Palestine it awakened their love towards their holy father and bishop. Many saintly men came to him and entreated him to visit his flock in Palestine also, now that they had been so long deprived of his spiritual care. So he returned to the land of Palestine. When he reached the town of Ascalon, be received a joyous welcome from the brethren there, and stayed in a village called Pelaea, ten stades from the town. While he was there many people came from all sides to see him, some of whom he confirmed in the faith, while others he enlightened and brought into the fold of the orthodox Church. For this purpose he made frequent journeys, now through the region of Gaza and Mayuma, now through that of Caesarea and Jerusalem, as far as the borders of Arabia.
Now I will relate further incidents in the life of the blessed Peter which the present writer either witnessed in person or else was privileged to learn by report, or heard from the very mouth of the saint, though this narrative will be but a small selection from the abundant material available.
Once the saint happened to go into the regions of Arabia to take a cure by
bathing in the thermal waters of Livias, which ire called the Spring of Moses.
Since his youth he had bruised his body and tormented it by various forms of
ascetic discipline, so that his flesh had wasted away and only his skin and a
thin one at that - was stretched over his dried-up bones. in his old age,
indeed, he became so weak that he threw up with bloody "omit even what little
food he swallowed. This was his motive for going to the hot spring at Livias.
After he had been using the thermal waters there for one day only, he refused to o into them any more, explaining that he got no benefit from them, as they were too cold. But the people from Arabia said that there was another warm spring in their country, very hot and health-giving, at a place called Baaru, and urged him to visit this one. So next day we set off for Madeba and later descended into the place called Baaru where the hot spring is. This spot is a deep gorge surrounded on all sides by high mountains, heated by streams of boiling hot water, which spurt up not only from the earth but also from the surrounding crags. The valley is heated to such an extent that the hills around are as black as a chimney from the clouds of smoke hovering perpetually about them. But on all the days when the saint was there the air was so clear and fresh that it seemed as if a dewy breeze was wafting, and all those who had come down with him were amazed, saying, 'Never have we seen such a marvel!'
Another miracle happened to strengthen them in their faith in the following circumstances. The folk who gathered there in winter-time used to collect reeds from the mountain stream which flows down the middle of the valley and make them into shelters. hen they left and summer came on, and there was nobody about, then these shelters shrivelled and dried up from the heat. Now finding these ready made the people with us settled down inside. When one of them lighted a fire to prepare his food a spark sprang out and caught the reeds alight. The fire caught the other shelters nearby and turned them to ashes, and the flames darted so high that everyone in the shelters raised cries of alarm from fear of certain doom. Then the saint stepped forth in tears and fearfulness and stretched out his arms to heaven. While his mouth was silent he cried aloud in his heart, like Moses, to the Lord. Praise be to the unspeakable power and love of God Although nobody could quench the fire with water, and the shelters were reduced in a moment to ashes, they found neither man nor beast, neither pot nor garment destroyed, except for just one donkey's pack saddle, so that everyone knew that it was the saint's prayer alone which had checked the fire and rescued them.
Now in the city of Gaza there lived a pious scholastic called Dionysius, who was filled with love towards the saint. And he begged Peter to stay in his village, which was called Magdal Tutha, to the south of Gaza nearby the temple of the holy Hilarion, the great ascetic. After he had built a splendid residence for the saint he kept him there for three years.
At this time the blessed Isaiah the Egyptian, that great anchorite and prophet, was living in the neighbourhood, in the village of Beth Daltha, four miles from Father Peter. We must marvel at the trust and love which these saints showed towards one another. Every lay the blessed Peter used to send Father Isaiah some victuals suitable for an aged man who was abstemious and frail in body namely the sort of Gaza bread he used to eat, a bunch of parsley and leeks, cleaned and washed, and two little fishes. In exchange, the other used to send him three cakes.
A.D. 485. While they were living in this way, the Emperor Zeno learnt of the virtue and powers of those saints. As he wanted to receive their blessing, he sent the eunuch Cosmas, one of his favorite chamberlains, with letters to induce them to come to him, promising to let them go again without delay. When he heard of this the blessed Peter was very distressed and fell on his face in front of the holy altar and said Lord, deliver me from the outrages of mankind ! And he decided to travel into the borders of Phoenicia and hide there until he had sent a petition to tell the emperor of his enfeebled state and persuade him to excuse him from so great an exertion-which indeed came to pass, since our Lord supported the saint's petition.
Then after Whitsun we travelled to Azotus, a place situated on the coast, for
the Holy Spirit summoned the saint there for the comfort of those who lived in
that town. Though many begged the venerable saint to take up his residence in
the middle of the town, he refused and settled down in a narrow and wretched
shed by the sea, shorn of any sort of bodily comfort.
While we were living in this shed the saint happened to fall sick. As soon as this came to the ears of Elias the Tribune, who had been the confidant of the Empress Eudocia and now resided in Jerusalem, he was impelled by his anxiety to go down and see Peter. And Elias took him and led him to a place on the outskirts of the town of Yamnia, which lay near the sea, and was excellently suited to the saint's invalid condition. This he did because the resort was crown property, and had once been the residence of the Empress Eudocia.
When we were here, there came round the commemoration day of John the Eunuch, who had been the cell-mate of Father Peter, and had passed away on the 4th of December. According to his custom, Peter invited many people to this festival, especially from the mountain regions round about, and gave orders to buy quantities of fish from the sea nearby. Now it happened that winter came on so suddenly that sea-fishing had to be completely abandoned. We were troubled because we could not entertain the brethren as the saint had instructed. But suddenly shortage turned to plenty. During the night so much rain fell that the river which flowed near us flooded its banks and inundated the vineyards round about. In the morning such shoals of fish were picked up that the local people said they could never remember such a prodigy, and we could not cope with all the fish who had come to attend the commemoration feast of that holy man.
Now the time was drawing near for the blessed one to find rest and be called to Jesus whom he loved-a time to is unknown and unexpected, but to him long announced in advance; for us, an event grievous and painful, for him a cherished moment awaited with joy, since he yearned to reach that goal which is the crown of God's heavenly call. He made his will, in which he named four heirs: John the Deacon, known as the Qanopite, and with him, his cell-mates Zacharias and Andrew, as well as the scholastic Theodore of Ascalon. He bid us remain fast until death in the orthodox faith and to shun and curse all heresies, namely the synod of Chalcedon and the godless Tome of Pope Leo. - ďIn addition to steadfastness in the faith, take care to attain purity of soul and body, without which no man can see the Lord, and love towards one another, and the concord which comes from the heart and flows from a clear conscience and untarnished belief. Beware of indiscreet talk either with men outside or amongst yourselves, for unrestrained frankness inflames the passions. Meditate on the writings of the saintly bishop Basil concerning the ascetic life, and model your manners and conduct according to his holy precepts. For these writings were brought into being by divine grace for the inculcation of virtue and the edifying of monastic communities everywhere.'
All that day we fasted, and we remained until evening in heavy sorrow and grief, while the blessed one was now preparing himself for his end and holding converse with the Lord. When evening came we sat down at table to eat. In the middle of the meal, Euphrosynus, an honored monk whom the saint loved and who was by his side looking after him, cried out, 'The father is dying! Come and receive his blessing!" Then we sprang up from table and hurried sorrowfully to his bedside. So that we should not hurt the blessed one, who was breathing his last, Euphrosynus took the saint's right hand and gave it to each one to kiss and receive the benediction. When the blessed one in happy tranquillity had entrusted his spirit into the hands of God, who even now was near him and bore him away, it was Father Gregory who closed his eyes for the last time.
It was now the dead of night, and soon Friday was about to dawn. When morning came we shrouded the saintís body according to the custom and laid it before the holy altar, so that the holy sacraments might be celebrated in his memory. Afterwards we, his heirs, hastened to take his body and lay it to rest in his old cloister which lies in the neighborhood of Mayuma by Gaza. For we feared that if the townspeople of Gaza and Mayuma came to hear of it beforehand, they might he impelled by the great trust and love they bore him to carry off his sacred body and inter it in one of the churches in those towns. So we carried away the body of the pious departed. After spending a short time in a monastery on the outskirts of Ascalon, we went on all night and came before daybreak to the saint's old cloister. Now while the blessed one was still living here in quietness, he had erected three burial urns, into the middle one of which we now laid to rest his sacred body. In the right-hand urn reposed the holy relics of Father John the Eunuch, and on the left, those of Father Abraham, a pious hermit from Athribis.
When morning came the townspeople of Mayuma and Gaza heard of the death of the blessed one and the interment of his body. They hurried in a crowd to the cloister and fell down and prayed beside his sacred urn and kissed and embraced it like children bereaved not only of a father, but also of a teacher, guide and pastor. They remained assembled for seven days, holding vigil over him to the sound of hymns and liturgies, and seeking consolation for the grief they felt at his departing.
Our blessed father and bishop Peter died on the 1st of December, as Sunday
was about to dawn, on the third day of the commemoration of Peter, the great
martyr and archbishop of Alexandria, and five months after the passing of Father
Isaiah the ascetic. And a year later, on the day before the commemoration feast
of Father Peter, we renterred his body in the crypt beneath the altar of the
monastery church. The span of his life on earth was about eighty years. We
celebrate his memory during three days: the first being the anniversary of the
translation of his relies to the crypt beneath the altar, the second, that of
the assembly of the people, and the third, the day of his burial in the earth
and his committal into the hands of Christ Jesus, our Lord, God over all things,
to whom be praise, honour and power to all eternity, AMEN.
The book "LIVES AND LEGENDS OF THE GEORGIAN
SAINTS" selected and translated from the original texts by DAVID MARSHALL LANG
(M.A., Ph.D. Professor of Caucasian Studies University of London).
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