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January 15, 2010

Saint Peter the Athonite and the Demons

St. Peter the Athonite (Feast Day - June 12)

The icon above depicts an episode from the life of St. Peter the Athonite, the first ascetic of Mount Athos. It shows the devil as an angel of light appearing to St. Peter in order to pursuade him away from the monastic path he endured bravely. The first biography of St. Peter was written by St. Gregory Palamas, who relates the story behind this icon. This is a lesson which teaches us the great virtue of humility and obedience in withstanding demonic attacks and deception.

The Most Holy Mother of God appeared in a dream to Saint Peter and indicated the place where he should live till the very end of his days – Holy Mount Athos. When the ship sailed alongside Athos, it then halted of its own accord. Saint Peter realized that this was the place he had to go, and so he went ashore. This was in the year 681. The Monk Peter then dwelt in the desolate places of the Holy Mountain, not seeing another person for 53 years. His clothing had tattered, but his hair and beard had grown out and covered his body in place of clothes.

At first the Monk Peter was repeatedly subjected to demonic assaults. Trying to force the saint to abandon his cave, the devils took on the form at times of armed soldiers, and at other times of fierce beasts and vipers that seemed ready to tear apart the hermit. But through fervent prayer to God and the Mother of God, the Monk Peter conquered the demonic assaults. Then the enemy began to resort to trickery. Appearing under the guise of a lad, sent to him from his native home, he with tears besought the monk to leave the wilderness and return to his own home. The monk was in tears, but without hesitation answered: "Here has the Lord and the Most Holy Mother of God led me, and without her leave I will not leave from here". Hearing the name of the Mother of God, the demon vanished.

After seven years the devil came before the monk in the guise of a luminous angel and said that God was commanding him to go into the world for the enlightening and salvation of people needful of his guidance. The experienced ascetic again replied, that without the permission of the Mother of God he would not forsake the wilderness. The devil disappeared and did not bother more to approach the saint. The Mother of God appeared to the Monk Peter in a dream together with Saint Nicholas and said to the brave hermit, that each forty days an Angel would bring him heavenly manna. From that time the Monk Peter fasted for forty days, and on the fortieth day he fortified himself with the heavenly manna, receiving the strength for a further forty-day abstinence.