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February 9, 2011

Saint Peter of Damascus and His Feast On February 9

Peter, the sacred martyr, is the name of two saints. The first Saint Peter, mentioned by Saint John of Damascus (ca. 675 - ca. 749), lived during the reign of Constantine V Kopronymos (r. 741-775). He was arrested by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid II (r. 743-744), son of the Arab Caliph Hisham (r. 724-743), when he censured the cacodoxy of the heretics and the error of the Arabs and Manicheans. The saint suffered torture when they plucked out his tongue while he was in exile in South Arabia. Despite the excision of this organ of speech, Saint Peter still spoke clearly and distinctly as he celebrated the divine office of the Liturgy.

The second Saint Peter of Damascus (12th cent.) is identified by others as the author of several treatises in the Philokalia. Book One is titled A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, and Book Two comprises the Twenty-four Discourses. He occupies more space in the Philokalia than any other author, save Saint Maximus the Confessor. He is concerned throughout his writings with the personal ascesis and prayer of the hesychast. His writings are not only for monks, since he insists that spiritual knowledge is within everyone's reach. He advocates continual prayer and believes that it is possible in all situations.

Since The Great Synaxaristes, in Greek, mentions in the verse couplet that today's Saint Peter was a hieromartyr who was slain by the sword, an event which it appears was not endured by either of the saints mentioned above, some have identified the saint of this day as Saint Peter of Maiouma. Both eighth-century saints, Peter of Damascus and Peter of Maiouma, are found in the Chronicle of Saint Theophanes. There are others who believe that today's Saint Peter might be identified with the priest, Saint Peter of Capitolias (d. 715), commemorated by the holy Church on the 4th of October. For his rebuke of Islam, he suffered the rooting out of his tongue, brutal amputations, and finally beheading.

From The Great Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church, translated by Holy Apostles Convent, pp. 440-441.

"Philokalia" Introduction To Saint Peter of Damascus

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite*

Our holy Father Peter, who was bishop of Damascus, lived under Constantine Kopronymos, in the year 775. He, at first, followed the solitary and anchoritic life in the greatest poverty, not even owning a book, as he himself says. That is, he only borrowed from others the Old and New Testaments, and the books of the great masters of the Church, and, in a word, of all the other awakened and God-bearing fathers, and became so industrious that — meditating night and day on the law of the Lord and watering his life by the flowing streams that gush from there — he was thought of as a twin tree to that of the Psalm, with its high and heavenly foliage, planted next to the spring itself of the waters of the Spirit. Except, while that tree is said to give its fruit only in one season, it was not so for him: on the contrary, staying green in every season, non-stop and without letting up, he brought forth spiritual fruits, pleasing to the sight, sweet to the taste, perfumed to the scent, and that with the undying and fragrant delicacies that flow from them, offer a banquet to every sense of the body and of the soul.

He did, in fact, bring forth, while alive, many great fruits through his ascetic efforts, and many much greater with his death, grasping the crown with his martyrdom: indeed, having proved the unorthodox heresy of the Arabs and the Manichees false, he had his tongue cut out by al-Walid, son of the leader of the Arabs, Hishim, and was exiled to Arabia Felice; there he died, still speaking and exercising the priesthood faultlessly. After his death he brought forth an over flowing abundance of most numerous and great fruits, leaving us a paternal and inalienable inheritance, this truly most beautiful book, adorned with every virtue, in which he labored with so much eloquence and grace that I would not even know how to express it: it is the pride of all and most useful to the soul in all the virtues, a treasury of contemplations, a list of spiritual charisms, a Halcyon of divine beatitudes, a sanctuary of bodily practice, a most meticulous analysis of the passions one by one, a horn of the ascetic Amalthea, a storehouse of divine knowledge and wisdom: in short, it is the summation of sacred wakefulness.

Knowing then how this summation is naturally linked to the present book, and how it adds an enormous contribution towards the goal which we have in mind, we thought it extremely important to keep it. This puts it nicely: as a circle is to a circle, so a philokalia to a Philokalia - the great to the greater and the more vast to the more restricted. It did not, in fact, seem right to us to separate this work which is loaded with spiritual fruits — as we said above — from the choir of holy and sober fathers: this book itself would have accused us of the inability to recognize the beautiful, not allowing its friends and family members to become separated from the fathers; nor under any circumstance, did it appear to us permissible to mutilate our work in this way — which also needs the collaboration of this book — and to deprive the brothers of so great a profit: for the increase of good always makes for an increase benefit.

If then someone wants to take up the double wings of the spiritual dove, which one time David was also looking for but did not find, strip the leaves of this book with laborious care, and in it marvelously find them: here, the all silver wing of praxis, and there, that pure gold wing of theoria. Raising himself with both wings above all the things of earth, he will fly towards the eternal heights and, after having nested that dove in the nests on high, he will find rest in heavenly beatitude.

* Although Nikodemos the Hagiorite identifies the Hieromartyr Peter with this author, the saint whose works have been incorporated into the Philokalia must have lived several centuries later, since the holy Peter of the Philokalia mentions the name of Saint Symeon Metaphrastes (d. ca. 1000). He also makes many references to the holy fathers in his writings. Since none of his spiritual treatises makes mention of the great luminary Saint Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022) or his disciple, the theologian and hegoumen of Stoudios, Niketas Stethatos (d. ca. 1090), there exists a 13th-14th century manuscript which places the work at 1156-7. He certainly lived before the hesychast controversy, so it is more than likely that he belongs to the 11th or 12th century. (See "Introductory Note to Saint Peter of Damaskos", in The Philokalia - vol. 3.)

Read also:

St. Peter of Damascus: Eight Types of Knowledge

298 Passions Mentioned In Holy Scripture

That There Are No Contradictions in Holy Scripture

We Should Not Despair Even If We Sin Many Times