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February 1, 2016

Saint Peter the Hesychast of Galatia

St. Peter the Galatian (Feast Days - November 25 & February 1)


For November 25th*
Having lived in quiet in the sea of life,
You arrived at a quiet harbor O Peter.

For February 1st
Completing your life in asceticism, Peter the uttermost Galatian,
You spread the words, of Paul to the Galatians.

By Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus, Syria

We hear of the Galatians in Europe, those of the West, and we know of those in Asia, their ancestors, who had settled by the Euxine Sea; it was from the latter that stemmed the blessed Peter,1 thrice and many times blessed. Reared by his parents for seven years, they say, from the time of his birth, he spent the whole of the rest of his life in the contests of philosophy. He is said to have died after living ninety-nine years. Who could adequately express admiration for one who strove for ninety-two years and through every day and night pursued his victorious path? What tongue could suffice to narrate the laborious achievements of the child, boy, adolescent, adult, middle-aged man, elderly man, and ancient man? Who could measure his sweat? Who could number the combats that took place during so long a time? What account could attain to either the seeds he sowed or the sheaves he garnered? Who is so elevated in thought as accurately to survey the abundance he amassed from so excellent a commerce? I know the ocean of his achievements, and therefore fear to embark on historical narration, lest the account become submerged. Because of this I shall walk along the shore, and admire and narrate that which is beside the land on the near side of the ocean; the deep sea I shall leave to one who, in the scriptural phrase, a searches the depths and knows secrets.

At first, therefore, he contended in Galatia; from there for the sake of sightseeing he made his way to Palestine,2 to see the places where occurred the sufferings of salvation and to worship in them the God who saved us - not that He is circumscribed in place (for he knew the lack of circumscription in His nature) -, but in order to feast his eyes with seeing what he desired and so that the eyes of the soul should not through faith enjoy spiritual delight on their own, without the sense of sight. It is somehow natural for those who are lovingly inclined to someone not only to reap delight from seeing him but also to gaze in great joy at his home and clothing and footwear. It is with this love for the bridegroom that the bride mentioned in the Song of Song exclaims, 'As an apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons; in his shadow I yearned and sat, and his fruit was sweet in my mouth.' So this divine man did nothing unreasonable when he fell in love with the same Bridegroom and used the words of the bride, 'I am wounded with love.' Out of a desire to behold as if a shadow of the Bridegroom, he set out to see the places which had poured forth for all men the streams of salvation.

After enjoying what he desired, he settled at Antioch;3 observing the city's love of God he preferred the foreign city to his homeland, counting as fellow-citizens not those of the same race and family but those of the same convictions, sharing the faith and bearing the same yoke of piety. Having fallen in love with this life, he did not pitch a tent or set up a cell or erect a hut, but spent all his time in the tomb of another; it had an upper story and projecting balcony, to which a ladder was attached to admit those who wanted to ascend.4 He continued immured in this for an immensely long time, using cold water, eating only bread, and this not every day; remaining one day without food, he would take food on the next.

There came to him a raving maniac, full of the action of the evil demon. He cleansed him through prayer and freed him from that diabolical frenzy. Since he had no wish to go away, but begged to give his services in return for this cure, he made him his companion. I knew this man as well. I remember the miracle and witnessed how he paid for the cure. And I heard them conversing about me: Daniel - this was his name - said that I too would share in this noble service of him; but that inspired man did not agree that this would happen, adducing in argument the love my parents had for me. He often sat me on his knees and fed me with grapes and bread; my mother, who had had experience of his spiritual grace, ordered me to reap his blessing once each week. He had become known to her from the following cause. A disease that afflicted one of her eyes appeared to be beyond medical knowledge, for there was no remedy, either recorded by the ancients or discovered by their successors, that had not been applied to the disease. When it defeated them all and showed them to be of no avail, one of her friends came to inform her of the man of God and to tell of a miracle he had performed: she related that the wife of the man who at that time held the rudder of the East - he was Pergamius -5 had been a victim of this same complaint, and that he had cured her by means of prayer and the sign of the cross. No sooner had my mother heard this than she immediately rushed to the man of God. She was wearing earrings, necklaces, and other golden jewelry, and an elaborate dress woven from silk thread, for she had not yet tasted the more perfect virtue; she was at the flower of age, and was content with the adornment of youth. So when this inspired person saw this, he first cured the weakness of love of adornment by means of the following words:

'Tell me, child,' he said (I shall use his own words and not alter the speech of this holy tongue), 'if some painter, well trained in his art, painted a portrait as the rules of the art prescribe and exhibited it to those who wanted to view it, and someone else, who had no accurate knowledge of the art but dashed off according to his fancy whatever he chose to paint, came along and criticized the artistic painting, and then added longer lines to the eyebrows and eyelashes, made the face whiter, and put red coloring on the cheeks, does it not seem to you that the first painter would rightly be indignant at his skill being grossly insulted and undergoing useless additions by an unskilled hand? And so (he continued) believe too that the Maker of the universe, the Sculptor and Painter of our nature, is rightly indignant at your accusing his ineffable wisdom of a lack of skill. For you would not have poured on red, white, and black coloring if you had not thought you needed this addition: by supposing your body to require them, you condemn the Creator for deficiency. But one ought to recognize that he has power corresponding to his will, for, as David says, the Lord "has done whatever he chose". Devising beforehand what will benefit every being, he gives nothing that is harmful. Therefore do not ruin the image of God, or try to add what he has wisely not given, or devise this spurious beauty which harms even modest women by laying snares for the beholder.'6

When the excellent woman heard this, she immediately entered the net of Peter, for he too, like his namesake, was a fisherman. Seizing his feet and imploring loudly, she begged to be granted a cure for her eye. He protested that he was a man with the same nature as her and carrying a great burden of sins which deprived him of familiar access to God. When my mother besought him with tears and declared she would not go away without obtaining the cure, he replied that it was God who heals these things and always grants the petitions of those who believe: 'So now too,' he said, 'will he grant it, not showing favor to me but recognizing your faith: so if you have faith pure and unmixed and free of all doubt, then, bidding farewell to doctors and medicines, accept this medicine given by God.' Saying this, he placed his hand on her eye and forming the sign of the saving cross drove out the disease. On thence returning home, she washed off her make-up and, rejecting all extraneous ornament, now lived according to the rules laid down by her doctor, neither wearing elaborate dress nor decking herself with gold jewelry - and this even though she was very much in her young prime of life: she was in her twenty-third year from birth, and not yet a mother; it was after a further seven years of life that she underwent the pangs of my birth, her first and only ones. So great was the profit she drew from the teaching of the great Peter, receiving a double cure: in quest of healing for the body, she obtained in addition the health of the soul. This is how he operated through words and prevailed through prayers.

On another occasion, she brought along a cook of her household, who was troubled by an evil demon, and begged to receive his help. After praying, the man of God ordered the demon to tell the cause of his power over one of God's creatures, like some murderer or burglar standing before the judge's seat and ordered to say what he had done; so he proceeded through everything, compelled by fear to tell the truth, contrary to his wont. He declared that in Heliopolis,8 when the master of this domestic was once ill and the mistress was sitting by her husband because of his illness, the maidservants of the mistress of the house where they were staying were recounting the life of the monks practicing philosophy at Antioch and how much strength they have against demons, and then these servants, as girls who enjoyed play, acted the part of raving demoniacs, while this domestic, putting on a goat's hair cloak, exorcised them like a monk. 'While this was being performed,' continued the demon, 'I was standing at the door. Finding these boastful remarks about monks unbearable, I decided to learn by experiment the power these servants bragged of them possessing. For this reason, leaving the maidservants, I intruded myself into this man, wanting to find out how I would be driven out by the monks. And now (he concluded) I have found out and need no further proof: at your command I shall immediately depart.' Saying this, he darted away, and the domestic recovered his freedom.

Another rustic possessed by a demon was brought along by my maternal grandmother, my nurse, who begged the adversary of evil to help him. He again asked where he came from and what gave him power against one of God's creatures. Since the other stood there in silence making no answer, he knelt down to pray and besought God to show the miscreant the power of his servants; he stood up again, and again the other resisted in silence, and this continued till the ninth hour. When he had addressed to the Master still more zealous and fervent prayer, he stood up and said to the miscreant, 'It is not Peter who is ordering you, but Peter's God. So give answer, compelled by his power.' The avenging spirit, despite his shamelessness, felt compunction at the holy man's modesty, and with a great voice cried out, 'I haunt Mount Amanus, and seeing on the road this man drawing water from a spring and drinking it, I made him my abode.' 'But depart from him,' said the man of God, 'since he who was crucified on behalf of the world gives you this order.' On hearing this he fled, and the rustic was restored to my nurse freed of his frenzy.

Although I have innumerable other stories of this kind to tell about this blessed soul, I shall omit most of them, out of fear at the weakness of ordinary men. Taking themselves as the standard, they disbelieve the miracles of the men of God. But I shall recount one or two before passing on to another contestant. There was a certain debauchee, formerly a general. An unmarried girl of marriageable age, who had him as master, left behind her mother and family and fled to a convent that contained a company of athletes - for there are women who compete like men and enter the racecourse of virtue.9 On discovering her flight, the general had the mother whipped and strung up, and did not free her from bonds till she had revealed the convent of pious women. Impelled by his own fury, he snatched the girl away from there and took her back home, hoping, the wretch, to satisfy his lechery. But He who tried Pharaoh with great and grievous trials because of Sarah the wife of Abraham, and guarded her chastity unsullied, and who struck the Sodomites with blindness when they tried to outrage angels they took for strangers, struck the eyes of this man too with blindness, and so made the quarry escape out of the midst of the nets; for as he entered the chamber, the girl, under guard within, immediately dashed out and disappeared, and made her way to her thrice-desired convent. This taught the senseless man that he would not get the better of one who had chosen the Divine Suitor; he was forced to remain quiet and give up hunting for one who, though captured, had escaped through the power of God. After time had passed, the girl fell victim to a grave illness. The disease was cancer, and as her breast swelled out the pain too increased. At the height of the pain she called for the great Peter; and she used to relate how, as soon as his sacred voice struck her ears, all that pain was lulled and she got not even a slight unpleasant sensation from it. Because of this she used to send for him repeatedly, and enjoy relief, for she used to say that all the time he was present her pains totally ceased. After she had contended in this way, he sent her forth from this life with the praises for victory.

Yet again, when after my birth my mother was at the gates of death, in response to earnest entreaty by my nurse he came and snatched her out of the hands of death. While the doctors had given her up, and her household in tears were expecting the end, she was lying, they say, with her eyes closed, possessed by a violent fever, recognizing none of her intimates. On the arrival of the one counted worthy of the name and grace of the Apostle, and his saying to her, 'Peace be with you, child' - for this was his mode of greeting -, she is said immediately to have opened her eyes, looked straight at him and asked for the fruit of his blessing. When the crowd of women broke into a shriek- for despair and confidence were mixed together - and uttered this cry, the godly man bade them all join with him in prayer; for so, he said, had Tabitha obtained healing, while the widows wailed and the great Peter offered their tears to God. They made supplication as he bade them, and were rewarded as he had foretold; the end of their prayer marked the end of the disease as well. Sweat suddenly poured from her whole body, the fever was extinguished, and the signs of health reappeared.

Such are the miracles that in our times too the Master works through the prayers of his servants. Even the skin of this man, acting through his clothes, had a similar power, as in the case of the most godly Paul, I have stated this without any exaggeration and in agreement with the truth. For cutting his girdle in two - it was broad and long, of thick twined flax - he put one half of it round his own waist and the other half round mine. My mother often put it on me when I was ill and often on my father, and thereby expelled disease; and she herself used this remedy as a means to health. Many of her acquaintance who had discovered this constantly took the girdle to help the sick; and it everywhere gave proof of the power of his grace. Consequently, someone who took it stole it from the givers, showing no consideration to his benefactors. In this way we were deprived of the gift. After thus blazing forth and illuminating Antioch with his rays, he passed from the contest, awaiting the crown laid up for victors. I myself, who enjoyed his blessing when he was alive, beg also to enjoy it now, and so bring this account also to an end.


* Saint Peter is celebrated on November 25th as Saint Peter the Hesychast, and on February 1st as Saint Peter of Galatia.

1. Peter was a hermit first in Galatia and later at Antioch. He knew Theodoret when he was a child but apparently not later, which dates his death to c.403. If he indeed lived to the age of ninety-nine, as Theodoret relates, this implies a date of birth of 304. He is listed in Theodoret Eccl. Hist. IV.28 as one of the ascetics on Mt. Silpius, just south of Antioch, together with Romanos, Zeno and others; Macedonis belongs to the same group.

2. Peter could have been one of the pilgrims who visited the Holy Land even before the Constantinian development of the holy places; see E.D. Hunt, Holy Land Pilgrimages in the Later Roman Empire.

3. Antioch was more Christian than Peter's native Galatia (see Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, II: 216-220).

4. Zeno also settled in a tomb on Mt Silpius. The reason is likely to have been merely practical, in contrast to Anthony of Egypt, who chose a pagan tomb in order to expose himself to demonic assault (Life of Anthony).

5· Pergamius was Comes Orientis, the highest official resident at Antioch. The date must be 385/6.

6. Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 11.8 and 111.2, and John Chrysostom, 8 Catecheses Baptismale 1.34-8, for the condemnation of cosmetics, fine dress, and jewelry by h1gh-minded Christians.

7. This dates the conversion of Theodoret's mother to the devout life to 386.

8. Heliopolis is the modern Baalbek, not far north of Damascus.

9. The only reference to a convent in Antioch itself appears to be Theodoret, Eccl. Hist. 111.14, a community of virgins at the time of the emperor Julian (361-3).

From A History of the Monks of Syria.