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St. Peter the Iberian

On the occasion of the feast of Saint Peter the Iberian (December 10 [Kohiak 1], according to the Coptic Synaxarion) 

 

Saint Peter was son of Bosmarios, the king of Iberia (Georgia) He was born around 409 AD. Ever since his childhood he preferred the ascetic life. At age twelve, he was sent as a hostage to Emperor Theodosius the Younger, as a guarantee of the loyalty of his father to the Roman empire. He carried with him the relics of the Persian martyrs (St. James the mangled included). His godfather, John the Eunuch accompanied him to Constantinople.  The Empress Eudocia treated him as a son. While in Constantinople, he heard Nestorius preach in the Cathedral and was appalled by his blasphemy. 
    As he grew older, he desired to visit the holy land. He disguised himself and fled the royal palace accompanied by John the Eunuch. They carried the holy relics with them.  Arriving at Jerusalem, they were received by Melania the younger in a residence that she had built for pilgrims. Melania had seen the young prince when she visited the Palace earlier.
    Shortly after, they both received the monk's habit from the renowned Gerontius, who was priest and abbot on the Mount of Olives. While living in the monastery of which Gerontius was abbot 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]
    A few years later, the blessed Peter chose a place on the north side of Jerusalem, by the holy church of Zion near the so-called Tower of David, and built there a cloister which is called to this day the Abbey of the Iberians. However their residence there was not fated to be of long duration. The Empress Eudocia, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, 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 told him: “Blessed are you, my son, for you have chosen the good thing! Remember me in your holy prayers!” 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. 
    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! On the commemoration day of the glorious martyr Victor, when an assembly of many bishops was in session, Paul who was bishop of that place, 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. 445.]
    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. 
    The monks and clergy of Palestine opposed the council of Chalcedon and they implored their bishop Juvenal 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 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 seventh of August [A.D. 452], 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. 
    The Emperor Marcian issued 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. 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.
    Now when the news of the death of Marcian reached Alexandria, the God-fearing populace breathed again and gave thanks to our Redeemer Christ. By unanimous resolve 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. [A.D. 457]
    In the period  A.D. 457-74, 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 detail. 
    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.
    At this time the blessed Isaiah the Egyptian, that great anchorite and prophet, was living in the neighborhood, 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 day 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.
    Now the time was drawing near for the blessed one to find rest and be called to Jesus  whom he yearned for. He bid us remain fast until death in the orthodox faith and to shun the synod of Chalcedon and the Tome of Pope Leo. “In 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.”
    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.
    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 reinterred his body in the crypt beneath the altar of the monastery church. The span of his life on earth was about eighty years. 

The biography of Saint Peter the Iberian was written by his disciple John Rufus, who succeeded him as bishop of Mayuma, in south Palestine (feast day Baramoudah 11). Another notable disciple of his is Saint Severus who became bishop of Antioch. Saint Peter is venerated by both the Chalcedonian Georgian Orthodox Church, as well as the Non Chalcedonian Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Condensed from: Parousia September, 2008, Read online