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1 : St Peter Of Atroa, ABBOT (A.D. 837)
St Peter of Atroa, who was born in 773 near Ephesus, was the eldest of three children, and was christened Theophylact. Nobody was surprised when, at the age of eighteen, he decided to be a monk. Directed, it is said, by the All-holy Mother of God, he joined St Paul the Hesychast (Recluse) at his hermitage at Crypta in Phrygia, who clothed Theophylact with the holy habit and gave him the name of Peter. Immediately after his ordination to the priesthood at Zygos some years later, at the very door of the church, there happened the first wonder recorded of him, when he cured a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Shortly afterwards St Peter accompanied his spiritual father on his first pilgrimage, when they directed their steps towards Jerusalem; but God in a vision turned them aside, telling them to go to the Bithynian Olympus, where St Paul was to establish a monastery at the chapel of St Zachary on the edge of the Atroa. This accordingly was done; the monastery flourished, and before his death in 805 Paul named Peter as his successor: he was then thirty-two years old.
The monastery continued to flourish for another ten years, when St Peter decided to disperse his community in the face of the persecution by the Emperor Leo the Armenian of those who upheld the orthodox doctrine concerning the veneration of images. Peter himself went first to Ephesus and then to Cyprus; on his return, at a conference of some of his refugee brethren, he escaped arrest by imperial troops only by making himself invisible. Then, with one companion, Brother John, hecontinued his wanderings and visited his home, where his brother Christopher and his widowed mother received the monastic habit at his hands. He tried to settle down as a recluse in several places, one of which was Kalonoros, The Beautiful Mountain, at the end of the Hellespont; but so great was his reputation as a wonder-worker and reader of consciences that he was never left in peace for long. He remained at Kalonoros for some years, making journeys about western Asia Minor from time to time, each of which was starred with miracles.
He then undertook the restoration of St Zachary's and the reorganization of two other monasteries that he had established, taking up his own residence in a hermitage at Atroa. But a few years later the Iconoclast troubles began again and, the local bishop being an opponent of images, Peter judged it wise once more to disperse his monks to more remote houses. He was only just in time, for soon after the bishop came to St Zachary's with the intention of driving them out and arresting those who resisted. St Peter, meanwhile, having seen his community safely housed elsewhere, stayed for a period with a famous recluse called James, near the Monastery of the Eunuchs on Mount Olympus.
Persecution becoming more envenomed in Lydia, Peter and James retired to the monastery of St Porphyrios on the Hellespont, but soon after St Peter decided to go back to Olympus to visit his friend St Joannicius at Balea, from whence he returned to his hermitage at St Zachary's. A few weeks later St Joannicius had a vision: he seemed to be talking with Peter of Atroa, at the foot of a mountain whose crest reached to the heavenly courts; and as they talked, two shining figures appeared who, taking Peter one by each arm, bore him away upwards in a halo of glory. At the same moment, in the church of St Zachary's, while the monks were. singing the night office with their abbot on a bed of sickness in the choir, death came to St Peter of Atroa, after he had lovingly addressed his brethren for the last time. It was January 1,837.
Butler's Lives of the Saints. Copyright © by Michael Walsh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.