January 1 : Peter of Atroa, abbot (837)

Peter of Atroa, abbot (837)

Born near Ephesus, Asia Minor, 773; died at Atroa on January 1, 837. Saint Peter, the eldest of three children, was christened Theophylact. Not unexpectedly, he became a monk when he was 18. He said that the Blessed Virgin directed him to join Saint Paul the Hesychast, who named him Peter at Crypta, Phrygia. On the day his was ordained several years later at Zygos and at the door of the very church, he cured a man possessed of an unclean spirit.

Almost immediately thereafter, Peter set out with Paul on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but instead God directed them in a vision to go to Mount Olympus in Bithynia, where Paul was to found a monastery at the chapel of Saint Zachary near Atroa. This they did.

When Paul died in 805, he named the 32-year-old Peter to succeed him as abbot. The monastery flourished but after ten years Peter decided to close the monastery because of the iconoclastic persecution under Emperor Leo the Armenian. Peter went back to Ephesus and on to Crete (or Cyprus), and when he returned found he was a wanted man. He escaped the imperial troops seeking him by miraculous means (by making himself invisible), and wandered with a companion named Brother John from place to place. He visited his own home where his brother Christopher and widowed mother received monastic habits from his hands.

Eventually, Peter settle for several years at Kalonaros near the Hellespont. Unfortunately, his fame as a wonder-worker and reader of souls was so great that he was never left in peace for long. He made several journeys to various points in western Asia Minor and each was punctuated with a miracle. At one point, he was accused of practicing magic and using the devil because of the miracles he performed, but he was completely cleared by Saint Theodore Studites.

Peter again resumed his eremitical life near Atroa, restored Saint Zachary Monastery, and reorganized several other monasteries, but when there was another outbreak of iconoclasm. Because his own bishop was an iconoclast, he again dispersed the monks and sent them into hiding, but stayed nearby for a time. When the persecution became more violent, Peter retired to Saint Porphyry Monastery on the Hellespont. But soon Peter decided to return to Olympus to visit his friend Saint Joannicus at Balea, from where he returned to St. Zachary's.

A few weeks later, Joannicus had a vision. In it he was talking with Peter of Atroa at the foot of a mountain whose crest reached to the heavenly courts. As they talked, two shining figures appeared and each grabbed one of Peter's arms in order to lift him upwards in a halo of glory. At that same moment, while his monks were singing the night office, Peter died at Atro after lovingly addressing his brethren one last time (Delaney, Walsh).