March 10 — Anastasia the Patrician; Peter de Geramia

Anastasia the Patrician (d. ca. 567) was a lady-in-waiting to Empress (St.) Theodora (Nov 14), and number 1 on Emperor Justinian’s list of “Women I’d Marry If My Wife Were (God Forbid) to Die.” Theodora knew this. (I’ll bet you know where this is going.) When her husband died, Anastasia fled to a monastery near Alexandria. Years later, word came that Justinian was widowed and looking for her. Heart pounding, she headed to the deep desert, where she confided her story to a certain Abba Daniel, saying, “Hide me.”

He gave her a man’s robe, her very own cave, a rule of prayer, and strict warning not to leave her cell or admit visitors. A monk was appointed to bring her bread and water once a week, and for 28 years she lived in seclusion, thought by all the monks in the neighborhood to be the eunuch Anastasius. When God told her her death was approaching, she wrote a message to Daniel on a potsherd and placed it where room service would be sure to find it. Daniel came, confessed and communed her, and at his request she blessed him and the monk who had served her so faithfully. After she died, Daniel gave his cloak to the monk (who quite unfairly has no name, as you will have noticed), and told him to wrap the body in it. The monk “noticed she was a woman” (in the delightful wording of my source), and after the burial, asked the Abba if he was aware of this, whereupon Daniel told him the whole story.

Peter de Geremia (1381–1452), a brilliant U. of Bologna law student, was about to start his (sure to be stellar) career when, dreaming one night about his coming glory, he heard a knock at his inaccessible third-story window. Disconcerted (for some reason), he opened the window with a timorous, “Who’s there?” to find the ghost of a relative, in life a famous lawyer, who was now eternally lost due to the deceit he employed to gain the acclaim his pride had craved. In the morning Peter did what any of us would do in such circumstances—he bought a huge length of chain and had it riveted tightly around his body. He then prayed to know God’s will, and was told to join the Dominicans. (Thus ending the oddest recruiting drive in the history of that fine organization.) Back in Palermo, his dad caught wind of Peter’s career change and came to give him a piece of his mind, but when he saw how happy he was, he gave him his blessing instead.

Peter rapidly became such a famous preacher that he had to preach outside—no building in Bologna could hold the crowds he attracted (and this was in the days before Porta-Potties). After he became prior of the abbey, he was told one day that they were running out of food. He went down to the sea and asked the first fisherman he saw if he would give a small donation to the boys at the monastery. He wouldn’t. Grabbing a boat, Peter rowed out into the bay and waved at the fish. They broke out of the fisherman’s nets and swam over to find out what he wanted. “I’ve changed my mind,” the fisherman called, and the fish all swam back into his nets, which were once again made whole. From that day on, the monastery never ran out of fish. (Is that a great story or what?)

Peter performed many other miracles, including stopping Mt. Etna from erupting (admittedly he used St. Agatha’s veil), healing the sick, and raising the dead, but sadly his words at the ill-fated Council of Florence could not mend the breach between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He was offered a bishopric for at least trying, but he turned it down.