June 12 – Peter of Mt. Athos; John of Sahagún

Peter of Mt. Athos* (d. 734), a soldier, was taken captive by the Syrians and languished in prison, recounting his sins. Eventually he remembered he had promised God to become a monk and hadn’t, so he fasted and prayed to St. Nicholas (Dec 6) for deliverance. This was apparently a wrong number, as Nicholas appeared in a dream and told him to pray to St. Simeon the God-Receiver (see Feb 2) instead. In the fullness of time, Nicholas and Simeon appeared in Peter’s cell, and with a touch from Simeon’s staff, Peter’s chains melted as wax melts before the fire. Nicholas guided Peter to the Greek frontier[1], and bade him remember his promise.

Peter caught a boat of indeterminate speed to Rome, while Nicholas appeared to the pope, relating Peter’s story and telling him to tonsure him. When the boat landed and Peter joined the throng in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope cried out, “Will the Greek Peter whom St. Nicholas rescued from prison please pick up a white courtesy phone?” (Or something like that.) Peter came forward, the Pope explained about his vision, a tonsuring took place, and Peter stayed with the Holy Father a while to learn about hermiting.

He boarded another ship, and was told in a dream by the Theotokos* to go to Athos. Nobody knew where that was yet, but as the ship steered itself, that didn’t matter. He lived on the peninsula for fifty-three years without seeing another soul. He was attacked by demons, watched his clothes fray away (handily, he grew a luxuriant coat of body hair that made an acceptable substitute), and prayed. The devil appeared to him as a lad from his hometown, tearfully begging Peter to come home. “I will if the Theotokos allows,” Peter replied, and the crafty one disappeared. Seven years later Satan donned an angel costume and told Peter to go out into the world and help people. Peter gave the same answer, and the devil gave up.

In a vision, the Theotokos told Peter she had chosen this peninsula, of all the peninsulas of the world, as her own, although she planned on sharing it with monks, starting with Peter. In a non-vision, a hunter chasing a stag ran into Peter, and listened as the saint poured out his life story. He returned a year later with his demon-afflicted brother, only to find Peter dead. When the brother touched the body, though, he was healed, which was happy. Peter’s relics reside in the village of Photokami in Thrace.

John of Sahagún (1419–1479) was educated and tonsured by the Benedictines, following which his father secured for him a benefice nearby. He became buds with the bishop, who priested him and gave him a bunch of prebends, which are cathedral-based benefices, which are church positions that come with a steady income. He was set for life, until he gave all his prebendaries and benefices away save one. Then came a stint at the University of Salamanca, and an operation to remove “stones.” (In what? I don’t know, and am not going to ask.) After recovering, he fulfilled his sickbed promise to become a religious*, joining the Augustinians. He soon became master of novices, and then prior.

While saying the Mass, John often saw the blessed sacrament glowing with light, and he was granted the gift to see into men’s hearts, so that it was hard to sneak anything by him in confession. In his sermons he lifted the poor, and shamed the vices of the rich, some of whom hired assassins to bump him off. On seeing him, however, the assassins lost courage and begged his forgiveness. A sermon on the “sins of impurity” caused a certain nobleman to put away his concubine, who retaliated by poisoning John, whereupon he died. Some of his relics remained in Spain, while other bits went to Belgium and Peru. He is the patron of Salamanca.

[1] Border.