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ST. PETER OF SEBASTE, B. C.

From the life of his sister St. Macrina, composed by their brother St. Gregory of Nyssa; and from St. Gregory Naz. Or. 20. See also Theodoret, Hist. Ecc1.1. 4, c. 30. Rufin,1. 2, c. 9, and the judicious compilation of Tillemont, in his life of St. Gregory of Nyssa, art. 6, t. 9, p. 572.

About the year 387.

THE family of which St. Peter descended, was very ancient and illustrious; St. Gregory Nazianzen tells us, that his pedigree was made up of a list of celebrated heroes: but their names are long since buried in oblivion, while those of the saints which it gave to the church, and who despised the world and its honors, are immortal in the records of the church, and are written in the book of life; for the light of faith, and the grace of the Almighty, extinguishing in their breasts the sparks of worldly ambition, inspired them with a most vehement ardor to attain the perfection of Christian virtue, and changed their family into a house of saints; three brothers were at the same time eminently holy bishops, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Peter of Sebaste; and their eldest sister, St. Macrina, was the spiritual mother of many saints and excellent doctors; their father and mother, St. Basil the Elder, and St. Emclia, were banished for their faith in the reign of the emperor Galerius Maximian, and fled into the deserts of Pontus; they are recorded together in the Roman Martyrology, on the 30th of May: the grandmother of our pious and fruitful family of saints, was the celebrated St. Macrina the Elder, who was instructed in the science of salvation, by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. St. Peter of Sebaste was the youngest of ten children, and lost his father in his cradle, some think before he was born; and his eldest sister, Macrina, took care of his education, in which it was her only aim to instruct him in the maxims of religion, and form him to perfect piety; profane studies she thought of little use, to one who designed to make salvation the sole end of all his inquiries and pursuits, nor did he ever make them any part of his employment, confining his views to a monastic state. His mother had founded two monasteries, one for men, the, other for women; the former she put under the direction of her son Basil, the latter under that of her daughter Macrina. Peter, whose thoughts, were wholly bent on cultivating the seeds of piety that had been sown in him, retired into the house governed by his brother, situated on the bank of the river Iris; when St. Basil was obliged to quit that post, in 362, he left the abbacy in the hands of St. Peter, who discharged this office for several years with great prudence and virtue. When the provinces of Pontus and Cappadocia were visited by a severe famine, he gave a remarkable proof of his charity; human prudence would have advised him to be frugal in the relief of others, till his own family should be secured against that calamity; but Peter had studied the principles of Christian charity in an other school, and liberally disposed of all that belonged to his monastery, and whatever be could raise, to supply with necessaries the numerous crowds that daily resorted to him, in that time of distress. Soon after St. Basil was made bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, in 370, he promoted his brother Peter to the priesthood; the holy abbot looked on the holy orders he had received as a fresh engagement to perfection. His brother St. Basil died on the 1st of January, in 379, and his sister Macrina in November, the same year. Eustathius, bishop of Sebaste, in Armenia, a violent Arian and a furious persecutor of St. Basil, seems to have died soon after them, for St. Peter was consecrated bishop of Sebaste in 380, to root out the Arian heresy in that diocess, where it had taken deep root; the zeal of a saint was necessary, nor can we doubt but God placed our saint in that dignity for this purpose. A letter which St. Peter wrote, and which is prefixed to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s books against Eunomius, has entitled him to a rank among the ecclesiastical writers, and is a standing proof, that though he had confined himself to sacred studies, yet by good conversation and reading, and by the dint of genius, and an excellent understanding, he was inferior to none but his incomparable brother Basil, and his colleague Nazianzen, in solid eloquence. In 381, he attended the general council held at Constantinople, and joined the other bishops in condemning the Macedonian heretics. Not only his brother St. Gregory, but also Theodoret, and all antiquity, bear testimony to his extraordinary sanctity, prudence, and zeal. His death happened in summer, about the year 387, and his brother of Nyssa mentions, that his memory was honored at Sebaste (probably the very year after his death) by an anniversary solemnity, with several martyrs of that city.1 His name occurs in the Roman Martyrology, on the 9th of January.

We admire to see a whole family of saints! This prodigy of grace, under God, was owing to the example, prayers, and exhortations of the elder St. Macrina, which had this wonderful influence and effect; from her they learned most heartily and deeply to imbibe the true spirit of self-denial and humility, which all Christians confess to be the fundamental maxim of the gospel; but this they generally acknowledge in speculation only, whereas it is in the heart that this foundation is to be laid: we must entertain no attachment, says St. Gregory of Nyssa,2 to any thing, especially where there is most danger of passion, by some sensual pleasure annexed, and we must begin by being upon our guard against sensuality in eating, which is the most ancient enemy, and the father of vice: we must observe in our whole life the most exact rule of temperance, never making the pleasure of sense our end, but only the necessity of the use we make of things, even those in which a pleasure is taken. In another treatise he says,3 he who despises the world, must also renounce himself, so as never to follow his own will, but purely to seek in all things the will of God; we are his in justice, his will must be the law and rule of our whole life. This precept of dying to ourselves, that Christ may live in us, and all our affections and actions governed by his spirit, is excellently inculcated by St. Basil the Great.4








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