08 February 2009

'Compunction is Absolute Master'—Venerable Peter of Egypt


Today, 27 January on the Church’s calendar, we see listed ‘Venerable Peter of Egypt (5th c.)’. Fortunately, the link from his name there as well as Bulgakov’s Menaion add to this the information that the St Peter in question was a disciple of the Venerable Lot. In the Gerontikon, there is an Abba Peter the Pionite who is identified as a disciple of Abba Lot (Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, rev. ed. [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1984], p. 200). There are only four apophegmata under his name, but they’re certainly better than ‘practised asceticism in the 4th century’! I shall quote two that I find particularly interesting.

In Peter the Pionite 2, we read:
A brother said to Abba Peter, the disciple of Abba Lot, ‘When I am in my cell, my soul is at peace, but if a brother comes to see me speaks to me of external things, my soul is disturbed.’ Abba Peter told him that Abba Lot used to say, ‘Your key opens my door.’ The brother said to him, ‘What does that mean?’ The old man said, ‘When someone comes to see you, you say to him, “How are you? Where have you come from? How are the brethren? Did they welcome you or not?” Then you have opened the brother’s door and you will hear a great deal that you would rather not have heard.’ The brother said to him, ‘That is so. What should a man do, then, when a brother comes to see him?’ The old man said, ‘Compunction is absolute master. One cannot protect oneself where there is no compunction.’ The brother said, ‘When I am in my cell, compunction is with me, but if someone comes to see me or I go out of my cell, I do not have it any more.’ The old man said, ‘That means that you do not really have compunction at all yet. It is merely that you practise it sometimes. It is written in the Law: “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years and in the seventh he shall go free, for nothing. If you give him a wife and hse brings forth sons in your house and he does not wish to go because of his wife and children, you shall lead him to the door of the house and you shall pierce his ear with an awl and he shall become your slave for ever”’ (cf. Ex. 21:2-6). The brother said, ‘What does that mean?’ The old man said, ‘If a man works as hard as he can at anything, at the moment when he seeks what needs, he will find it.’ The brother said, ‘Please explain this to me.’ The old man said, ‘The bastard will not remain in anyone’s service; it is the legitimate son who will not leave his father.’ (Ward, p. 200-1)


This repeated questioning by the brother, at least to the extent that it goes, seems unusual to me among the apophthegmata. It’s also interesting because the first time I read this saying, I was just as perplexed!

The second saying is much easier and much shorter. In Peter the Pionite 4, we read:

Abba Peter said, ‘We must not be puffed up when the Lord does something through our mediation, but we must rather thank him for having made us worthy to be called by him.’ He used to say it is good to think about each virtue in this way.’ (Ward, p. 201-2)


Besides the appealing nature of the humility Abba Peter prescribes here, I was drawn to the reference by name to the virtues—a neglected aspect of Christian moral teaching in our day, it seems.

The Venerable Peter the Pionite fell asleep in the Lord in about 400. But the question remains: does anybody have any idea what ‘Pionite’ means?

5 comments:

orrologion said...

Sorry, I know nothing about 'Pionite'.

You mention of the Venerable Lot reminded me of a question I have had for years. Are all of the Abbas and Ammas of the various collections of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers saints, or not? I had wondered this especially regarding Abba Or because I thought it would be interesting to basically have a saint's name for each of my three names. Stupid, silly reason, but the question has remained. I'm not sure if all/mot of them are on the Church's Calendar, or not.

orrologion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
orrologion said...

I don't think the Venerable Peter was in the flooring business, but there is a US company called Pionite, which sells a laminate product called Pionite.

"Pionite is a manufacturer of a variety of specialty laminates. These include decorate surfaces in addition to items that provide structural stability, color-through surfaces, chemical resistance, fire rated surfaces and electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection.

Pionite standard laminate is designed for either horizontal, vertical, or postforming applications. This laminate is seen on countertops, tables, vanities, interior doors, cabinets, contract furniture, and retail store fixtures.
How is it made

High pressure laminate is manufactured in a flat press by combining decorative papers saturated in melamine resin with phenolic-impregnated kraft layers at high pressures and temperatures. The panels are trimmed to size and the backs are sanded to facilitate bonding. The thickness of the laminate is determined by the number of kraft layers used. The laminating process combines the durability of melamine resins with the aesthetics of decorative papers. Specialty products can incorporate custom images and inlays."

It seems it was first created by a company called Pioneer Plastics Corporation, according to a 1962 edition of 'American Stock Exchange Investor'. Pionite in this case is probably just derived from the first part of the company's name with an -ite at the end.

orrologion said...

I also found that in French 'pion' means:

n. student paid to supervise schoolchildren, surveillant, supervisor

n. pawn (Chess); (derogatory) student paid to supervise schoolchildren

In Dutch, 'pion' also means

n. pawn

I wonder if the term is derived from another language or term that would have been in use either at the time of Ven. Peter or when his Life was first translated into English or another western language from which our translation of his life is derived.

Of course, 'pion' is also "the collective name for three subatomic particles: π0, π+ and π−, [which] are the lightest mesons and play an important role in explaining low-energy properties of the strong nuclear force."

aaronandbrighid said...

Regarding your question about the Desert Fathers, I'm not sure, but it seems like most of the ones that are in the alphabetical collection, the 'Gerontikon', probably are on the calendar. They don't always have elabourate Lives or hymnography, but they're at least commemorated. The Venerable Or can be found on 7 August in the Prologue. I see he is also listed as 'Hor' or 'Horus' on some calendars.