Wednesday, September 30, 2015

St. Simeon the Stylite

Երանելի Սիմէոն Սիւնակեաց
One of the more interesting saints that we commemorate in the Armenian Church (on the Monday of the second week of the Cross) is St. Simeon the Stylite, a monk who lived in Syria in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. The son of a shepherd, Simeon was born in Sis around the year 390.

At the age of 13, Simeon heard a reading of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew, which permanently altered the way he would live his life. At the age of 16, he decided to join a monastery where he lived an extreme form of asceticism, which resulted in alienating him from his monastic brothers.

He eventually left the monastery to continue his strict style of asceticism, first living in a hut, and then inside a circle of stones in the open air. He then constructed the first of 3 pillars, the final pillar being 60 feet high, with a platform about 6 feet square, on which he lived for 28 years!

It’s not entirely clear why St. Simeon climbed the pillar, but while living on its platform, enduring all weather conditions, he devoted his time to prayer, fasting, preaching, and ministering to pilgrims. As a result of him working with the sick, intervening for the poor, defending the oppressed, giving insight into the church politics of the day, and acting as an arbiter and counselor, his fame stretched all the way from Britain to the Persian Empire.

As they all come from every quarter, each road is like a river: one can see collected in that spot a human sea into which rivers from all sides debouched. For it is not only inhabitants of our part of the world who pour in, but also Ishmaelites, Persians and the Armenians subject to them, the Iberians, the Homerites, and those who live even further in the interior than these. Many came from the extreme west: Spaniards, Britons and the Gauls who dwell between them. It is superfluous to speak of Italy..

St. Simeon died on top of his pillar on September 2, 459, his body being discovered in a position of prayer. A mere 50 years after his death, inspired by the life and faith of St. Simeon, the Byzantine emperor Zeno had an enormous octagonal basilica and monastery complex constructed around the pillar (19 miles northwest of Aleppo, Syria), of which only ruins remain. The only writings that survived are of those who saw St. Simeon and disciples who served him.

As counter-cultural as his life may sound, St. Simeon the Stylite understood the counter-cultural nature of the Beatitudes, the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christian. Their message is the same today as it was when Jesus first delivered them. That is, there is a paradigm in which we are the center, and there is the Christian paradigm with Christ at the center.

Holy Simeon imitated his teacher, Christ. Calling on him, he made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, made the dumb speak, made paralytics move about with ease, healed the chronically ill. Each one he warned and exhorted, “If someone asks you who healed you, say, “God healed me”. Do not even think of saying, “Simeon healed me”, otherwise you will find yourself again in the very same difficulties.”

Today, we are called to the same kind of dedication as St. Simeon the Stylite. This is not a challenge or suggestion to live on top of a pillar (although a modern-day monk has taken that challenge). It is a call to live the Beatitudes, to follow Jesus, to remove the clutter from our lives, and whatever it takes, to sacrifice all distractions that would get in the way of being in communion with God and loving His creation.

Սուրբ Սիմէոն, բարեխօսեա՛ վասն մեր։
St. Simeon, pray for us!

For excerpts above and amazing stories about St. Simeon, get this book!

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