December 28, 2016

Saint Simon the Myrrhgusher, Founder of Simonopetra Monastery

St. Simon the Myrrhgusher (Feast Day - December 28)


With Peter you carried a common calling and rock,
Your myrrh surpassing the rock O Simon.

We do not know where Saint Simon came from or anything of his early childhood. What we do know is that Saint Simon the Myrrhgusher went to live as an ascetic on Mount Athos to save his soul. His intention was to first find an experienced spiritual elder to guide him and to submit himself under obedience. After much searching for not only a virtuous elder, but one who was strict as well, he found what he was looking for. This elder was a rough and harsh man, who not only would insult Simon but also he would strike him. Simon endured all these things with joy and gratitude, and considered it a loss when he was not abused. Moreover, Simon held no malice against his elder, but returned much love to him, as an innocent child with a parent. He showed such love for his elder, that sometimes at night he would go and kiss his feet as he slept, or when he was away, he would go to the empty bed of his elder and kiss it. For this reason Saint Simon would say that we ought to love God very much because He made us out of nothing, and likewise we ought to love our elder because he recreates us by renewing and restoring the image of God within us. Such was his humility and his lofty spiritual understanding.

Soon the fame of Simon spread throughout the Holy Mountain, and he was loved by all the elders, and considered an elder himself since he possessed such a sound mind and was an example of obedience, self-control, wisdom and discernment. Even his elder, observing that Simon was utterly obedient and guileless, changed from his former stern and harsh ways, and became gentle. Moreover, his elder considered him his equal and no longer subordinate, rather he took counsel from him and viewed him as a brother. However, this troubled Simon, being humble-minded, and the honor and esteem he now received from his elder caused him distress and sorrow. He therefore asked permission from his elder to leave and seek solitude, with much pain in his soul, and the elder gave his blessing, lamenting that he was now deprived of a co-struggler and disciple.

Seeking silence and obscurity, Simon discovered a cave in the wilderness. There he faced many temptations as he progressed in his spiritual life. For example, one night, as he was praying, a demon transformed himself into a fierce dragon, and with its tail it struck him on the back. After sustaining many wounds and beatings from this phantom dragon, Simon fell to the ground half dead. The dragon continued beating Simon with its tail, with the intention of killing him, or at least terrify him to abandon the cave in which he was increasing his spiritual progress. But Simon was able to rebuke the demon in the name of God and the Theotokos, seeking for their assistance. Suddenly the demon vanished, and the cave became filled with light and an inexpressible fragrance. He also heard the Mother of God say: "Play the man and be strong, obedient and faithful servant of my Son." When it was dawn, Simon's health was completely restored.

After many years of hardship in that cave, Simon was enriched with the grace of God, being distinguished for his discernment and excellent explanation of the sacred Scriptures. This drew many other monks of the Holy Mountain to him that they may profit thereby, but Simon did not want to be disturbed so he considered finding a more remote place to live. This was not God's will however, for one night while he was praying his cave was filled with an abundance of light and an ineffable scent, and the Mother of God said to him: "Simon, Simon, O faithful friend and worshiper of my Son, depart not from this place. I have placed you as a great light, and I shall glorify both this place and your name."

Simon, being humble-minded, did not give much weight to this experience, considering it perhaps a hallucination or an apparition of a demon. Cautious in this way, Simon continued to ponder where to find a new habitation. One night, he saw a star of such brightness stand over a high rock that he thought it must be the Star of Bethlehem. Seeing the star remain motionless for several nights, he thought at first that it was a demonic temptation. On the eve of the Lord's Nativity as the star stood over the high rock, Saint Simon heard a voice say, "Here, O Simon, you must lay the foundations of your coenobium for the salvation of souls. Rightly were you careful, but do not disbelieve as before; for I desire to be your helper. Therefore, heed well and doubt not, lest you should suffer evil." Thereupon, Simon trembled and became inspired by God, and felt as if he were in Bethlehem on the night Christ was born, in the company of the shepherds to whom angelic choirs sang praises to God for the birth of the Savior.

A few days later three wealthy brothers came to Mount Athos to visit Saint Simon, for his fame had now spread throughout Macedonia and Thessaly. After confessing their sins they fell at Simon's feet and begged to live under obedience to him. Simon considered these men to be sent by God to help him build his coenobium, so he retained them as his disciples. After a period of time as novices, he clothed them with the angelic schema, and related to them everything concerning his vision to build the coenobium. He therefore requested that with their wealth they go and find builders to help in the construction of the monastery.

When the builders arrived and the Saint indicated to them the place where the monastery was to be constructed, they saw how perilous the task would be, and they would be risking their lives by building on such a cliff, so they hesitated. The Saint however tried to persuade them, and commanded his disciples to prepare a table that they might dine. As one disciple, whose name was Isaiah, was carrying a vessel with wine in one hand and a glass in another, he stumbled and fell off the cliff of the mountain into the torrent below. Witnessing such a piteous sight, the builders scolded the elder for putting everyone in such danger at risk of their lives, and accused him of murdering his disciple. Meanwhile the Saint prayed silently to the Mother of God invoking her help, and suddenly, after thirty minutes, by a divine miracle, the monk that had fallen began to ascend up the chasm and was found safe and sound before them, still holding the vessel full of wine and the glass. The builders saw by this that Simon was indeed a man of God, and they begged him to receive them also under obedience, and they assured him they would build the coenobium.

As the monastery was being built, the builders encountered many hindrances along the way, due to the difficulty of the task, but by the aid of the prayers of the elder, everything was miraculously accomplished. Saint Simon called this monastery New Bethlehem, though now it is known as Simonopetra.  Both the monastery and Elder Simon attracted men from all over to enter the monastery, but it also attracted Saracen pirates to come and plunder it. However, by divine aid the monastery was preserved after the Saracen's were blinded by an invisible force and afterwards healed by Saint Simon, which caused them to repent and also become monks at the monastery.

When the Saint arrived at deep old age, he was counted worthy of knowing the time of his death, so he called his disciples to him and gave them his final testament and blessing. He reposed in the year 1287, and his holy relic exuded myrrh that night. Unfortunately, due to the repeated attacks against the monastery, we no longer have his grace-bearing relics. "O the loss!" writes one monk, "During our difficult times we not only are deprived of the holy relics of the myrrhgushing Saint, but his sacred tomb also was concealed from us by God, Who alone knows His judgements."

A Miracle of Saint Simon the Myrrhgusher

After the repose of Saint Simon, the fathers of Simonopetra celebrated his memory on December 28th annually. One of the fathers did not want to honor his memory however. During the all-night church service, this monk left and returned to his cell to slumber. This was accompanied by blasphemous remarks and revolting words against the Saint.

As the fathers were keeping vigil, Saint Simon payed this blasphemous monk a visit. He appeared with a glorious countenance and brilliant as lightning, accompanied by two of his earliest disciples. Saint Simon, displeased with this monk, said to him: "Are you displeased, O defiled one? Glorify what has been glorified!" Then Saint Simon ordered his two disciples to strike down the monk, saying: "Strike down this blasphemer!" When the monk was down, it appeared to the brother that Saint Simon was thrashing his feet with the staff he was holding. The pain and fear caused him to awake, and with pain in his legs and fear he ran to church.

When he arrived he fell at the feet of the abbot and said: "Forgive me, fathers and brethren! Just now I beheld with the eyes of my soul, in truth, that God has glorified our venerable Father Simon! Moreover, I now believe and venerate him as one equal in worth and honor to the great saints of old - Anthony, Euthymios, Savvas and the rest. I thank you, O Saint of God, that you delivered me, the wretched one, from my demonic deception!"

Weeping in front of the brethren, he recounted to them in detail the glory of Saint Simon. Thereupon, all glorified God and His servant, the venerable Simon, through whose holy intercessions may we also be granted the kingdom of the heavens. Amen.