September 1, 2013

Saint Symeon the Stylite as a Model for our Lives

St. Symeon the Stylite (Feast Day - September 1)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

For the Church, September is the first month of the Indiction, and being its first day it is a New Year. On this day, the first month of September, our Church celebrates the memory of the venerable Symeon the Stylite.

Among the chorus of the Venerable Ones of our Church there are those among our Saints who are called "Stylites". They chose as a way of asceticism to remain on a pillar (stylo), which is how they received the name.

The venerable Symeon the Stylite came from a village called Sisan which was located between the province of Syria and Cilicia. He lived in the fifth century, when the emperor was Leo the Great and the patriarch of Antioch was Martyrios. He loved prayer and asceticism from a young age, and with the help of his spiritual teachers he reached higher stages in the spiritual life. After living the cenobitic life in the beginning, he proceeded to quieter areas and placed himself in a dry well to live in hesychasm, that is, prayer and asceticism. Having then settled in a monastic cell, he acquired great fame and many went to see him. As a result he could not find quietude, which is why he fixed in the earth a high pillar of thirty-six cubits on which he remained standing day and night. Under the pillar of the Venerable One crowds of people flocked to see him and hear his inspirational and comforting words, and many from other religions were baptized.

"With his material body he imitated the life of the angels, so much that some wondered whether he had a bodiless nature." (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Synaxarion)

He left this temporary life at the age of fifty-six. In such a short time he reached such great heights of virtue that he led thousands of people to the knowledge of God, and he benefited and continues to benefit with his intercessions and the many miracles he performs.

Saint Symeon the Stylite, by his way of life, reveals:

First, the way in which the saints exercised pastoral and missionary work. And this way, as things have shown, is the most effective. They teach, admonish and console by their way of life and with their words, which are not cerebral and moralistic, but regenerative and life-giving, since it proceeds out of a pure heart that is regenerated and full of the grace of the Holy Spirit. He did not seek to have people near him, and even more so he did not seek to acquire followers. He did not invite the multitudes, but instead he fled from them and sought quietude. As much as he desired invisibility and quietude, so much did fame chase him. He climbed down a well to hide and they found him. He climbed a tall pillar and they ran to be beneath him and waited through heat and cold to hear one of his words, one of his admonitions, by which he comforted, solved problems, and healed wounds. By his prayers he healed people physically and mentally. He regenerated them, leading them to baptism and the experience of the life in Christ. It seems clear that the mission that is done with example and intense prayer, with selfless and sacrificial love, has salvific effects.

Second, the saints are the greatest benefactors of mankind. They offer people what is needed most of all: answers to our greatest existential questions which torment us, and the way by which we can find meaning in our life. Because the greatest problem of man, today and forever, is to find meaning in his life. To be convinced that his life has some meaning, some purpose, thereby making it worthwhile to live. And that which gives worth and meaning to the life of man is the uncreated grace of God, which helps him transcend death within the limits of his personal life and in this way acquires "life and exceeding life". To experience the death of death and experience life truly. To come out of the prison of the senses, where his passions have held him captive and closed off, and to rejoice in his freedom; true freedom from a life of slavery to sin and the devil. The pillar of Saint Symeon is a symbol of true freedom, true love towards God and man, and the authentic life which has meaning and purpose, since it is intended for theosis, for communion with the Holy Triune God.

The most perfect creation of God is man, and he is the greatest blessing for creation when he remains a man or better, when he progresses further and becomes a god by grace. At the same time the biggest and most ferocious beast on earth is also man, when he is enslaved to his passions and loses his humanity.

In a materialistic age such as ours that is characterized by selfishness and self-interest, by self-love and an enslavement to the passions of avarice, vanity and sensuality, the life and work of the venerable Symeon is a powerful slap to awaken. To conquer one's passions is definitely not an easy thing. It takes willpower, lifelong struggle and prayer. But when it is attained, then a man regains his lost humanity and becomes a true man. He becomes a never-ending source of joy and blessing for the people around him, and for the whole universe.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΣΥΜΕΩΝ Ο ΣΤΥΛΙΤΗΣ", September 2001. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.