February 3, 2014

Saint Symeon the God-Receiver as a Model for our Lives

St. Symeon the God-Receiver (Feast Day - February 3)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Symeon is called God-Receiver because he greeted Christ in the Temple and accepted Him into his arms. Forty days after the Nativity of Christ the Panagia and Joseph brought Him to the Temple, in accordance with the Law, and when the God-Receiver Symeon received Him in his arms he said to Him: "Now let Your servant depart in peace, Master, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all people. A light of revelation to the nations, and the glory of Your people Israel."

The God-Receiver Symeon waited patiently for the Messiah until deep old age with unwavering faith. He knew very well, as it had been prophesied by the Holy Spirit, that he would not taste death before he saw "the salvation of God", and for this reason he held Christ in his arms and asked to depart from this life. And though he breathed his last he was not worried or agitated, but felt spiritual exaltation and deep peace. Characteristic are his words towards the Panagia: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a controversial sign, so that the reasonings of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own heart too."

The life and deeds of the God-Receiver Symeon give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the God-Receiving Symeon testified concerning Christ that He is not a man, neither great nor important, but the God-man Lord, the incarnate Divine Word, the salvation of God. That He is not simply an enlightened teacher, but the Light of the world, a "Light of revelation to the nations". He prophesied even that Christ was destined for the fall and rising of many and "a controversial sign" and that the heart of the Panagia would be penetrated with the sword of pain, that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed.

Indeed, Christ is the Person who divided human history. He is Himself a controversial sign, as well as His commandments and words. Some accept Him and others reject Him. Those who love Him and accept His virtuous yoke and light load are usually few. Most cannot tolerate the preaching of love and are reluctant for abnegation. But no one remains indifferent to the mystery of Crucified Love. The Cross of Christ, which was a sword for the Panagia, will always be the cause of the revelation of the human thoughts of the heart, and it will be for those who have not tasted authentic love and are attached to the letter of the Law that kills, a scandal for the "reasonable" and wise men of this age, and foolishness. But for all those who experience love as a cross and the cross as love, for those who have this reasonable craziness, which has the power to heal the "logic" of unreasonable craziness, for the saved, it will always be the "power of God and the wisdom of God".

Second, when the Old Man Symeon, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, recognized in the face of the Child the Savior of all people, he asked for an exit from this present life. And though he breathed his last he maintained the internal peace of his soul, because he knew that he would continue to live and have communion with God in another dimension of life. He exceeded the limits of death in his personal life, although death had not yet been ontologically abolished by the Resurrection of Christ. This is a characteristic feature of the Saints. They do not fear death, but rather desire it, because they know empirically that the passing away of the soul from the body or towards God endemically is not death, but a transition "from death to life". They leave this temporary life with the certainty of eternal life "in the Light", and for this reason they have in their soul deep peace. Once an Orthodox monk was about to breathe his last and his fellow ascetic asked: "How do you feel, Father, now that you are departing this temporary life and heading into eternity?" He, full of calmness and serenity, responded in his own characteristic and simple way: "Both here with God and there with God, everywhere is good."

When man is enslaved to his passions and attached to material things, and is ignorant of eternal divine life, then before the prospect of death he feels fear and trepidation. "The soul that is sinful and a prey to the passions cannot know peace and rejoice in the Lord, even though she possess all the riches of the earth, even though she rule over the whole world. If a great king, merrily feasting with his princes, and sitting on the throne of his glory, were suddenly to be informed, 'O King, thou art about to die,' his soul would be troubled, and would tremble with fear, and he would see his infirmity. There are poor men who have no fear but meet death in peace, like Symeon the Just.... Only those with the peace of God in their souls, or who have at least experienced it, can understand the peace that was in the soul of Symeon the Just" (Saint Silouan the Athonite, pp. 315-316).

The internal peace of the soul is connected directly to the reception and acceptance of Christ, by keeping all His commandments and overcoming death in the limits of their personal life.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΣΥΜΕΩΝ Ο ΘΕΟΔΟΧΟΣ", February 2003. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.