July 21, 2015

Life of Sts. Symeon the Fool for Christ and John of Emessa

Sts. Symeon the Fool for Christ and John of Emessa (Feast Day - July 21)

The Life and Conduct of Abba Symeon Called the Fool for the Sake of Christ

Written by Leontios, Most Pious Bishop of Neapolis on the Isle of Cyprus


Those who are eager to pursue the worthy status which can be taught to others are obliged to demonstrate in their own life the teaching of still others and present themselves to all as a model of a way of living which is a virtue inspired by God, according to the divine word which says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” [Mt 5:16], lest perhaps they are eager to chastise, reform, and guide others before they themselves are instructed and purified through working at the divine commandments, having failed to lament their own death, while concerning themselves with the death of another, and fulfill in themselves the truthful saying, so fitting to them, which says, “He who does not do and teach these things will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” [Mt 5:17], and again, “Hypocrite, first take the log out of your eye and then look to take out the speck in your brother’s eye” [Mt 7:5]. For this reason also the wise author of the Acts of the Apostles says thus concerning our great and true God and teacher, “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” [Acts 1:1]. For this also Paul, the great vessel of election, wrote rebuking the Romans, saying, “You then who teach others, will you not teach yourselves?” [Rom 2:21] and so forth.

Since therefore I am unable to present instruction and the image and model of virtuous deeds from my own life, carrying with myself everywhere the mark of sin, come, and from the work of others and their sweaty toils, I shall today unveil for you a nourishment which does not perish but which leads our souls to life everlasting [cf. Jn 6:27]. For as bread strengthens the body, the word of God often awakens the soul to virtue in earnest, and especially the souls of those most slothful in the work of divine commandments and disposed to carelessness. For the zealous, those whose intention is directed toward God, it is sufficient for their conscience to set them in the presence of instruction, recommending all good things and dissuading them from evil. Those more humble than these need to have the commandment of the written law set before them. But if someone escapes both from the first and from the second type of path which leads to virtue, it is necessary that from the zeal and concern of others, which he sees before his eyes, through his hearing, and through the stories which are told to him, a divine yearning be aroused in him to shake his soul from its sleep, that he may travel through the straight and narrow path and begin eternal life now. For it depends on us and lies within our power either to despise the desire for things which come in the present because they pass away, or, in the desire and longing for present things, to lose the unceasing good.

That what I have said is true is proven by all men who throughout the ages have been pleasing to God, and they themselves master our nature, especially those luminaries of our own generation who have shone forth. One of these was the very wise Symeon, who, indeed, is much more venerable than most because he rose to the most pure and impassible height, although to those more impassioned and more fleshly he seemed to be a defilement, a sort of poison, and an impediment to the virtuous life on account of his appearance. Because of these things he was most pure, just as a pearl which has traveled through slime unsullied. Indeed, I say that through spending time in the city, hanging around with women, and the rest of the deception of his life, he truly sought to show a weakness in the virtuous life to the slothful and pretentious and the power granted by God to those who truly serve against the spirits of evil with all their souls.

I ask all who hear or read the narrative of his angelic conduct, which I have set down, to regard these writings with fear of the Lord and with the faith without doubt which is fitting to true Christians. For we know that to the most senseless and disdainful we seem to be relating something incredible and worthy of laughter. But if they had listened to the words, “If one wishes to be wise in this age, let him be a fool, that he may become wise” [1 Cor 3:18], and again, “We are fools for Christ’s sake” [1 Cor 4:10], and again, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men” [1 Cor 1:25], they would not consider the achievements of this true athlete to be laughable; rather they would marvel again at those seeking the alternate ways to virtue. For this was not someone undisciplined, still lacking a trainer, who has gone toward the world, but just as we see those arranged for battle, when the entire army stands with one intention: these men have confidence in themselves, or better yet, in the power of God, and in the soldiers’ armor laid upon them, and in excellent skill at war and long-developed experience; and these alone tread forth from the ranks into single combat against the adversary—and this is what Symeon did. Because he was fighting the noble battle well and in accordance with the law, because he saw that he had been armed with the power of the spirit, because he had acquired the power to trample snakes and scorpions under foot [Lk 10:19], because he quenched the burning of the flesh with the dew of the Holy Spirit, because he spat upon all the softness and sentiment of life as on a spider—what more can be said—and because he put impassivity upon himself as a garment, both inside and outside, on account of his humility, and he was deemed worthy of adoption as a son according to the word in the Song of Songs concerning the purity and indifference of the soul, which says, “All fair,” says Christ to the soul, “You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you” [Song 4:7]. Called by God, he went forth out of the desert and into the world, as into single combat against the Devil. For it was not thought just that the one thus honored by God and placed high should disdain the salvation of his fellow men, but remembering the One who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Lk 10:27], Who did not disdain to put on the form of a slave, although unchanged, for the salvation of a slave [cf. Phil 2:6ff.], Symeon imitated his own Master and truly used his own soul and body in order to save others.

But it is now time to relate to you, first of all, the manner of his coming from the desert into the world, and then of his strange and marvelous deeds.

To read the complete life, see here.