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February 3, 2017

Saints George the Bishop of Mytilene, Symeon the New Stylite and David the Monk

Sts. George Symeon and David the Brothers (Feast Day - February 1)

At the beginning of the eighth century there lived in Mytilene a couple named Adrianos and Konstanto, who bore seven children, five of which became monastics. Three of them were David, Symeon and George.

The eldest was David, who was born in 717 or 718. In his youth he had a meager education and occupied himself as a shepherd of his father's sheep. Once when he was sixteen, while herding his father's sheep, there was a major storm, at which time he had a vision of Saint Anthony the Great, who called him to the monastic life, and specifically instructed him to go to Mount Ida in Troas of Asia Minor, just opposite of Mytilene, to live as a monk there. Receiving this advice with great joy, he departed for Mount Ida, where he lived as an ascetic in a cave and lived off of wild greens. Having lived there for thirty years, he had another vision which directed him to the Bishop of Gargara so as to be ordained a Deacon by him followed by a Presbyter. With this he returned to Mount Ida, where he received an angelic vision, to build a church dedicated to Saints Kyrikos and Julitta, and a monastery. This took place in 762, and many monks gathered there.

Ten years later, his widowed mother came to the monastery to find him, having her youngest son with her named Symeon. He was eight years old at the time, having been born in 765 or 766, and their mother left him there in order for him to be raised by his brother to become a monastic. Soon after this their mother reposed in Mytilene.

Symeon was raised in the monastery and received an education there. At the age of twenty-two he was tonsured a monastic, and at the age of twenty-eight he was ordained a Priest by the Bishop of Gargara. Two years later David reposed at the age of sixty-six, having known of his death beforehand by the grace of God. Before his repose he recommended to his brother Symeon that he return to Mytilene. Obeying the command of his brother, he returned to Mytilene to a place called Panagia, which was near the southern port city of Molos. Desiring to imitate the ascetic feat of the old Saint Symeon the Stylite, there he loaded himself with chains and climbed a pillar, living in extraordinary asceticism, fasting, prayer and hardship.

Soon his brother George, who was also a monk that was born in 763, came to live near his brother. He also was ordained a Priest, and together with his other monastic brother and his sister who was a nun named Hilaria, as well as other monks, a monastery was built there. Multitudes of Christians gathered there thirsty for spiritual advice and blessing.

During the reign of Emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820), a new persecution rose against the Church due to the iconoclasm of the emperor. He had Bishop George of Mytilene (Apr. 7) exiled, and placed the iconoclast Leo in his place. He in turn came against Symeon and his monastery. Symeon was condemned to death by fire while on his pillar, but he miraculously escaped this fate and was able to remain on his pillar for a short time longer. However, the Bishop soon forced him to leave Mytilene, so along with some monks they went to the small island of Agios Isidoros, located in the gulf of Geras.

Later the iconoclast bishop was able to receive an edict from Emperor Michael II (820-829), to have Symeon exiled to Lagousa, an uninhabited island opposite Troas. Symeon went there with seven of his disciples, and there he mounted a pillar ten meters high. Meanwhile his brother George remained at the monastery in Mytilene, taking care of it.

Saint Symeon later went to Constantinople, where he realized he could provide necessary services to the Church, and he settled in the Monastery of Saint Niketas of Medikion. Centered at this monastery, he would travel from the Hellespont to the Aegean islands and to the Black Sea to support with his words the Christians and console the persecuted fathers who were exiled to various places due to iconoclasm. During these journeys he would occupy himself as a fisherman, where he would station himself to help financially those who were in need. On these journeys he not only preached, but he also healed the sick and founded a female monastery, in which many nuns gathered.

After the death of Emperor Michael, his iconoclast successor was Theophilos, who also declared a fierce persecution against the Church. He had Symeon and his brotherhood arrested, but he was kept from prison by Empress Theodora. However, he could not escape the punishment of 150 lashes, and exile to the island of Afousia in the Propontis. He was sent there with Saints Theophanes and Theodore the Branded, as well as other fathers. There Symeon built a church to the Panagia and built a monastery, to which many fathers who suffered under the iconoclasts gathered.

George remained at Mytilene and faced several inconveniences. The iconoclast Bishop Leo oppressed him in various ways and finally sent him away from Mytilene, for he had captured and sold the monastery and everything that belonged to it. Forced to leave, George went with his monks to a village called Myrsina. Many Christians would gather to see him there, and he performed many miracles.

When Emperor Theophilos died in 842, Empress Theodora recalled all exiles, including Symeon and George. They along with Patriarch Methodios were the most trusted advisors of Theodora. When Methodios became Patriarch at the advice of Symeon in 843, Symeon with his disciples settled in the Monastery of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

The Empress suggested that George become Bishop of Ephesus, but he did not accept the position due to his age, for he was eighty years old. Instead he accepted after much persuasion to become the Bishop of Mytilene. He was quickly ordained and supplied with money for the poor of the island. And he arrived on a royal ship accompanied by generals and courtiers of Theodora.

Mytilene greeted him with enthusiasm and great joy. He took back his monastery and celebrated for the first time in many years the Birth of the Theotokos on 8 September 843, then on the 14th of September he was enthroned Bishop at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Theodora.

Symeon reposed one year later, in 844, and he was buried at the Monastery of the Panagia. In the winter that same year George traveled to Gotthograikia to visit a friend who was sick, and he healed him and prophesied that he would die in seven years, which he did. He returned to Mytilene where he continued to shepherd his flock as a good and faithful shepherd.

Again one winter he decided to travel to Smyrna, to visit some of his spiritual children and monasteries which he had established on properties belonging to his disciples. He remained in Smyrna for only a few days however, because an Angel of the Lord appeared to him and foretold to him his death. Thus he returned to Mytilene, and after Great Lent had passed he served at the Service of Holy Thursday. Knowing that his end had come, he gave his spiritual children his last words of advice and blessings, and on the night of Holy Saturday he reposed. He was buried with much honor at the grave of his brother Symeon.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Elders of the Venerables, the offspring of Lesvos, David the God-bearer, Symeon and George, who lived lives equal to the angels, and partook of divine glory, grant all those who entreat you gifts who cry out with faith: Glory to Him Who gave you strength, glory to Him Who made you wondrous, glory to Him Who works through you all manners of healings.