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November 9, 2020

Saint Symeon the Metaphrastes as a Model for our Lives


By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Symeon, the so-called Metaphrastes (the Translator), came from Constantinople and lived in the 9th century AD, in the years of the pious Emperor Leo the Wise, of whom he was considered an associate, as well as being beloved by him, because of his wisdom and especially because of his virtue. At that time the Arabs went to Crete and plundered the property of the people, so the emperor sent him there together with the Admiral Hemerius, with the order to subdue the Arabs, either peacefully or through armies of war. Symeon met with the leaders of the Arabs, and he sweetened them so much with the wisdom of his words, that without war he defeated them and persuaded them to pay tribute to the emperor. Before leaving, however, for Crete, he asked the emperor to promise him that, if he returned victorious from there, he would do him the favor he would ask, and the emperor indeed promised him. Thus, when he returned victorious, the emperor asked him what favor he wanted, and the Saint asked him to allow him to leave the palace, because he wanted to become a monk. The emperor was upset because he did not want to lose such an associate, but he also did not want to break his promise. So he bid farewell to him with tears, asking him to pray for him too.

Saint Symeon lived the rest of his life in asceticism and prayer, and his ministry was to write, but also to translate the lives of saints, for which he received the nickname "Translator" (Metaphrastes).

He reposed in peace. After his venerable repose he was praised, as Dositheos writes, by Michael Psellos. That is, he who praised the saints, of whom he wrote and translated all his life, was himself praised.

His life and his conduct give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, the lives of the saints are pleasant and beneficial readings, which delight the hearing and sweeten the heart. The reader of the life and conduct of the saints is inspired by the self-denial, the love and zeal of the Prophets and the Apostles, by the wisdom, prudence and discernment of the great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, by the meekness, humility and patience of the Venerables, by the courage, boldness and bravery of the Martyrs, and receives boldness, courage and strength, to face the daily difficulties, problems and temptations of the present life in the right way. He adopts models for living, and especially true friends, who will never abandon him when he invokes them. They will always be by his side, especially in the difficult moments of his life, to protect him, to comfort him, to strengthen him, to alleviate his pain, to pacify him, to fill him with spiritual joy. Certainly, with such friends he will never feel lonely, even when everyone is likely to abandon him, even his closest relatives and friends.

The lives and words of the saints inspire, strengthen, support, but also nourish, quench, cool off and relax, since they are solid spiritual food and sweetest spiritual drink. In their personal lives, the saints, as people, also make mistakes, but their teaching is infallible. And this is natural, because they arrived at deification, they saw God in the Light and "heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter", and for this their speech is a narrative. Just as the Apostles, so also they spoke of what they saw, heard and touched. Therefore, we do not judge the saints, but follow their empirical and divinely inspired teaching, which is the fruit of a vision of the glory of God. Whoever wants to theologize without error, he should follow the deified saints, "broadcast on the same wave" with them, or as the "Synod of Orthodoxy" teaches, to theologize according to the "holy divinely-inspired theology and the pious phronema of the Church."

Secondly, the uncreated Grace of God that dwells in the Saints has the power to make even wild animals calm and serene. A man, however, who has been made wild by passions and sin, cannot be softened and disciplined if he does not want it, because He respects his freedom. Man - this rational being which was created by God with special care, in His image and according to His likeness - many times in the way of his life becomes wilder than the wild beasts. When he repeatedly abandoned God and sinned without repenting, then his heart hardened, became angry, filled with hatred for those whom he considered his enemies or opponents, with the result that he attacked them en masse and created great problems with them with tragic consequences.

We hear from time to time that it is said by many, when some lawful acts take place, that it was an ugly moment or the time was responsible. However, the violent and aggressive actions, the illegalities, the murders, the suicides, etc. are the result not of the time, but of the passionate and sinful life, as well as the influence of the demons, for whoever abandons the true God, who is love, comes to be dominated by the murderous devil, the father of hatred and evil. And in this situation, man does not comply with advice, necessary of course that it can be, but only the Grace of God can change him, calm him and make him serene, when, of course, he also responds.

Parents, carnal and spiritual, should always counsel their children, especially when they display cruel, delinquent behavior, not aggressively, but with love and earnest prayer, for the Grace of God to work, which will alter them spiritually and will lead them to repentance and correction, since, as the Holy Psalmist emphasizes, "alteration is the right hand of the Most High." That is, the inner alteration of man is the work of the Grace of God.

When people, from their tender age, are nourished and watered with the words of the Prophets, Apostles and Saints and are inspired by their lives, then their heart softens, expands and they embrace the entire universe with love.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.