In-between Heaven and Earth

A Witness of Faith

9/63 Relief mit Symeon Stylite
Token taken by a pilgrim depicting Saint Symeon, Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.

This content originally appeared in September 2015 at the Informative Bulletin of the Paphos Latin Parish

Κάνετε κλικ εδώ για να διαβάσετε το πρωτότυπο στα Ελληνικά

A few people might know the odd story of Saint Symeon the Stylite, who spent the last thirty-seven years of his life upon a pillar (“Stylos” in Greek) over twenty meters high, in the Syrian desert , approximately 40 km northeast of Aleppo.

Neither is it widely known that this very ascetic saint played a most significant role in the christianization of Lebanon.

It is said that he did not descend from his pillar but twice, once when a bishop visited him and, again, when the Emperor Zeno came to see him.

He was born in 388 AD and died in 459, i.e. he was contemporary of two Ecumenical Councils, those of Ephesus and of Chalcedon (in 431 and 451 respectively).

From the top of his pillar he was preaching the Gospel to the crowds who flooded the area in order  to hear him, and once a week he would get his frugal food hoisted to him in a basket.

After his death there were many who imitated him and the Syrian desert was full of hundreds of stylites everywhere, from the regions south of Damascus to Kobani in the North.

The last stylite lived in the beginning of the 20th century in Georgia.

The White Martyrdom

With the ending of persecutions in 313 AD through the Edict of Milan  by Constantine the Great, many Christians did not find it easy to get accustomed to the new conditions of freedom and tolerance. Many thought they were not offering enough to God, since the bloody martyrdom was not asked of them anymore; so they willingly opted for an ascetic and hard way of life, the “White Martyrdom”. (“white” because bloodless).

The ascetic movements increased especially in the Orient, in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Cappadocia. The ascetics, anachorites, hermits, monks- cenobites and others rivalled each other as regards continual prayer and tough practices for the love of Christ and the Church.

Have courage!

irene-in-qalaat-simaan
What is left from Saint Symeon’s pillar, N.W. Syria

At the above photograph you see the ruins and what has remained from Saint Symeon’s pillar, approximately 40 km northeast of Aleppo. With the passing of time four basilicas were built with the pillar at their centre which used to be covered by a wooden roof.

Earthquakes and wars have to a great extent destroyed the buildings .

Nowadays too, Christians are tested through uncalled-for persecutions in many parts of the world. The Lord has warned us: No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John, 15, 20).

This is Christian life: there will always be the tension between heaven and earth, between our desire for God and our bond with the earth, between our zeal for the Gospel and the enmity of the world, between our reliance on the Spirit and our inadequacy if we act on our own.

We must remain courageous because he who has “overcome the world”(John 16, 33) is on our side!

The Flame of Faith

You have become a pillar of patience, zealously imitating the forefather: Job in the sufferings, Joseph in his temptations, and still living in the body you keep company with the angels, O Symeon our holy father. Intercede to Christ our Lord for the salvation of our souls (From the liturgy of the Eastern Church on the Saint’s feast day, September 1st).

All that remains from the pillar barely reaches two meters (four meters, if its base is taken into account).Pilgrims used to cut small pieces from the stone of the pillar and take with them back home as a memento, so both the pilgrims and the earth tremors resulted in a very small portion of it remaining extant. 

By meditating and studying Saint Symeon’s life we can say with certainty that the thing we will take away with us will not be a piece of stone; rather it will be the flame of faith, his courage and his passion to spread the Word of God.

 

click here to read this in Greek

 


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