Thursday, September 1, 2016

For All the Saints: Simeon Stylites

Here's a saint famous for his eccentric type of devotion. Simeon (c. 388-459) is honored today in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, and on January 5 in the Roman Catholic Church. He was a Syriac Christian ascetic who sought withdrawal from the world by sitting on a platform atop a pillar. (The Greek word style, στυλη, means pillar.)

The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"Born in Syria, he was a shepherd, but at the age of eighteen he left home and became a monk, practicing the strictest asceticism. At times he fasted for forty days. After a few years at a monastery he took up an ascetical discipline unique at that time: mounting a pillar, he stood on it night and day in prayer. Though he sought only seclusion and prayer, his holiness became famous, and thousands would make pilgrimage to receive a word from him or to touch his garments. Countless nomadic Arabs came to faith in Christ through the power of his example and prayers. To retreat further from the world, he used progressively taller pillars: his first pillar was about ten feet high, his final one about fifty. He was known also for the soundness of his counsel: he confirmed the Orthodox doctrine at the Council of Chalcedon and persuaded the Empress Eudocia, who had been seduced by Monophysite beliefs, to return to the true Christian faith. After about forty years lived in asceticism, he reposed in peace at the age of sixty-nine.

"He was at first suspected of taking up his way of life out of pride, but his monastic brethren confirmed his humility thus: They went to him as a group, and told him that the brotherhood had decided that he should come down from his pillar and rejoin them. Immediately he began to climb down from the pillar. Seeing his obedience and humility, they told him to remain with their blessing."

Reading about him in various online articles, I discovered he first used a pillar because, as a popular ascetic, he had so many visitors. People brought him bread and milk. As time went on, he chose taller pillars. He still had many visitors, to whom he devoted particular times of the day. One article notes that holy persons like him served a social need not only as an example of Christian ascetic piety but also as arbitrator in disagreements.

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