St Simeon Stylites

Does anyone know any good books or resources on the life & importance of the 4th century Saint Simeon Stylites who famously stood on top of a pillar for 40 years in Syria?

I found a great Internet text by George Lamb cin.org/saints/stylites.html and a funny film by Spanish film director Louis Bunuel but little else.

I’m really interested in Simeon. He appears to be the antithesis to the modern overemphasis on always having to do something in order to justify one’s existence. Simeon did nothing but prayer on his pillar but appeared happy with who he was. Do you know of any good resources that explore this idea in general? I know Ecclesiastes explores this theme quite a bit - i.e.man trying to find meaning in vain through relentless activity.
thanks - LEO

But did/does Jesus really want us to climb up a pole and stay there for the rest of his/our lives? If so…for goodness sakes why?:bigyikes:

[quote=padraig]But did/does Jesus really want us to climb up a pole and stay there for the rest of his/our lives? If so…for goodness sakes why?:bigyikes:
[/quote]

Some people live as hermits, even today. This doesn’t sound much different.

[quote=Leao]Does anyone know any good books or resources on the life & importance of the 4th century Saint Simeon Stylites who famously stood on top of a pillar for 40 years in Syria?
[/quote]

There is

“The Life of St. Simon the Stylite”

search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0899810519&itm=5

And you could write directly to the publisher to see if they still have copies in stock…

Eastern Orthodox Books
P.O. Box 302
Willits Ca 95490

There is also:

**“The Lives of Simon Stylites” **

Published by Cistercian Publications, 1992; Paper Back.

3 lives of early Christian ascetic St Simon Stylites who elected to spend the greater part of his life atop a pillar, translated by Robert Doran, comparing the modern view of such a practice with the contemporary attitudes.

Also:

**“Like a Mighty Army, Selected Letters of Simon Stylites” **

Published by Oxford University Press, and a follow up is

**“Living Without Gloves: More Letters of Simon Stylites” **

Both of these are by Halford Luccock and published in the 1950s.

Its worth remembering that Simon was expelled from his monastery for his excessive austerities and found distasteful by his contemporaries. He is only really remembered in modern times through the efforts of the very anti-Catholic English Historian Gibbons who used his life to lampoon the Church.
There is not a thing wrong with hermits. But Simon was much, much more extreme than a hermit. It was in fact contemporary hermit/ saints who criticised him.
The Church would never and has never given canonical sanction to going up a pillar and staying there; they have and do to the eremeitcal vocation.:yup: I can think of more balanced persons for veneration.:frowning:

[quote=padraig]Its worth remembering that Simon was expelled from his monastery for his excessive austerities and found distasteful by his contemporaries.
[/quote]

After his expulsion an angel appeared to the abbot of the monastery and told him that he was mistaken and to bring Simon back.

He is only really remembered in modern times through the efforts of the very anti-Catholic English Historian Gibbons who used his life to lampoon the Church.

He is very much remembered and venerated by Eastern Christians -who in the main have certainly never heard of Gibbons and his cynicism. Gibbons despised all forms of monastic life in the desert and not just stylites. To counter him one is advised to read such works as those of Benedicta Ward on the Desert Fathers where their piety and their spiritual wisdom is allowed to shine brightly.

There is not a thing wrong with hermits. But Simon was much, much more extreme than a hermit. It was in fact contemporary hermit/ saints who criticised him.

And yet we have the fruit of Saint Simon’s years on his pillar - his many letters which gave spiritual direction to the faithful.

The Church would never and has never given canonical sanction to going up a pillar and staying there; they have and do to the eremeitcal vocation.:yup: I can think of more balanced persons for veneration.:frowning:

The Orthodox Church has a deep veneration for Saint Simon Stylites and for the other stylite Saints. It is a highly rare and unusual vocation but if God calls, one must obey Him.

Here is a brief Life of Saint Simon/Symeon:
oca.org/pages/orth_chri/Feasts-and-Saints/September/Sep-01.html

Here is part of the Service which is chanted in his honour once a year
anastasis.org.uk/symeon.htm
The page also has a photograph of what remains of the Saint’s pillar at Qal’at Sim’an.

Here is the life of another stylite - Saint Symeon the Younger
oca.org/pages/orth_chri/Feasts-and-Saints/May/May-24.html

Holy Father Symeon pray for us
http://saintgeorge.org/images/saint_of_the_day/09sep/sep_01_st_simeon_stylites.jpg

Just to touch on a few points made by Father Ambrose and to make a few more of my own:

The process by which a ‘saint’ such Simon was canonised in fifth century Syria was very different from the canonical one we have now. In Ireland, for instance, we talk of the ‘Island of saints and scholars’. Saints in this period were in fact ‘canonised’ by popular acclaim rather than formal canonical process. After a person’s death the local community would speak of the deceased as a saint by acclaim. Rather as if Father O’ Malley died and his local parishioners over a cup of tea at his wake speak of him as a , ‘Living saint’, and hey presto Father O’Malley in record time is a ‘saint’. However if Saint Simon were to go through to-days formal canonical process he would have as much chance in being canonised as say Hillary Clinton or Saddam Hussein.:wink:
Hagiographers would later formalise this process by speaking of how Father O’Malley had worked ‘miracles’ and had long and interesting conversation with ‘Saints’ and ‘angels’ and extraordinary wrestling matches with the 'devil’; in much the same way as Simon’s Abbot had the ticking off from the convenient ‘angel’. Hagiographers saw this not as telling fibs, they were simply literary devices to underline or underscore points, just as we use commas or full stops in our own comtemporary writings.
You mentioned Saint Simon’s writings, but again with respect at such a huge distance how do we really know that these were actually written by Simon as is alleged. There was a respectable contemporary tradition of
‘Pseudo’
writings by hagiographers and close contemporaries who would legitimise their own writings by posing as a respected saint or martry. Again such people did not see this again as telling fibs. It was seen as a respectable literary device to get their writngs read. So are we reading Simon or psuedo Simon, writing ten twenty, a hundred years after the actual Simon’s death?
Another point I would make is as to how much relevance a person like Simon has to our normal everyday life? I remember a Dominican, a Professor of Patristics who told me how he tried to preach to his congregation on an early martyr and Church Father. When he read how this man was proud to have his flesh ground into God’s meal by the lion’s teeth his congregation simply laughed. Better, I feel, to have more contemporary models. Firstly in that they be lay people. Secondly in that there be more balance between men and women. Thirdly in that they be married. Fourthly in that they be ordinary (in the sense that there’s no wrestling matches with the devil or angels appearing to fix broken down cars). Lastly that they have lived in times as close as possible to our own so that we can relate to them. Rather than climbing up pillars in a remote desert.
Another difficulty I would have with (forgive the pun) placing Simon on a pedestle would be the lack of psychological insight such people and their hagiographers have. If for instance one has a temptation to sexual abberation it is not enough to beat ones back with a leather thong or ascribe this to the devil, This encourages sexual repression rather than a healthy dealing with what well may be simple sexual urges.
Lastly, very briefly. The Fathers of the Desert sprang up with the ending of the great persecutions of the Church. Flight into the desert was seen as the next best thing to martyrdom. As such there is a certain death seeking element to their spirtuality which may well be seen as unhealthy.

[quote=padraig]But did/does Jesus really want us to climb up a pole and stay there for the rest of his/our lives? If so…for goodness sakes why?:bigyikes:
[/quote]

God knows. The Saint knows. The Church commemorates him and venerates his memory. That’s sufficient for me. I trust God. I trust the Saint. I trust the judgement of the Church. Sorry, I am only an ignorant monk.

Forgive me, Father Ambrose, but God gave us our brains to use, rather than fill up empty space between our ears.:wink:

[quote=padraig]Another point I would make is as to how much relevance a person like Simon has to our normal everyday life?
[/quote]

What one man may see as irrelevant may not be so to another. The Church rejoices in its rich diversity, its historical riches and the Saints whose lives have glorified God through the centuries.

A few years ago the Serbian Orthodox diocese of Australia completed its Cathedral church in the monastery at Elaine, not far from Melbourne. It is the seat of the Australian bishop.

The church is dedicated to Saint Alipy the Stylite (Alimpius) who lived in the 7th century. Obviously there are 21st century Christians who find these Saints relevant to our times, sufficiently relevant to dedicate to a Stylite the most important church in the diocese.

If you visit this webpage and skim down to an exterior photograph of the cathedral you will see a large mosaic of Saint Alimpius over the entrance doors.
russianorthodoxchurch.ws/01newstucture/pagesen/news04/pavelausphoto.html

Here is an icon of
Saint Alipy the Stylite
http://www.days.ru/Images/is1650.jpg

[quote=padraig]Forgive me, Father Ambrose, but God gave us our brains to use, rather than fill up empty space between our ears.:wink:
[/quote]

Padraig,

There is no need to denigrate the Saints which the Church venerates and no need to consign them to irrelevance. That is not using your brains. It is indulging in a judgement which is not ours to make, the type of judgement which Gibbons allowed himself in his impiety.

I see from your signature line that you hold Mother Theresa in esteem but she was known to be autocratic and even cruel to her sisters sometimes (not often spoken of in pious circles) and yet we don’t rule her out as irrelevant because of this flaw in her character.

Dear Father Ambrose,

I was amazed that you were able to supply
Leao with…what?..four separate
sources on St. Simon Stylities. I found that
most courteous and helpful of you.
While I have difficulty looking to St. Simon
Stylities as a role model, I suppose the same
might be said of St. Benedict Joseph Labre,
in a certain sense, and I love and admire
St. Benedict.
Would you please tell me why you think that
St. Simon is so highly revered? I just don’t get it,
Father, and I would appreciate your insight
into the matter.
With respect,
reen12

Father Ambrose,
I like the way you used Flannery O’ Conner as a by-line, there’s hope for you yet!:)(Is there a little bit of the oul Irish sneaking in there somewhere?)
I wasn’t denigrating poor old Simon at all, (I hope). Did I say anything bad about him? If I did please point it out and I will correct it. No doubt he was a better Christian than I will ever be!:o
I didn’t know that Mother Tereasa had her down moments, but that doesn’t at all surprise me and, in fact reassures me. I like saints to have a few chips on their shoulders, it makes them more human.

But Simon lived a very, very strange life a very, very long time ago. This in my books would tend to make him a little bit ‘iffy’

However I recognise as you say in the Eastern tradition there may be a very different way of looking at things , which is fair enough, tradition and devotion aren’t things to be sniffed at. I guess I’m looking at things from a modern western perspective, which isn’t I suppose to be sniffed at either.
Certainly I wouldn’t put forward such views in an eastern monastery as two stout lay brothers would very swiftly show me the way to the door!:wink:
No doubt my pat:D ron Saint Patrick got up to a few odd things himself!
I guess its a matter of spirituality and perspective…

Whats that rumbling I hear in the sky? Is that you I hear St Simon? I’m sorry I doidn’t mean to…sound of falling body.:eek: Silence

[quote=reen12]Dear Father Ambrose,

I was amazed that you were able to supply
Leao with…what?..four separate
sources on St. Simon Stylities. I found that
most courteous and helpful of you.
While I have difficulty looking to St. Simon
Stylities as a role model, I suppose the same
might be said of St. Benedict Joseph Labre,
in a certain sense, and I love and admire
St. Benedict.
Would you please tell me why you think that
St. Simon is so highly revered? I just don’t get it,
Father, and I would appreciate your insight
into the matter.
With respect,
reen12
[/quote]

Well, first of all let’s remember that the cult of Saints is a very vital part of Orthodox life. So all the Saints are highly revered.

It reminds me of the poor seminarian who stuck up his hand to ask the teacher, a bishop, a question about the “Minor Prophets.” The bishop looked daggers at him: “Boy,” he said, “there are NO minor prophets!”

Apart from the oddity of their lives ( refer to my signature line :smiley: ) the stylite Saints provide us with examples of heroic perseverance. This is an example for us sinners who often despair of our perseverance.

Do you know the story of Saint Mary of Egypt? A quite amazing example of a desert Mother and her perseverance and of the fight against the passions.

St. Mary, Holy Mother of Egypt

The memory of this holy mother of Africa is celebrated throughout the world. She was born in Alexandria in the 5th century, and from the time she was twelve years old, lived as a prostitute. One day, she saw a crowd of people heading for the docks and inquired of them their destination and purpose. Someone explained that they were sailing to Jersualem to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to venerate the true Cross.

Mary decided to accompany them and offered her body in exchange for passage. When she arrived at Jerusalem, she tried to enter the Church but something prevented her from entering. She tried several times without success. Soon she realized that it was because of her sinful life that she was denied entrance. Weeping, she came to her true repentance and promised God that if she were allowed to venerate the Holy Cross, she would leave her old ways behind and do as He willed. Mary was then able to enter the church. Afterwards, the Holy Spirit led her across the Jordan and into the desert, where she spent forty-seven years struggling against her passions and repenting of her former life.

A venerable African monk named Zosima found her in the desert and was told her story. He, in turn, recounted it to others. St. Mary died in 522 A.D. She is a model of deep change for all that see their need for God. The Church honours her on the 1st of April and especially on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent.

She is one of the most beloved Saints in the Orthodox world. Who of us can forget as we struggle with our own base passions that Saint Mary spent the nights of her first 17 years in the desert face down in the sand begging God to give her the grace not to return to her life as a prostitute. Such a long time to have to fight and struggle against the attraction of sin! Her life is read ceremonially in church during the Great Fast as a model of repentance and an inspiration for us all.

Holy Mother Mary, pray for us sinners.

Here she is in the desert beyond the Jordan receiving the Holy Mysteries from Saint Zosima

http://orthodoxnorth.net/images/Mar_Mary_of_Egypt.jpg

How does one determine the difference between following what one thinks is God"s plan for us and being overly scrupulous? I offered shelter to a lady who has been walking for over 6 years across the country day in and day out. She does have a reasonable mission, however the walking started out and continues to be a form of repentance for a life that had succombed to alchoholism. She is very learned, smart and clear headed now, but I wonder is she really living out God’s plan for her and is it any of my business?
just wondering

[quote=debi]How does one determine the difference between following what one thinks is God"s plan for us and being overly scrupulous? I offered shelter to a lady who has been walking for over 6 years across the country day in and day out. She does have a reasonable mission, however the walking started out and continues to be a form of repentance for a life that had succombed to alchoholism. She is very learned, smart and clear headed now, but I wonder is she really living out God’s plan for her and is it any of my business?
just wondering
[/quote]

Who can say? I would hope that she is able to find good spiritual counsel from priests or nuns from time to time. In the Eastern Christian world there is a tradition of 'wanderers." They are a bit like your lady -holy tramps- who spend years wandering from shrine to shrine, sometimes just lost souls, sometimes people of high spiritual calibre. This “tradition” of holy wanderers was pretty much knocked on its head by the Communist regimes but it is slowly reviving again. Not everybody adopts it for life. Most only for a year or two.

I spend a lot of my time with the tramps and homeless and alcoholics of the inner city where I live and so I guess that I am a bit biased in their favour. Did this lady bring you joy and spiritual comfort? I suppose that would be an indication that she is in the life which God wants for her. Can you share her Christian name? It would be a pleasure to remember her name in prayer.

Dear Father Ambrose,

Thank you for your reply. Yes, I have read an
account of St. Mary of Egypt. I often check
the Orthodox websites and read up on the
lives of Orthodox saints.
It’s funny that you should employ the word
"perserverance." After I posted above, I
thought about it, and I came up with the
word “endurance”!
Many thanks, Father.
reen12

Dear Father Ambrose,

The life of holy wanderers fits St. Benedict
Joseph Labre perfectly. For Roman Catholics,
here is a holy wanderer, patron saint of the mentally
ill and homeless.
Best wishes,
reen12

[quote=padraig]I like the way you used Flannery O’ Conner as a by-line, there’s hope for you yet!:)(Is there a little bit of the oul Irish sneaking in there somewhere?)
[/quote]

Seven eighths of the blood in the veins comes from “the Olds” from Doone, County Offaly. They travelled to Australia in 1850 and then on to New Zealand where they decided to stay, having found the sweetest potatoes in the world :thumbsup:

What a fascinating thread! Thank you! I had never heard of St Simeon and the Stylites, nor had I ever heard of St Mary, Holy Mother of Egypt. These are some very interesting saints, I must say.

Fr Ambrose, thank you so much for providing the links and the story of St Mary. Tonight I really learned some things, and reading about St Mary was so inspiring. And St Simeon–what an amazing calling. And about holy wanderers–I want to know more about them! Can you tell us more about them?

God bless everyone! :slight_smile:

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