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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
St Simon the Stylite

16th-century icon of Simeon Stylites. At the base of the pillar is his mother's body. (Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland)

Liturgical Commemorated on: January 5 (in Western Christianity)

Simon was born in 389 in a village called Sisan in the suburbs of Antioch. When he was young, he worked as shepherd with his father and brothers. In the mountains where he was tending the sheep, he learnt calmness and contemplation. He also grew used to solitude and silence. It happened once that while he was meditating, he heard a priest reading the Gospel of the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are they that mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the clean of heart …” These words touched his heart, and he asked the priest to explain this interesting reading. Then after having had a dream, he decided to join a monastery, to free himself up for the worship of God. First he went to a monastery near his village, at which he remained for two years. After that time, Simon moved to another monastery, where he stayed for ten years, learning about life as a monk from Eliothoros.

Later, Simon went to a well that had little water, and he stayed there praising God until the superior of the monastery sent two monks searching him. They found him in a sorry state and brought him back to his cell. After some time had passed, Simon again wanted to be alone in the mountains and to devote himself to the worship of God. He left the monastery and stayed in a cottage for three years. But he was seeking a more ascetical life. He left the cottage and went to a highland where he built a hermitage without roof, exposed to the changes of the weather.

The news of his holiness spread throughout the region, people came asking his blessing and counsel, and healing for the sick. He was afraid of losing the spirit of silence and prayer, so he left this hermitage. He arrived at a deserted place, where he built a narrow column, and climbed up it, spending forty-two years up there. Most of his time he spent praying softly to God for the Church and for those who asked his prayers. But the people sought him out and found him. They came to him and joined him in prayer. He saw in this the will of God, and made of his post a spiritual symbol pointing to the evangelical virtues and urged people to look on heaven and seek the kingdom of God.

In his seventieth year, in AD 459, illness struck him; he was ill for four days, and after giving his blessing to the crowds, Simon passed away. The faithful ran to carry his corpse to Antioch, where he was buried in a solemn celebration. After his death, the Emperor Zenon came and built a great church around the column in the form of a Cross. This monument remains to the present day, and it is considered as a jewel among the churches, and is called "The forgotten Cities”. It is one of the greater and more grandiose Churches that has ever been built in the world.

Bishop Issam John Darwish BSO DD


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