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Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder ( 390 - 459 )  Category ( Saints ) [suggest a correction]
 

Saint Simeon Stylites the ElderSaint Simeon Stylites, or Symeon the Stylite, was an Arab Christian ascetic saint who is famous because he lived for 37 years on a small platform on top of a pillar in Syria. The Greek word style means pillar) several others followed his model, but he is the first known to have achieved such a feat. He is formally known as Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder to distinguish him from another stylite named Symeon Stylites the Younger. Simeon was born at Sisan in northern Syria, the son of a shepherd. In 395 Syria was incorporated into what would become the Byzantine Empire, where Christianity was on the rise and grew quickly. Legend says that it was his pious mother, Martha (who is also a saint), who encouraged her son to embrace Christianity. By age thirteen, he had developed great zeal for the faith and began to subject himself to ever-increasing bodily austerities. He was particularly fond of fasting, and entered a monastery by the time he was sixteen. Later he left the monastery and shut himself up in a hut for three years, where he passed the whole of Lent without eating or drinking (however, it should be noted that the Sabbath days occurring during Lent do not count as Lenten days, so that those who are fasting can eat and drink every seven days). Later, he took to standing continually upright for as long as his limbs would sustain him.

After his three years as a fasting recluse, Simeon discovered a rocky precipice on the slopes of what is now Sheik Barakat Mountain. He compelled himself to remain a prisoner within a narrow space less than twenty meters in diameter at that location. But by that time his fame preceded him and, pestered by pilgrims who wanted to watch or ask his advice, he was unable to conduct his own devotions. He then began to look for a place that would provide more privacy. He discovered a pillar amongst ruins, and he arranged to have a platform placed on the top. When monastic Elders heard about his new mode of asceticism, they wanted to test him to see if his piety consisted of humility or pride. They decided to tell Simeon under obedience to come down from the pillar. If he disobeyed they would forcibly drag him down, but if he was willing to submit, they were to leave him on his pillar. St. Simeon displayed complete obedience and humility, and the monks told him to stay where he was. The pillar was only a little more than four meters high, but his well-wishers soon replaced it with others, with the last in the series having apparently been more than fifteen meters from the ground. At the top of the pillar was a platform, with a baluster, believed to have been about twelve feet square.

According to legend, Simeon would not allow any woman to come near his pillar, including his own mother. Remaining in the area, she became a monastic and lived a life of silence and prayer. Simeon remained on his pillar for more than thirty years, sometimes praying in an upright position, with his outstretched arms in the figure of a cross, but his most common posture was that of bending his meager skeleton from the forehead to the feet in a succession of 1,244 repetitions. Such determination had physical costs, and he developed an ulcer in his thigh. It became infected, and he died without descending from his column.

Even high up on his pillar, Simeon, of course, continued to attract a lot of attention. His column was a popular pilgrimage destination, and he made himself available to visitors every afternoon. They would climb a ladder to reach him in order to converse and deliver food and letters. It is known that he did write and respond to letters. He also often delivered addresses to the assembled crowd beneath his column, preaching especially against profanity and usury. His fame spread throughout the Empire. The Emperor Theodosius and his wife Eudocia respected Simeon and listened to his counsels. He is commemorated as a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and his feast day is on the first day of September in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches, and January 5 in the Roman Catholic Church. The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honor can still be seen, about 30km northwest of Aleppo. In the center of the court stands the base of the column on which St. Simeon stood.

Image: 16th-century icon of Simeon Stylites, shown at the Historic Museum in Poland. At the base of the pillar is his mother's body.


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