Lives of Saints - St. Symeon the Stylite Christianity - Books
“I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.                “You shall have no other gods before me.                “You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.                “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.                “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.                “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.                “You shall not murder.                “You shall not commit adultery.                “You shall not steal.                “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.                “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
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St. Symeon the Stylite

There have been men who could call forth enthusiasm for Christ from the pulpit or from monastic cells, but for forty long years one man did so perched atop a sixty-foot pillar from which he never descended. He spent a lifetime of extreme asceticism that spelled out the name of the Saviour twenty-four hours of every day of that long period. In a stint of religious fervour that has been imitated many times since but never duplicated, St. Symeon occupied a confining space above ground. Like a wingless eagle of the Lord, he made a spectacular figure against the sky that reminded everyone below that the only salvation of man could come through Jesus Christ, In his youth, Symeon was an earthbound shepherd who had deep Christian roots originating in the Syrian city of Antioch, the first city to apply the name "Christian" to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Such was the depth of his faith that it could find expression only through asceticism. This austerity through monastic life he was to carry to the extreme not only to completely dedicate himself to God, but to call to the attention of the world the need for prayer in Christian worship.

At a time when St. Anthony and St. Savvas were gaining their reputation through monasticism in Egypt, Symeon chose to carry out his ascetic way of life in his native Syria, a land where monastics had been dwarfed by the spiritual giants of other areas. This relative obscurity might have generated his brilliant idea to ascend the pillar, located about sixteen miles from the city of Aleppo on a road leading to Antioch. This was, however, no mere publicity-seeking flagpole stunt. It was a well thought-out plan to present the appealing starkness of a lone figure's vigil for Christ with the bare necessities of life being provided by devoted followers. His self-denial was subordinate to the main purpose of his thought-provoking venture, which was to bring his fellow man an acute awareness of, and a closer proximity to, God. In this he was eminently successful, a price in deprivation he was only too glad to pay.

Symeon's severely restricted abode, in which he could either stand or sit but could not lie down, limited his physical movement, but that seemed only to give him more room for intellectual effort, prayer, and meditation. Known as a stylite, or one who lives on a pillar, he virtually impaled himself physically for a lifetime but thereby gained spiritual eternity. Inured to the hardships of this inhuman existence, he was able to withstand rigours which by any standard would be unbearable, and it is not hard to believe that in one Lenten season he stood erect for twenty days, then sat in meditation for another twenty days, during which time his only sustenance was water.

Considered to be by far the greatest ascetic in all Christendom, Symeon sat or stood stoically atop his pillar, which over the years beckoned thousands of Christian pilgrims who came to view this amazing spectacle and to hear the wisdom of the solitary anchorite, whose weather-beaten visage inspired countless numbers to reaffirm their faith in God and his only begotten Son. Added to the wonder of his durability under the most demanding circumstances was his power of miraculous healing through the power of the Lord, as a result of which he came to be venerated as a saint while still alive. Symeon had spent a number of years in his cramped quarters when he was besieged by his followers to descend back into the society of man, assuring him that his purpose had been more than fulfilled and that he was entitled to the comforts of hearth and home, even perhaps the high post in the hierarchy. Symeon refused to come down, saying only that he had made a solemn vow that his only descent would come after his death.

The ruins of St. Symeon's pillar are still evident in Syria and are considered a shrine to the greatest ascetic of them all who died in A.D. 459 after establishing a precedent which many followed later but none were able to equal.


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