January 5, 2013

Simeon the Stylite

When I speak on the Calendar, I love to mention Simeon Stylite, who died on this day in 459. He was the most notorious of the popular pillar-sitting anchorites.

The son of a shepherd, he was moved by hearing the Beatitudes. Wanting to be 'pure of heart' he tried living in monasteries, but they all kicked him out for his extremism in self-mortifications. So in his naivete, he literally did what he could to get closer to God.


This is a piece of early church history. Christians were persecuted and martyred, but when Constantine made the empire 'Christian' in the early 300's, the pagans were persecuted. Seeking safety they went to churches bringing their paganism with them.

Serious Christians, frustrated with the watered down churches were asking, "How now to be holy?" Thus the serge of monasteries, and desert fathers.
Outside of Antioch were many 'pillar saints'. People would pack lunches and for entertainment go listen to a pillar saint preach - they were tourist attractions.

I wonder if these pillar saints could read and if they knew much of scripture. What would they preach about?
Since Simeon had 'separated' himself at age 13, when did he mingle with people to be able to truly know much of life, or have personal experience stuff to preach from. Pillar saints had converts: locals, Armenians, Persians, and Arabs. Simeon had followers - disciples, who in choosing to live close, ended up building a monastery.

Simeon started out on a 10-foot-high pillar. For the last 37 years of his life he lived on a series of ever higher pillars. His final earthly home was a 6-foot-square platform on a 60-foot-high pillar!!! Now set your imagination to work: no roof or walls ... did he cut his hair? how did he sleep? how did he eat? what about excrement? Lightening strikes were prevalent. Maybe a sign of divine displeasure?


Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote a long poem entitled "St Simeon Stylites". Here's a link if you care to read it.
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