The Life of Saint Symeon the New Theologian
By His Disciple Nicetas Stethatos
As Condensed by Bishop Theophanes the Recluse*
His Life in the World
Saint Symeon was born (in 949) in the Paphlagonian village of Galatia, of renowned and wealthy parents. His fathers name was Basil, and his mother’s Theophano. From his childhood he manifested both great talents and a meek and reverent manner, with a love for solitude. When he reached the age of a youth his parents sent him to Constantinople to relatives who were eminent at the court. There he was given over to study, and soon he passed through the so-called grammatical courses. He should then have gone over to the philosophical courses, but he refused to do this, fearing to be drawn away into something unprofitable by the influence of his companions. The uncle with whom he lived did not force him, but hastened to lead him into the path of public service, which in itself is quite a strict discipline for those who are attentive. He presented him to the brother-emperors Basil and Constantine Porphyrogenetes, and they included him among the number of courtiers.
But it was a small thing for Saint Symeon that he had become a member of the imperial council. His desire was fixed on something different, and his heart was elsewhere. Even during the time of his studies, he had become acquainted with the Elder Symeon, who was called the Reverent. He often visited him and made use of his counsel in everything. With all the more freedom, and at the same time necessity, did he do this now. His sincere desire was as quickly as possible to devote himself to the life of renunciation of the world. But the Elder persuaded him to have patience, waiting until his good intention should become ripe and more deeply rooted, because he was still very young (about 21 years old). He continued, however, to counsel and guide him, preparing him gradually for monastic life even in the midst of worldly cares.
Saint Symeon himself did not love to give himself over to luxuries, and together with his usual labors of self-mortification, he devoted all of his free time to reading and prayer. The Elder furnished him with books, telling him which passages in them he should pay special attention to. Once when giving him a book of the writings of Mark the Ascetic, the Elder indicated to him various utterances in them, counselling him to reflect most carefully on them and to direct his conduct according to them. Among the number of these utterances was the following: “If you desire to have always a soul-saving guidance, pay heed to your conscience and without fail do what it will instil in you.” This utterance Saint Symeon took so much to heart that it was as if it had come from the mouth of God Himself, and he made a rule to pay strict heed to and obey his conscience, believing that, since it was the voice of God in the heart, it would instil in him always what was soul-saving.
From this time on he gave himself over entirely to prayer and instruction in the Divine Scriptures, keeping vigil until midnight and eating only bread and water, and taking them only as much as was needed to support life. Thus he became ever more immersed in himself and in the realm of God. At this time he was vouchsafed the grace-given illumination which he himself describes in his Homily on faith, speaking as if it were some other youth. Here the grace of God granted him to taste more fully the sweetness of life according to God and by this means cut off the taste for everything earthly.
The Account of the Youth George
There lived in Constantinople a youth by the name of George, about twenty years old. All this was in our days, in our own memory. He had a handsome face, and in his walk, his bearing and his manner there was something ostentatious. Therefore, those who see only what is on the surface and, not knowing what is hidden within each man, judge mistakenly about others, made various evil suppositions about him. He made the acquaintance of a certain monk who lived in one of the monasteries of Constantinople, a holy than, and, revealing to him the innermost secrets of his heart, he also told him that he greatly desired to save his soul. The good father, after instructing him in a fitting way, gave him a small rule to follow and the little book of St. Mark the Ascetic where he writes oh the spiritual law. The youth accepted the book with as much love and reverence as if it had been sent to him by God Himself, and he conceived a strong faith in it, hoping to gain from it great benefit and much fruit. Therefore, he read it through with much zeal and attention and received great benefit from it all.
Of all the paragraphs in the book, three made a particularly deep impression on his heart.
The first was: “If you seek healing, take care for your conscience (pay heed to it), and do what it tells you, and you will receive profit”
The second was: “He who seeks (hopes to receive) the activity of the Holy Spirit before practicing the commandments, is like a slave bought for money who, the moment he is bought, expects his freedom to be signed together with the payment of his purchase price.”
The third was: “He who prays physically without having yet acquired a spiritual understanding, is like the blind man who cried out: Son of David, have mercy on me (Mark 10:48). But another man who had been blind, when his eyes were opened and he saw the Lord, no longer called Him Son of David, but confessed Him as the Son of God (John 9:35, 38)
These three paragraphs pleased him greatly, and he believed that, by paying heed to his conscience, as the first paragraph asserts, he would receive healing (of his infirmities of soul); that through fulfilling the commandments he would obtain the activity of the Holy Spirit, as the second paragraph teaches; and that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, his mental eyes would be opened and he would see the ineffable beauty of the Lord, as the third paragraph promises.
And so he became wounded by love for this beauty, and though, as yet he did not see it, he conceived a strong longing for it and sought it fervently, in the hope of finding it in the end.
In spite of all this, he did nothing special (as he assured me with an oath), except that every evening without fail he practiced the small rule which the Elder had given him, and he never went to bed to sleep without performing it. But after some time his conscience began to urge him: Make a few more prostrations, recite a few extra psalms, repeat “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” as many more times as you can. He willingly obeyed his conscience and did all it suggested without reflection, as though God Himself had commanded it; and he never lay down to sleep with his conscience reproaching him, saying: “Why did you not do this or that?” Thus he always listened to his conscience, never leaving undone whatever it suggested to him. And every day it added more and more to his usual rule, and in a few days his evening prayers grew into a long rule.
His days he spent in the palace of a certain Patricius, his work being to care for the needs of all the people living there. But every evening he went away, and no one knew what he did at home: he shed copious tears, made a great many bendings of the knee, prostrating himself with his face to the ground; when he stood at prayer he always kept his feet tightly pressed together and stood without moving; with pain of heart, with sighing and tears he recited prayers to the Most Holy Mother of God; and addressing himself to the Lord Christ, he fell at His immaculate feet as if He had been there in body, and implored Him to have mercy on him, as He once had on the blind man, and to open the eyes of his soul. Each evening his prayers grew longer so that at last he stood at prayer until midnight. Yet he never permitted himself when at prayer either slothfulness or negligence or loose postures, never let his eyes turn to the right or left or upwards to look at anything, but stood motionless, like a pillar or as though he were bodiless.
Once when he was thus standing at prayer and was saying, more in his mind than with his lips: “O God, have mercy on me a sinner” — suddenly a most brilliant Divine radiance descended on him from above and filled all that place. Then this youth forgot that he was in a room or beneath a roof, for on all sides he saw nothing but light; he was not even aware whether there were any ground under his feet. He had no more care for anything worldly, and there came to his mind none of the thoughts which usually are in the minds of men clothed with flesh. He became wholly dissolved in this immaterial light, and it seemed to him that he himself became light. He forgot the whole world and was filled with tears and unspeakable joy. Then his mind rose upwards to the heavens, and there he saw another light, brighter than that light which surrounded him. And to his astonishment it seemed to him that on the edge of this light stood the holy and angelic Elder who had given him the small precept on prayer and the little book of St. Mark the Ascetic.
On hearing this from the youth, I thought that he had been greatly helped by the prayer of his Elder, and that God had granted him this vision to show the height of virtue on which this Elder stood. When the vision had passed and the youth came to himself, he found himself (as he said later) filled with joy and amazement, and he wept with his whole heart, which was filled with tears and great sweetness. Finally he went to bed, but immediately a cock began to crow, showing that it was already midnight. A little later he heard the church bells ringing for Matins; so the youth got up to read Matins, according to his custom. Thus he never slept that night; the thought of sleep never entered his mind.
How all this came to pass, the Lord knows, Who did it by ways known to Him. Yet this youth did nothing in particular, except always to fulfill faithfully the rule given him by the Elder, and to follow the instructions contained in the little book, with steadfast faith and undoubting hope. And let no one say that he did all this as a test. Such a thing never even entered his mind. He who makes tests does not possess firm faith. But this youth, putting aside every passionate and self-indulgent thought, took such care over the faithful fulfillment of what his conscience suggested, that he no longer had any sympathy for the things of this world; even food and drink he did not eat for enjoyment or to satiety.
His Deepening Resolve to Leave the World
After this it was natural that there should be manifest in Saint Symeon a powerful impulse to leave the world. But the Elder did not judge it good to satisfy this impulse immediately, and he convinced him to be patient yet longer.
Thus six years passed. It happened that he had to go away to his native place, and he went to the Elder to receive his blessing. Even though the Elder declared to him that now the time had come for him to enter monasticism, still he did not keep him from going to his native place. Saint Symeon gave his word that as soon as he should return he would leave the world. On the journey he took with him as guidance the Ladder of Saint John. Having come to his village, he was not drawn away by worldly matters, but continued the same kind of strict and solitary life, something for which the way of life in his household gave great opportunity. There was a church very near, and next to the church a little cell, and not far from it a cemetery. In this little cell he shut himself up. He prayed, read and gave himself over to reflection on God.
At one time he was reading in the holy Ladder that insensitivity is the mortification of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body. And he became zealous always to banish from his soul this disease of insensitivity. For this aim he would go out at night to the cemetery and pray fervently, reflecting at the same time on death and the future judgment, and also on what now had become of the dead over whose tombs he was praying, the dead who had been alive just like him. To this he added a stricter fast and a vigil that was longer and more vigilant. Thus he kindled in himself the spirit of life according to God, and the burning of it kept him constantly in a condition of contrite feeling which did not allow any insensitivity.
If it happened that a coolness came near, lie would hasten to the cemetery, weep and lament, beating himself on the breast, and would not rise from the place until his usual contrite feeling returned. The fruit of this way of life was that the image of death and mortality became so deeply impressed in his consciousness that he did not look either upon himself or upon others except as upon dead men. Because of this no kind of beauty captivated him, and the usual movements of the flesh he mortified at their very appearance, being himself on fire with the fire of contrition. Lamentation became his food.
Finally came the time for him to return to Constantinople. His father asked him to remain home until his own departure for the other world; but seeing where the fiery desire of his son was directed, with love and a willing blessing he parted from him.
His Entrance into Monasticism
The time of the return to Constantinople was for Saint Symcon the time of renunciation of the world and entrance into a monastery (at the age of 27). The Elder received him with a father’s embrace and presented him to the abbot of his monastery of the Studion, Peter; but the latter gave him back into the hands of the Elder himself, this great Symeon the Reverent. Having received the young monk as a pledge of God, the Elder conducted him to a certain small cell, which was more like a tomb, and there he sketched out for him the order of the narrow and most grievous monastic life. He said to him: “Behold, my son, if you wish to be saved, go to church without fail, stand there with reverent prayer without distraction, and do not have conversations with anyone; do not go from cell to cell, do not be presumptuous, preserve your mind from wandering, pay heed to yourself and reflect on your own sinfulness, on death and the judgment.”
In his severity, however, the Elder kept a reasonable measure, being concerned also lest his offspring have any attachment even to his strict labors. For this sometimes he assigned him difficult and belittling obediences, and sometimes easy and honorable ones. Sometimes he increased his fasting and vigil, and at other times he forced him to take food until he was full, and to sleep as much as needed; and by every means he trained him to renounce his own will and his own personal desires for himself.
Saint Symeon sincerely loved his Elder, revered him as a wise father, and not in a single thing did he step away from his will. He was so reverent before him that he would kiss the place on which .the Elder had prayed; and so deeply did he humble himself before him that he did not consider himself worthy to approach and touch his garment.
His Trials as a Novice
Such a kind of life does not occur without special temptations, and the enemy soon began to make them for him. He brought upon him a heaviness and weakness in his whole body, after which there followed a laziness and darkness of mind to such an extent that it seemed to him that he could not stand or open his mouth for prayer nor listen to the church singing, nor even raise his mind on high. Understanding that this condition was not like the usual exhaustion from labors or like any kind of disease, the Saint armed himself against it by patience, forcing himself not to indulge himself in any way, but on the contrary to increase his efforts to do the opposite of what was being instilled in him, using this as a needful means for restoring his usual condition.
This battle, with God’s help and the prayers of the Elder, was crowned with victory. God consoled him with the following vision: a certain cloud seemed to rise upwards from his feet and was dispersed in the air, and he felt himself wakeful, lively, and so light that it was as if he had no body. The temptation passed away, and the Saint in gratitude to the Redeemer resolved from this time never to sit down during Divine services, even when this is allowed by the typicon.
Then the enemy raised against him warfare of the flesh, disturbing him by thoughts, alarming him by movements of the flesh, and in his sleep presenting to him shameful imaginings. By God’s grace and the prayers of the Elder this battle also was won.
Further, his relatives and even his parents rose up with the desire to persuade him to moderate his strictness or even to leave monasticism altogether. But this also not only did not lessen his usual struggles, but on the contrary increased them in certain respects, especially with relation to solitude, separation from everyone, and prayer.
Finally, the enemy armed against him the brethren of the monastery, his fellow struggles, who did not like his life, even though they themselves were no friends of loose living. From the very beginning certain of the brethren were very well-disposed to him and praised him, but others were unapproving and treated him with reproaches and mockery, more often behind his back, but some times even right to his face. Saint Symeon paid no attention either to the praises or the reproaches, either to respect or disrespect, but strictly kept to the rules of life of inward and outward conduct which had been established with the counsel of his Elder. And the Elder often renewed his exhortations to him to be firm and endure everything manfully, and especially to strive to so attune his soul that it might above all be meek, humble, simple, and with out malice, because only in such souls is the grace of the Holy Spirit accustomed to dwell. Hearing such a promise, the Saint increased his zeal for life according to God.
Meanwhile, the dissatisfaction of the brethren increased more and more, the number of the dissatisfied increased, and even the abbot sometimes joined them. Seeing that the scandal was increasing, the Elder transferred his spiritual offspring to the renowned Anthony, abbot of the monastery of Saint Mamas (in Constantinople), limiting his own guidance to watching over him from a distance, and to frequent visits. Here also the life of Saint Symeon proceeded in the order which had now become usual for him. His advancement in ascetic life not only outward but above all inward, became evident and gave hope that in the future also his zeal for this would not grow faint. Therefore the Elder decided finally to make him a full monk through the tonsure and by clothing him in the schema.
He Becomes a Monk, and an Instructor of Monks
This joyous event renewed and increased the ascetic virtues of the Saint. He gave himself entirely over to solitude, to reading, to prayer and thoughts of God. The whole week he would eat only vegetables and grains, and only on Sundays would he go to the table of the brethren. He slept little, and that on the floor, only laying a sheepskin over the rug. On Sundays and feast days he performed all-night vigils, standing at prayer from evening, until morning, and for the whole day thereafter he would give himself no rest. Never did lie or utter an idle word, but he preserved always an extreme heedfulness and a sober selfconcentration. He sat all dosed up in his cell, and if he would go out to sit on a bench, it seemed as if he were drenched with tears and bore on his face the reflection of the flame of prayer. He read most of all the lives of saints, and after reading would sit down at his handicraft, which was calligraphy; he would copy something for the monastery and the elders or for himself. From the first sound of the semantron (announcing the morning service), he would stand up and hasten to church, where, with all prayerful heedfulness, he would listen to the order of Divine services. Whenever there was Liturgy, he would each time receive communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, and all that day he would remain in prayer and thoughts of God. He would usually keep vigil until midnight, and then, after sleeping a little, would go to church to pray together with the brethren. During Great Lent he spent the five week days without food; on Saturday and Sunday he would go to the table of the brethren and eat what ever was given to everyone. He did not lie down to sleep, but merely leaned over with his head on his arms and thus dosed off for an hour or so.
Thus he spent two years in this monastery which was new to him, growing in good temper and asceticism, and becoming wealthy in knowledge of the divine mysteries of salvation through the reading of the word of God and the writings of the Fathers, through his own thoughts of God, and through conversation with revered elders, especially with his own Symeon the Reverent and with Abbot Anthony.
These elders finally judged that the time had come for Saint Symeon to share with others the treasures of spiritual wisdom which he had acquired, and they placed on him the obedience of giving instructive talks in church for the edification of the brethren and all Christians. Even before this, from the very beginning of his ascetic life, together with the extracts from Patristic writings of everything which he considered that was needed for the saving of his soul, he occupied himself also with the writing down of his own ideas, which increased in him during the hours of reflection on God. But now this occupation became for him an obligation, with the difference that the edification now was to be addressed not only to himself but also to others. His speech was usually simple. Clearly beholding the great truths of our salvation, he set them forth in a way understandable to everyone, without in the least decreasing by simplicity of speech their height and depth. He was listened to with satisfaction by the elders themselves.
He Becomes a Priest and Abbot
After a little while, his constant guide, Symeon the Reverent, conceived the desire to consecrate him to the rank of priest by ordination. At about the same time, the abbot of the monastery died, and the brethren with a common voice chose in his place Saint Symeon. Thus at one and the same time lie both received consecration as priest and was raised up to be abbot by the Patriarch at that time, Nicholas Chrysoberges.
Not without fear and tears did he accept these seeming promotions, which in actual fact were unbearable burdens. He judged concerning the ranks of priest and abbot not according to their outward appearance, but according to the essence of the matter. Therefore, he prepared himself to receive them with all heedfulness, reverence and devotion to God. For such a good outlook he was vouchsafed during the minutes of his ordination, as he later affirmed, a special mercy of God: a sensing of grace descending into the heart and the beholding of invisible light which overshadowed and penetrated him.
Therefore, when he was asked what a priest is, and what priesthood is, with tears he would reply, saying: “Alas, my brethren, why do you ask me about this? This is a matter of which it is fearful even to think. I bear the priesthood unworthily, but I know well what a priest should be. He should be pure both in body and all the more in soul, not stained by any kind of sin, humble in outward manner and contrite of heart in his inward disposition. When he serves the Liturgy he should behold God in his mind, while directing his eyes to the Gifts being offered. He should be consciously joined in his heart to Christ the Lord Who is there, so as to have the boldness of a son in conversing with God the Father, and to cry out without condemnation: Our Father.
This is what our holy Father said to those who asked him about priesthood, and he implored them not to seek this mystery, which is high and fearful even for the angels themselves, before they come into a condition like that of the angels by means of many labors and struggles over themselves. “It is better,” he said, “to exercise oneself every day with fervor in the doing of the commandments of God, every minute offering true repentance to God if one happens to sin in some way, not only by deed or word but even by the hidden thought of one’s soul. And by this means one may daily offer to God both for oneself and for one’s neighbors a sacrifice, a spirit which is contrite, tearful prayers and entreaties, this hidden sacred activity within us over which God rejoices. And receiving it upon His altar above the heavens, He grants to us the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Thus he taught others, and in the same spirit he himself served the Liturgy.
And when he served the Liturgy, his face became like an angel’s and was penetrated with such light that it was not possible to look freely at him by reason of the extraordinary brightness coming from him, just as it is impos sible to look freely at the sun. Concerning this there are the true testimonies of many of his disciples and others.
Having become abbot, the Saint’s first act was the restoration of the monastery, because it was in need of repair in many parts. The church, which had been built by the Emperor Maurice, was in quite good condition; but after the restoration of the monastery he cleaned it also in some places and restored it in others, put down a marble floor, and adorned it with icons, church utensils, and everything needful. In the meantime he also improved the refectory and set as a rule that all should go to the refectory, not having special food by themselves. And so that this might be fulfilled the better, he himself went always to die common table, without, however, changing his usual rule of fasting.
The brethren began to increase, and he instructed them by word, ex ample, and the common well-ordered rule of life, being zealous to make them all men of desires of God our Saviour. God increased in him also the gift of contrition and tears, which were for him food and drink. But he had for these tears three separate times: after Matins, during the Liturgy, and after Compline, at which times he would pray more fervently with abundant shedding of tears.
His mind was bright, clearly beholding the truths of God. He loved these truths with all the fullness of his heart. Therefore, when he would give a talk either privately or in church, his words went from heart to heart and were always effective and fruit-bearing.
He also wrote. Often the whole night he would sit composing theological reflections or a commentary on the Divine Scriptures, or instructions and ta’ks which were edifying for everyone, or prayers in verse, or letters to various disci ples, both laymen and monks. Lack of sleep did not disturb him, neither did hunger or thirst or the other needs of the body. All this was brought by long struggle into the most modest measure and became habit, as if it were a law of nature. However, despite such deprivations, in appearance he always seemed fresh, robust, and lively, just like those who eat and drink and sleep to satiety.
The fame of the Saint and his monastery went everywhere and gathered to him all zealots of the true life of renunciation of the world. He received everyone, instructed them and raised them up to perfection by his guidance. Many of them with all fervor undertook this work and successfully followed aft er their teacher. All of them presented as it were a choir of fleshless angels, constantly praising God and serving Him.
Having thus put his monastery in order, Saint Symeon conceived the intention of going into silence, appointing a special abbot for the brethren. He chose in his place a certain Arsenius, who had been tested many times by him, was well-rooted in good conduct, in good outlook of heart and in the ability to conduct monastery business. Transferring to him the burden of being abbot, in a general assembly of the brethren he gave him proper insruction on how to govern, and to the brethren he gave instruction on how to live under his rule. Having asked forgiveness of everyone, he went away into the cell which he had chosen for silence, in order to remain there without leaving, being alone with God in prayer, reflection on God, reading of the Scriptures, in sobriety and dis cernment of thoughts. To these struggles there was nothing for him to add. His struggles had always been in a state of concentration to the utmost ex tent; but, of course, the grace which guided him in everything knew what was most useful for him in this new way of life and suggested it to him. The gift of teaching, which had previously found satisfaction in instruction given both in private and in church, now turned all his attention and labor to writing. He wrote at this time his more ascetic teachings in the form of short utterances, an example of which we have in the active and contemplative chapters which have come down to us.
The Great Trial over the Veneration of His Elder
However, the Saint was not fated to enjoy undisturbed peace to the end. A trial was sent to him, a mighty and alarming one, in order that he might burn utterly and be purified to the end in this fire. Ilis Elder, Symeon the Reverent, his spiritual father and guide, departed to the Lord in great old age, after 45 years of strict ascetic life. Saint Symeon, knowing his ascetic labors, his purity of heart, his closeness to God and communion with Him, and the grace of the Holy Spirit which overshadowed him, composed in his honor some homilies, hymns, and canons of praise, and he brightly celebrated his memorial every year, having painted also an icon of him. Perhaps his example was imitated by others both within the monastery and outside, because he had many disciples and venerators among monks and laymen. Hearing about this, the Patriarch of that time, Sergius, summoned Saint Symeon and inquired about the feast and the cause of the feast. But having seen what an exalted life Symeon the Reverent had led, not only did he not oppose the celebration of his memory, but he him self began to take part in it, sending icon lamps and incense. Thus sixteen years passed. In memory of him who was the cause of the feast, men glorified God and were instructed by his exemplary life and virtues. But finally the enemy raised up because of this a storm of temptation.
A certain Stephen, Metropolitan of Nicomedia, who was very learned and eloquent in word, left his diocese and lived in Constantinople, having ac cess to the Patriarch and the court. Being a man of this world, when he heard that everywhere people were praising the wisdom and sanctity of Saini Symeon, and especially his marvelous writings composed for the instruction of those seeking salvation, he rose up in envy against him. Leafing through his writing', he found them not very learned and not eloquent; therefore, he had an attitude of disdain towards them, and discouraged from reading them those who liked to do so. From criticism of his writings, he desired to go over to criticism of the Saint himself, but he could not find anything for reproach in his life until, in his evil intent, he came upon his custom of celebrating the memory of Symeon the Reverent. This custom seemed to him to be against church order and something scandalous. Certain of the parish priests and laymen agreed with him in this, and they all began to drone in the ears of the Patriarch and the bishops who were around him, inspiring a lawless intrigue against the righteous one. But the Patriarch and the bishops, knowing the works of the Saint and knowing from whence and why this agitation was coming, paid no attention to it. However, having begun his evil deed, Stephen was not appeased, and he continued to spread dissatisfaction in the city with regard to the Saint on this account, not forgetting to remind the Patriarch of this also, so as to incline him to think the same.
Thus for about two years a war was waged between the righteousness of the Saint and the lie of Stephen. The latter was always seeking out whether there might not be something in the life of the respected Elder that might cause some doubt as to his sanctity. And he found that Symeon the Reverent sometimes said, in his feelings of humility, “I also have temptations and falls.” These words he accepted in the crudest sense, and he went to the Patriarch with them as with emblems of victory, saying, “This is the kind of man he was and this Symeon respects him as a saint and has even painted an icon of him and bows down to it.” They called the Saint and demanded of him an explanation with regard to the accusation brought against his Elder. He replied: “As regards my celebration of the memory of my father who gave birth to me in the life according to God, Your Holiness, my Master, knows this better than I. As for the accusation, let the most wise Stephen prove something more convincing than what he says. And when he shall prove it, then I will enter into defense of my revered Elder. I myself cannot help but revere my Elder, following the com mandments of the Apostles and the Holy Fathers; but I do not try to persuade anyone else to do this. This is a matter of my conscience, and others may do as they please.” With this explanation they were satisfied, but they gave a com mandment to the Saint in future to celebrate the memory of his Elder as humbly as possible, without any kind of solemnity.
And thus the matter would have ended if it were not for this Stephen. He was given no repose by the failure of his attacks, and for six more years he continued to try to invent something and attract the Saint to reply to him and to explain himself. Meanwhde, he attained in some way from the cell of the Saint an icon where Symeon the Reverent was depicted in a choir of other saints being overshadowed by Christ the Lord, Who was blessing them. And he 1 managed to persuade the Patriarch and his Synod in the interests of peace to agree to blot out the inscription over his face which said “Saint.” In this regard Stephen raised throughout the city a whole persecution against the icon of Symcon the Reverent, and zealots like himself acted with regard to it exactly as in the times of the iconoclasts.
This agitation took on a more and more disorderly character, and there was no end to the pestering of the Patriarch and the bishops with regard to it. Seeking out means of bringing about peace, they decided that for the pacifying of minds and the satisfaction of Stephen, it might be sufficient to send Saint Symeon away from Constantinople. Not seeing how he celebrated the memory of his Elder, others also would begin to forget about it, and finally it would be forgotten altogether. Having decided this, they ordered the Saint to find himself another place for silence outside of Constantinople. He agreed to this with joy, loving the silence which was so often and with such agitation violated in the city.
His Last Years in Retirement
Somewhere near Constantinople the Saint came to love a certain locality where there was the ancient church of Saint Marina, and he settled there. The owner of this place, one of the powerful archons, Christopher Phagoura, a disci ple and venerator of Symeon, greatly rejoiced when he heard of his choice. Therefore, he himself hastened there and gave total repose to his spiritual father, both by the place he provided him and by furnishing everything needful to him. Even more, at the advice of the Saint he dedicated to God this whole place and entrusted it to the Saint for the building of a monastery.
Meanwhile, in Constantinople the venerators of the Saint, finding out about his departure, were in perplexity as to why this had happened. The Saint wrote them, telling them how everything had happened, and begged them not to become disturbed over him, assuring them that everything was for the best and that it was much more peaceful for him in his new place. His venerators, how ever, among whom there were quite a few eminent persons, did not wish to leave him without their intercession. Therefore, coming to the Patriarch, they asked for an explanation, wondering whether there were not something hostile and unjust with regard to their spiritual father in this matter. In order to calm them the Patriarch assured them that he also respected the Saint and vener ated his Elder, and that he himself approved of the celebration of his memory, with the single reservation that this should be done not so triumphantly. As for his being sent away, this was acknowledged as profitable as a means of stopping the agitation which had been raised in the city against this celebration. So that there might not remain any doubt with regard to this among the eminent persons, he invited them to come to him another time together with Saint Sym eon, and in his presence he repeated the same thing. The Saint confirmed the words of the Patriarch, assuring them that he had nothing against anyone, and all the less against His Holiness, whose attention he had always enjoyed; and right here he asked his blessing for the establishment of the monastery he al ready intended to establish. These explanations pacified all who were disturbed by the sending away of the Saint. After this the Saint also wrote a peaceful let ter to Metropolitan Stephen, and the common peace was restored.
Upon leaving the Patriarch, the Saint and his friends were invited to visit the above-mentioned Christopher Phagoura, and at his home they all made a collection among themselves of the sum needed for building the monastery. After this the building itself was quickly begun, and although it was not without obstacles, it was quickly finished. Gathering a new brotherhood and establish ing in it the order of monastic life, Saint Symeon again went away from every thing and sat in silence with his usual struggles and labors, devoting all his time, apart from chance conversations with those who were in need of counsel, to writing instructive homilies, ascetic instructions, and prayerful hymns.
From this time on his life proceeded peacefully until his very death. He matured into a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13), and manifested himself as richly adorned with gifts of grace. He uttered prophecies concerning certain persons which were fulfilled in reality. By his prayers there were many healings, which he performed by com manding that the sick be annointed with oil from the lamp which burned before the icon of Saint Marina.
For thirteen years the Saint remained in his new monastery, and then the end of his life on earth drew near (in 1022). Feeling the nearness of his departure, he called his disciples, gave them necessary instruction, and, after receiving communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, commanded them to sing the prayers for the departure of the soul, during which, while praying, he de parted saying, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my soul.”
Thirty years after this, his relics were uncovered (in 1050), and they were filled with heavenly fragrance and glorified by miracles. The memory of Saint Symeon the New Theologian is celebrated on March 12, the day of his repose. His divinely-wise writings were preserved and brought into general circulation by his disciple, Nicetas Stethatos, to whom the Saint himself had entrusted them. This Nicetas, during the lifetime of the Saint, copied out his writings in good form as they were composed, and later gathered them together into one collection.
The Writings of Saint Symeon
The chief subject of St. Symeon’s writings is the hidden activity in Christ (spiritual life). He explains the path of the inward warfare, instructs in the most spiritual means for perfection, exhorts to struggle primarily against the spiritual passions, against sinful impulses and movements. The beginning of our fall, he says, is performed in the soul out of pride, which is why we must humble the soul. Certain of his contemporaries, trusting too much to outward virtues, being passionately attached to the Studite rule but not to its spirit, rose up against the Saint as a violator of the way of salvation which they knew so well. From the works of St. Symeon it is clearly evident that he had no idea of rejecting outward struggles; but, while teaching his disciples to observe them, he demanded a battle against the sin-loving soul. He himself went on the path of inward sorrows, with the aid of grace, and he demanded the same of others. Let us look at his reply to his contemporary questioners, and it will give a suf ficient indication of the subjects of his instruction.
“People believe and convince themselves that it cannot be that a man should be completely pure of lusts and vices so as to receive the Comforter in himself essentially. Such ones speak and act against their own salvation; they close for themselves the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven and forbid others, who might wish to do so, to enter. If they hear about anyone that he has lawfully struggled and is pure of disturbing passions, that he preaches before everyone the wonders of God which God has worked in him according to His unlying promise . . . they say: ‘Stop, you are deceived and proud! Wuo is such as the Fathers were? Who has seen or can see God? Who has received the Spirit in such abundance that he has been vouchsafed through Him to see the Father an] the Son?’ Yes, it is none of you, precisely so, as you yourselves say. But from among those who have resolved to bear the cross, to go on the narrow path, who are ready to lose their soul for the sake of eternal life — very many of such ones have seen God, and very many, as I think, see Him now, and everyone who only wishes to do so will see Him.”
“They say: ‘He is deceived; for he that says that he has no sin is blind and does not see.’ This is true; but he who has Gad cannot sin, for His seed remains in him, as John the most intelligent, the thunder of the Apostles, has said.” These words in themselves indicate that the states of which St. Symeon speaks are ones for which great preparatory struggles are required. In order to see this in the writings of St. Symeon, it is sufficient to read his instruction concerning the third form of prayer, and in particular the place where he speaks of the preparatory states and understanding of the struggler. One may cite also some other words of his: “Before lamentation and tears let us not be deceived by empty words, and let us not delude ourselves as to our advancement in piety . . . Without tears the hardness of our heart will not be softened, the soul will not acquire humility of spirit, we will not be able to make ourselves humble; and whoever has not put himself in order in this way cannot be united with the Holy Spirit.”
Concerning these preparatory states he speaks in such detail and offers numerous wise means, warnings, and exhortations that could be uttered only by a person who has studied the moral life in experience, and not for just a year but for decades. His works are a most abundant treasury of thoughts on spiritual life, thoughts which act with power on the soul that thirsts for piety.