This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January 5 -- St. Simeon Stylites

As I read of the excruciating penances and devotions performed by St. Simeon, I wonder when he ever had time to commit sins enough to balance them. Unless his actions can compensate for the sins of others (an idea I can't accept), the best that might be said of his efforts is that he was a very visible demonstration of piety, serving to inspire others.

He began service at a monastery near Antioch, but became so zealous with his mortifications that he nearly died. While he was unconscious, a rope of leaves binding him was found under his clothes. It took three days to cut this away because it was hardened and embedded in his flesh. He was dismissed by the abbot upon his recovery.

His next stint was at a monastery where he chose to fast for the whole length of Lent. A priest named Bassus left him ten loaves of bread and some water in case he couldn't make it. When they checked on him (probably Easter Monday, because who would bother on Easter itself?), they found all ten loaves (quite stale) and Simeon (unconscious). He was revived with the sacrament of communion.

He did okay in that monastery (three years) but desired more solitary and difficult lifestyle. He went to a mountaintop and chained himself to a rock. He probably would have tried to talk a vulture into pecking his liver every day if that were not a pagan thing. But the response by the Patriarch of Antioch is the part I really love; he didn't forbid this devotion, nor did he condone it. Rather, he noted that real devotion would not require chains. Duly impressed with the logic, Simeon sent for a blacksmith to remove his shackles.

Eventually, Simeon became so distracted by gawkers and seekers that he had a column built on which he could pray. The people below him could observe his devotions without disturbing his prayers. He spent fours year on a nine foot column, then another three on an eighteen foot column. The crowd noise was still a distraction, so the next ten years were spent on a thirty-three foot column. Then the people, so proud of their wacky, column-dwelling saint, built him a sixty-foot high, six-foot wide platform on which he spent the remaining twenty years of his life. He used to rise and then prostrate himself, then rise again, and prostrate himself again, praying all the while. Someone counted 1244 prostrations in a single day. He died on that column in 459, but by then other Stylites (column-dwellers) had copied his shtick.

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