“It pleases our Synod to remind Maronites that the conversion of many Syrian and Lebanese to Christianity during the Roman era occurred at the hands of preachers motivated by apostolic zeal, and foremost among them were monks, disciples of Saint Maron of Cyrrhus, Saint John Chrysostom, and Simon Stylite.”
– Antiochan Syriac Maronite Church Synod Text of 2006 (In English)
St Simon the Stylite (389 – 459) was a contemporary of St Maroun and lived for almost 40 years in the open air on a stone pillar (eventually 18m high) on a hill top in northern Syria. His fame caused pilgrims to visit him from all over Asia, Europe, Britain and the Middle East. He is a very important monastic in the Syriac tradition. He also inspired a new way of Monasticism.
He was born in the Cappadocian village of Sisan. He joined the Monastery at a young age and lived a strict life of fasting and prayer and asceticism. The abbot asked for his withdrawal from the monastery as he feared the other monks would imitate his strict life. Simeon left to live alone in the mountains in solitude. This was not uncommon in Syriac Monasticism.
His name comes from the Greek pillar, “stylos”. Read about what a Stylite is here. An enormous church was built around the famous pillar and completed in 490AD and at that time it was the largest church in the world. Unfortunately it sustained huge damage during the Syrian conflict.
A Syriac manuscript (MS 160) written about 473 AD and held in the Vatican has recently been translated directly from the Syriac into English in 1992 in the book “The lives of Simon Stylites” by Robert Doran.
One passage gives an account of St Simeon telling “a great crowd” from the mountains of Lebanon to convert to Christianity and place crosses around their villages to protect them against wild beasts which were eating people and children even inside their homes. Upon doing so, the beasts stopped attacking them. He also told them “Go and set up four stones on all borders of the villages. If any priests are there, summon them, and make on the stone three crosses.” Several churches exist in the mountain towns of North Lebanon in honour of St Simeon.
He attracted crowds, who came to receive healing and learn more about the Christian faith. Seeking to remain in solitude and to escape the crowds and get closer to God, Simeon went up to a pillar to live a life devoted to prayer and fasting. Monks who lived on pillars, remained standing for hours in prayer. Simeon spent time writing letters to instruct the disciples of the faith, and also spent some time teaching those who came to visit him. St Simon kept getting higher and higher on his pillar so he could get closer to God. May the stylites inspire us to such a fervent desire for the Lord.
Simeon spent 37 years on the pillar and died 2 September 459 and was buried near the pillar.
Saint Simeon left a great legacy inspiring many others to live on pillars. They were called Stylites. He also inspired the many people that came to visit him to learn about the faith. He baptised many into the faith and promoted prayer and fasting.
We ask for the intercession of Saint Simeon, the Stylite, to inspire us to find new ways to take time out from the world and get closer to God. May his example strengthen us in our fasting and prayer. We pray that through our actions we bring more people to our faith.
Sadly, the pillar and monastery where it is believed St Simeon lived was damaged during the Syrian conflict. We continue to pray for the region, which was the cradle of Christianity and the cradle of Maronites. St Simeon pray for us.
The photo is taken at St Simon Stylite Monastery, Ayto in Lebanon. St Rafqa also lived part of her life at the Monastery.
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