Chapter XXVI, Simeon Stylites (continued), Book IX
(Baradatus, Thalalaeus, Marana & Cyra also on this page)
There was another miracle that he did, hardly less wonderful than the other. Among those who had come to believe in the saving name of the Lord Christ was an Ishmaelite from a quite well known place who made a vow to God, with the divine man as witness, that he would abstain from that time onwards from eating the flesh of any living creature. Somehow or other there came an occasion when he transgressed against his promise, and attempted to eat something that had been killed. But God wished to rebuke him and make him change his mind, in honour of his servant who had been a witness of the promise which had now been transgressed, so he turned the flesh of the chicken to stone. Even if he had wanted to, he was no longer able to eat it. How could he indeed, when the flesh which he wanted to eat had been turned to stone? This barbarian was stupefied by this amazing and unbelievable sight, and went to the holy man as quickly as possible, bringing his hidden sin into the light of day, confessing his transgression in the hearing of all, and seeking pardon of God for his offence, and the assistance of the holy man that by his all-powerful prayers he might loose him from the chains of his sin. There were many who witnessed this miracle, for they saw about his person some of the chicken bone turned into stone.
I not only witnessed miracles, I also heard him predicting the future. Two years before it happened he predicted a drought and consequent harvest failure, together with the famine and pestilence that went with it. He said he had seen a great rod lifted up against the human race, with whips attached to punish them. At another time he said there would be a plague of locusts, but that they would not cause a great deal of harm as the divine mercy would be poured out in response to prayer. Thirty days later a numberless multitude of them descended on us, such as to block out the rays of the sun and overshadow us all. We all saw this plainly and clearly. But only the animals' pasture suffered any loss; human food took no harm whatsoever.
And also when I was in a dispute with somebody he told me that the dispute would come to an end fifteen days before experience proved the truth of his prediction.
He also saw two rods coming down from the heavens, one falling in the East and the other in the West. The divine man interpreted these as incursions against Roman rule by the Persians and the Scythians, and he explained the vision to those who were present with him, and with many tears and earnest prayers he turned aside those blows which were threatening the world. For the Persians were already armed and ready to attack the Romans, when with the will of God against them they were hindered right from the beginning, torn apart by their own internal arguments. I know of a whole lot more incidents like this, but I pass over them to avoid being accused of prolixity. What I have told you is sufficient to establish the spiritual vision his mind was capable of.
He was so highly thought of by the king of Persia, that he sent envoys to Simeon, wanting to know about his life and miracles. It is also said that the queen of Persia asked that he might bless some oil for her, which she accepted as a very valuable gift. All the king's court attendants were very excited when they heard about this, in spite of hearing calumnies about him from the learned magicians. They asked innumerable questions about him, and having learnt as much as they could, made the name of that divine man even more widely known. Crowds of other people approached the muleteers, the servants and the soldiers, offering money to be given a share in the blessed oil.
The queen of the Ishmaelites was sterile but longed for children. She sent someone of dignity an authority to him to ask that she might become a mother. He made his petition, she gave birth as she had desired, and the king took the child and brought him to the divine old man (for women were not allowed to approach him), and asked if this had happened because of his blessing.
"No, it was your act that did it," said Simeon. "I simply poured out with tears the seed of prayer. It was your seed that resulted in the harvest when you drew down the shower of divine grace through prayer."
But why should I attempt to measure the depth of the Atlantic ocean? Human beings cannot measure it, just as the deeds he did daily defy the telling of them. He stood night and day in full view of all. He had no doors, he could be approached from all directions, providing a novel and wonderful sight for everybody, now standing for a long time, now bending frequently to offer adoration to God. Many of those present counted his adorations; somebody who was with me once counted up to twelve hundred and fifty-four before he made a mistake and lost count. As a result of so much bending he was able to move his forehead very close to his toes. For since his stomach took food only once a week, and that only a small amount, about as much as sharing in the divine Sacraments, it meant that his back could bend very easily. They say that as a result of standing on one leg he developed an ulcer which exuded matter, but nothing that happened to him impeded his way of life. He endured with a brave and generous heart both voluntary and involuntary sufferings, triumphing over them all by the devotion of his soul.
On one occasion he was compelled to show this ulcer to somebody. What happened was this: a good man, highly thought of in the ministry of Christ visited him from Arabena .
"Tell me the truth," he said, "what sort of a man is it who changes his life as you have done. Are you really human, or are you an incorporeal spirit?"
The bystanders were annoyed at his interrogation and told him to hold his tongue, but Simeon answered him.
"Why are you interrogating me like this?" he asked.
"Because I hear it commonly said that you neither eat nor sleep, but both are necessary for human beings. No one clothed in human nature can live without food and sleep."
"Get a ladder and come up here," said Simeon.
And as soon as his hand appeared over the top of the ladder he lifted the hem of his long robe and guided the hand to his feet, where the man saw not only Simeon's feet but also that grievous ulcer. He was amazed at the size of it. Simeon also told him how he was nourished, and when the man came back down the ladder he came to me and told me all about it.
On public feast days he demonstrated another example of his powers of endurance. From the setting of the sun till the time when it once more approached the western horizon he stood with his hands raised in prayer, sleepless, bearing the labour of it without difficulty. In all his labours, notwithstanding the magnitude of all the deeds he performed, he was gifted with a modesty and self-control which made him the most dignified of all human beings. To go with his modesty, he made it easy for people to approach him, for he was pleasantly friendly, and gave equal attention to all who spoke to him, whether they were workmen, beggars or agricultural workers. He was given the gift of teaching by a generous and bountiful God. Twice daily he gave little homilies, pouring the water of life into the ears of his audience. He spoke quite beautifully, showing the discipline of a divine spirit, urging them to look upwards and open their wings, leaving the world far behind, to seek for the vision of the expected kingdom, to stand in fear of the punishment of hell, to despise the things of the earth and to look for the world to come. He could also be seen acting as a judge, whose verdicts were always right and proper.
It was always after the ninth hour that he did things of that nature. The whole night, and the day up to the ninth hour he gave to perpetual prayer. First of all at the ninth hour he would preach to those present, then he would listen to individual requests, curing some, giving judgments to others among whom there was some dispute. At sunset he would begin to turn towards the Lord. But along with all these things he did not fail in care and forethought for the holy churches, now confronting the ungodliness of the pagans, now confuting the impudence of the Jews, now vanquishing and putting to flight the hordes of heretics, and, what is more, writing letters to the Emperor about them. He would write also to community leaders and magistrates, inciting them to zeal for the Lord, and sometimes to the chief pastors of the churches, urging them to take greater care for their flock.
By describing to you these few raindrops I hope to have given readers some idea of a life-giving shower of rain, or what it is like to taste the sweetest honey. But there are a great deal more things than these to be sung about and celebrated. However, I did not promise to write down everything, but just a few things in his life to show his style and character. Let others write much more about him as they will.
[It is thought that Simeon's Life from here to the end has been added by someone other than Theodoretus after the death of Simeon.]
He lived for a long time after this, with many miracles and labours, in the heat of the sun, in the ice of winter, buffeted by the gales, in the weakness of his human nature, remaining alone invincible out of all who ever were, until at last it behoved him to be with Christ and receive the crown for his immense labours, confirming to unbelievers by his death that he was but human. Even after death he remained immoveable, for although his soul had gone to heaven his body was not allowed to fall, but stayed upright on his battlefield, an unconquered athlete, none of his members willing to touch the earth, proclaiming the victory of the athlete of Christ even in his death.
His cures of various diseases, his miracles, the power of his holy work are all just as much celebrated now in various holy reliquaries, as they were at the time, but above all now in that monument to his high virtue and daily strife, that great and celebrated column, proclaiming, I say, Simeon's righteousness and praise.
I hope that I may share in his holy intercessions, that I may persevere in holy labours, and I pray to God who provides for us all, the God who is the splendour of devotion and true religion, to govern my life, and shape me into the mould of the gospel.
The common enemy of human beings has many paths of vice through which he strives to lead to perdition the whole human race, whereas the followers of the true religion think up many different ladders whereby they may ascend to heaven. Some strive together in communities, of which there is a countless number, to enjoy the crown incorruptible by ascending to heaven together. Others choose the monastic [i.e solitary] life aiming to speak with God alone and enjoying no human consolation. Their victories are publicly renowned. Some of these praise God living in tents, some in huts, some choose life in caves and caverns. But there are many others among those we have mentioned who have decided not to use either cavern, tent, cave or hut, but to commit their bodies to the open air, enduring all conditions, the most rock-hard ice equally with the burning rays of the sun. Among them again there are various modes of living. Some always stand, some divide their time between standing and sitting, some shut themselves in behind fences, fleeing from human company, others use none of these devices, but are available for all who want to see them. It is as one of this latter sort that I now need to describe the life of the admirable Baradatus, for he found quite different ways of showing endurance.
At first he enclosed himself for quite a long time in a little dwelling, enjoying solitary contemplation. From there he went to a cliff face, where he built for himself a small box-like structure, which was in no way conformed to the dimensions of a human body, but in which he had to live bent double, for neither its depth nor its length was of a convenient size. Nor was it of a single wooden surface, but constructed more like the latticework of an open window letting in the light. So he was not protected from the force of the rain nor was there any shade from the heat of the sun, both of which had as free entry there as to anywhere else under the sun. But he was concerned with overcoming only in those matters concerned with the work of being enclosed.
Having spent a long time like this he at last came out in response to the entreaties of Theodoret, the bishop of Antioch. But he still stood diligently lifting up his hands in praise to the God of all, his whole body hidden beneath a tunic of skins. Only around his nose and mouth was there an opening left for the entry of the spirit as he breathed, using the air common to all, without which human nature is not able to survive. He endured all this work in a body which was not very robust, but liable to ill health because of various ailments. But he was fervent and eager of spirit, he burned with the love of God, compelling him to labour even though he should not really have been capable of labouring.
He was gifted with wisdom and intelligence, seeking always the best things and responding to them. The force of his reasoning ability was often better and more compelling than those who read the labyrinthine books of Aristotle. Although he reached a high level of competence in this ability, he did not let his spirit be carried away by arrogance, which he simply ordered to creep away downwards around the side of the mountain. So his mind did not take a great deal of harm from any kind of bursting burning insolence. And that sums up his character.
It was given to him to travel in his pilgrimage to the very furthest limits, that is, to the glory of those who have obtained the victory, a cause of joy to all the faithful. May it be granted to me, that supported by their prayers, I may be found not far from that high peak, where ascending little by little I may find fulfilment in the joy of the contemplation which is theirs.
I will not keep silent about Thalelaeus, who offers us the sight of many miracles. I not only heard about him from others, but saw him myself, an undeniably marvellous sight. He built his little hut on a mound about twenty miles from Gabala, a small but very elegant city. There was a temple on this mound dedicated to demons, to whom were offered many sacrifices by the ungodly of old times, it is said, as they sought to propitiate by their worship the cruelty of those wretched and accursed spirits. They caused a great deal of harm to many people, not only those who lived there but to neighbouring people as well. and not only to human beings, but to asses and mules and oxen and sheep, not that they waged war against animals but that they used them to prepare traps for human beings.
When they saw him coming they tried very hard to frighten him, but had no success because he was fortified against them by faith and carried the war to them by grace. Filled with rage and madness, they attacked some trees which were planted there, for the mound had a number of flourishing figs and olives. They say that more than fifty of them were suddenly torn up. I heard this from several farmers nearby, who had formerly been bound under the yoke of ungodliness, but had now received the light of the knowledge of God through the teaching and miracles of Thalelaeus. When the pernicious and wretched demons failed to terrify this athlete seeking for wisdom, they prepared some other tricks against him. At night they would howl and flash lights in an effort to terrify him and send him mad. But he laughed at all their insults, until at last they were forced to leave him alone and flee.
He constructed two separate wheels of two cubits diameter, without spokes, and then using wedges and nails joined them together with boards in such a way as to form a barrel. He took three large beams to form a tripod which he fixed in the ground in the open air, and suspended the barrel in it by a rope tied round the boards. The space which he had inside was of two cubits high and one cubit depth. Sitting in it, or rather suspended in it, he spent ten years without a break., Since he had a very large body, when sitting down he could not keep his neck erect, but always sat in a curved position, with his knees against his face.
When I visited him I found him drawing inspiration from reading the Gospels. I asked him a few questions, wanting to know why he had started to live in this way. He spoke in Greek, for he came from Cilix.
"Liable to sin in many ways as I am," he said, "and believing in the threatened punishments which hang over me, I thought out this way of life so that by punishing my body with some fairly hard penalties I might escape from the enormous size of the punishment to come. These punishments are involuntary, more severe not only in quantity but in quality. Punishments of the involuntary sort are very bitter. But voluntary punishments, even if very laborious, are much less grievous, because they are undertaken of one's own free will; they are not a labour which has been violently forced upon one. And if by means of these small penances I can diminish the punishment I deserve it is a great gain for me."
I could not but admire the ingenuity of what he told me. He had not only broken out of the fenced enclosure which he had already made, but had thought up different ways of waging war. It was not just that he battled in this particular way, but that he understood the reasons for it and was able to teach others about it.
His followers say that many miracles were performed through his prayers. He cared not only for humans but also for camels, asses and mules. A whole community of people who had formerly been imprisoned in ungodliness were thus enabled to renounce the errors of their forefathers and accept the splendour of the divine light. With their help he destroyed the temple of the demons and built a great shrine to the victory of the glorious martyrs, proclaiming that those gods who were falsely called gods were dead.
May it be granted through their prayers that when battle is consummated in victory, we may be aided by both Thalelaeus and the martyrs to embrace more diligently the struggle of the search for wisdom.
MARANA AND CYRA
Having written about the lives of the best and most outstanding men, I think I should mention the valuable work of women who have striven no less valiantly, if not more so. They are indeed more worthy of being praised, for in spite of being physically weaker, they display the same diligence of spirit as the men in liberating the human race from the disgrace which was inflicted on our first parent. I will now write about Marana and Cyra, who surpassed all the others in enduring the strife.
They were born of a prominent family in Berhoea, and educated in a manner befitting their status. But despising all that, they occupied a narrow gully outside the city, and once inside blocked up the entrance with stones and clay. They wished their servants also to share in this kind of life, so they built a separate dwelling outside their enclosure for them to live in. The two women had a small window through which they could see what the others were doing, and they regularly urged them to prayer and to rise up to the love of God. They themselves had no house or even a hut, but of their own free will lived in the open air. There was a small hatch in their doorway through which they received such food as was necessary, and through which they conversed with any women who came to see them. The season of Pentecost was assigned to these conversations, at other times they preserved silence. It was only Marana who spoke to visitors, Cyra never heard any human voices at all. They wore iron about their persons, which was so heavy that Cyra, who was the weaker physically, was bent down under its weight, to the extent that she could barely stand upright. They wore long veils which trailed behind them, entirely covering their feet, and were tied down to their girdles in front to cover their faces, necks, breasts and hands.
I often was allowed in through their door to visit them. They ordered their door to be opened to me in deference to the dignity of the priesthood. I saw that the weight of iron they carried was more than many a brave and strong man would be able to carry. By making a forceful request I was able to see them removed, but after I had gone they put them back on again, a collar around the neck, chains around their loins, hands and feet also similarly weighed down. They lived like this not just for ten or even twenty years, but for forty-two. In their striving over such a long period they always felt as if they were just beginning their battle, and they found joy in their labours. They had grasped hold of the beauty of their bridegroom, which made all their labour easy, and urged them on to the goal of their struggle, for they found their delight in it, and earned the crown of victory. The forces of rain and snow and the heat of the sun caused them neither sorrow nor suffering, but they rejoiced in spirit because of these seeming hindrances. And they emulated Moses in his fasting. Three times a year they went without food for forty days except for a very small amount. Three times a year they emulated the way Daniel abstained from food, fasting for three weeks. (Daniel 10.2)
They once fulfilled a wish to see the holy places of the passion of Christ, and on the way to Jerusalem they ate nothing, and even after they had arrived they did not eat until they had completed their adoration. On the way back they also fasted, and it is a journey of not less than twenty days.
When they wanted to visit the shrine to the victory of the wonderful Thecla in Isauria, so that they might fuel the flames of their love towards God in every possible place, they went and came back fasting in exactly the same way. Their love towards God made them celebrate with a sort of divine passion, the divine love they had for their bridegroom increased their enthusiasm.
And these two ornaments of the female sex by living such lives have become examples to others, and have been crowned by the Lord with the crown of victory. I hope what I have written may be found useful, and having begged for their blessing, I pass on to write about someone else.
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