Life No 9 Book Ib The Life of St Ephraem of Syria,
(Life of St Simeon Stylites begins further down page),
a deacon of Edessa,
by an unknown Greek writer
translated into Latin by Gerardus Vossius
Chapter 1Life No 10
Our holy father Ephraem came from in the East, born of godly Syrian parents in Edessa. He lived during the times of the great Emperor Constantine and others who reigned after him. He kept himself innocent of evil deeds from his youth up. While he was still a boy, his parents in a dream saw a vision of a fruit-laden vine growing out of Ephraem's mouth, which grew to such an extent that it spread over everything under the heavens. All the birds of the air came and fed on its fruit, yet however much they ate there was still plenty left. He sought the desert from a very young age, developing a bottomless store of compunction, through which he was able to receive the divine grace of the holy Spirit.
Someone else, inspired by the breath of God, had a night vision in which he saw an awe-inspiring man holding a large volume and asking:
"Who is able, do you think, to take this book and guard it?"
And a voice came to him: "No one other than Ephraem my servant."
And Ephraem, standing near, opened his mouth and devoured the book, from whence a flood of teaching sent by God streamed forth, full of compunction and penitence, filling the mind with a fear of judgment and of the second coming in majesty of the King and Lord of all, Jesus Christ our true God, who will reward each one according to his works. Thus was certified the purity and truth of the divine teachings contained in his writings.
Again, another of the holy old men saw in a vision a band of Angels coming down out of heaven by God's command, carrying a proclamation, a scroll with writing within and without. And they spoke among themselves: "To whom may we entrust this scroll?"
And some said this and some said that, and others replied as follows: "Truly there are many saints and righteous people, but this scroll should be entrusted to no one except Ephraem, meek and humble of heart."
And the old man saw that they gave the scroll to holy Ephraem. In the morning he heard the most striking words of wisdom for the instruction of others streaming from Ephraem's mouth, full of compunction and the fear of God, scattered about as from a free flowing fountain. And the old man knew that what flowed from that mouth had been inspired by the holy Spirit.
This holy father Ephraem was filled with a desire to visit the city of Edessa and he prayed to God: "Lord Jesus Christ, let me visit that city, and when I enter let there be someone to meet me with whom I can explore the meaning of the Scriptures."
A woman who was one of the city's prostitutes met him as he was going through the gate. Ephraem the servant of God was disappointed when he saw her.
"Lord Jesus Christ," he said, "you have despised the prayers of your servant Ephraem. What sort of common ground would this woman have with me in discussing the Scriptures?"
The woman stood still, gazing at him.
"Tell me, my girl, why are you standing there staring (intueor) at me so intently?"
"I can look at (intueor) you, because as a woman I was created out of your manhood. But you do not give me any respect at all (intueor), you only see the dust of the ground out of which you were created" (Genesis 2).
When Ephraem the servant of God heard that, he looked up to heaven and glorified God who had given her the wisdom to be able to give him such an answer as that. He realised that God had not despised his prayer. He went on into the city where he stayed for some time.
It so happened that another prostitute lived next door to the guesthouse in which he was staying. After he had been there for a few days, he heard her say, "Give me a blessing, abba."
He looked up and saw her looking out at him through her window.
"God bless you," he said.
"Isn't there something you have been lacking in your cell and enclosure?"
"Yes, a few stones and cement in order to block up the window you are looking through."
"Look, I spoke to you first and you have responded. I would like to sleep with you, and would you really want to not have anything to do with me?"
"Well, if you want to sleep with me, come with me to a place of my choosing and sleep with me there."
"Tell me where and I will come."
"If you really want to sleep with me I would not be able to do it anywhere else but in the middle of the city."
"Wouldn't you be ashamed for people to see you doing that?"
"If human beings can make us feel ashamed, how much more should the God whom we ought to fear make us feel ashamed! He knows all human secrets, for he it is who shall come to judge the world and reward each one of us according to our works " (Romans 2.5-6).
The prostitute was pricked in her conscience at these words. She came out to him and fell at his feet weeping.
"Servant of God," she said, "lead me into the way of salvation, and deliver me from my many sins and wicked doings."
So the holy old man gave her many things from the holy Scriptures to think about and confirm her in her repentance. He then took her into a monastery, and thus rescued her from the company of the reprobate.
He left that city and went to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he went into the church and found the holy Basil the Archbishop preaching to the people. The blessed Ephraem began to sing his praises in a loud voice. Some of the crowd wondered who this stranger was, praising Basil like that.
"He's fawning upon him hoping to get some reward!" they said.
After he had finished preaching, Basil said, "Bring that man to me who is standing there singing my praises."
They brought him.
"Why are you standing there lifting up your voice in my praise, master Ephraem?"
"I kept on shouting and praising because I saw a pure white dove standing on your right shoulder and whispering into your ear what you were to say to the people."
The great Basil, full of the holy Spirit, then recognised him.
"You are that Ephraem from Syria, are you not? I see in you something which I have always understood you to possess, a love of quiet. As it is written in the prophet David, Ephraem is the strength of my head (Psalms 60.7 & 108.8). For your gentleness, clemency and simplicity are as unmistakeable as a light visible to all."
(This chapter almost the same as in Book V.x.21)
Ephraem travelled on a bit further and was again approached by a prostitute trying to trip him up. She hoped to get him agree to commit fornication or at least to make him lose his temper, which nobody had ever seen him do. He said to her, "Follow me", and took her to a very crowded part of the city.
"Here is the place," he said. "Come on, let's do what you want."
"How can we do that here?" she said, looking at the crowd. "Wouldn't we be ashamed?"
"If you are ashamed because of human beings seeing you, ought you not to be ashamed because of God who brings to light all the hidden things of darkness?"
The deed was not done. Thoroughly confused, she went away, unable to prevail against him in the slightest, not even making him lose his temper.
And there you have the contests undergone by the great Ephraem, who was a man most patient, gentle, pure and simple, seeking God without guile, as was written of Job (Job 1.1), unassuming and modest, humble and full of compunction beyond belief. Even when remaining silent, his countenance was enough to teach something to any one gazing upon him, for he was intent upon pouring out all his prayers to God. This holy father of ours lived a good and blessed life, he provided an example of divine virtue, he produced many instructions on holy doctrine, and when at last he was aware of his approaching death he left a last testament for his disciples and for monks in general, warning them about future events. He was ill for only a short while before he fell asleep in the Lord and was buried by his disciples in the desert. By his prayers and intercessions may Christ our God make us worthy of imitating his divine life, and obtain mercy and the remission of all the sins into which we may have fallen. To Christ our God belongs all honour and worship, with the Father and the holy and life-giving Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.
The Life of St Simeon Stylites
by Antony, his disciple
(Another account of this Life in Book IX.xxvi)
The holy Simeon was chosen by God from his mother's womb and sought how to please and obey him. His father was called Sufocion, and had no other education than that supplied by his parents. At the age of thirteen he saw a church one day as he was feeding his father's sheep. He left his sheep and went inside where, after hearing the Apostle being read, he approached one of the elders.
"What was the meaning of that which was being read?" he asked.
"It was about the underlying reality (substantia) of the soul," replied the old man, "and how a human being may learn to fear the Lord with all his heart and with all his mind" (Luke 10.27).
"What does fearing God mean?"
"Why are you asking me such serious questions?"
"I am seeking through you for an answer from God. I want to learn about the things I was listening to, because I am ignorant and unlearned."
"If you fast continually, offer prayer moment by moment, humble yourself before all other human beings, renounce attachment to money, parents, clothing or possessions, but nevertheless honour your father and mother and the priests of God, you will inherit the eternal kingdom. And on the contrary, if you do not keep these things you will inherit the outer darkness which God has prepared for the devil and all his angels (Matthew 22.13 & 25.30). All these things, my son, are fully lived out in monasteries."
At these words Simeon fell at his feet.
"You are my father and mother," he said, "teacher of everything good, and a guide to the kingdom of heaven. You have won over my soul, which before was on the way to perdition. May the Lord reward you for the change wrought in my soul. I shall do as you say and go to a monastery, if God wills, and may his will be done in me."
"My son, before you go off to a monastery, listen carefully to what I say. You will find tribulation, you will have to serve and keep vigil in nakedness, and undergo unknown evils before finding consolation as a precious vessel of God."
The blessed Simeon left the church and went straight away to the monastery of that magnificent man, the holy Timothy. He lay for five days outside the monastery, neither eating nor drinking. On the fifth day abba Timothy went out to him.
"Where are you from, my son? And who are your parents, that have driven you to this? What is your name? Perhaps you have committed some crime, or you are a slave running away from your master?"
"Nothing like that at all, sir. I want only to be God's slave, if he wills it so, and save my soul from perdition. Let me be admitted into the monastery to be a servant of all. Don't leave me outside any longer."
The abbot took him by the hand and led him inside.
"My sons," he said to the brothers, "see, I am giving you this brother. Teach him all the rules of the monastery."
He spent four months obedient to all without complaint, during which time he learnt the Psalter by heart, and daily received divine nourishment. The food which he was given along with the brothers he secretly gave to the poor without a thought for the morrow, for whereas the brothers ate every evening, he ate only once a week.
He went one day to the well to draw water, and took the rope from the wellhead, which the brothers used for drawing water and wound it round his body next to his skin, from his loins up to his neck. He went inside and told the brothers that he could not find the rope at the wellhead when he went to the well.
"Hush, brother," they said, "the abbot will deal with that in due course."
His body became infected because of the weight and roughness of the rope, which was cutting him to the bone. It buried itself into his flesh, as soon became apparent. For one day the brothers went out and caught him giving his food to the poor. They came back in and told the abbot.
"Where ever did you get this person from?" they asked him. "We can't abstain from food as he does. He fasts from one Sunday to the next, and gives his food to the poor, and there is a most horrible stink coming from his body which is more than anyone can bear. Maggots fall off him as he walks along. His bed is full of maggots."
The abbot immediately went and found it was all just as they had said.
"My son," he said to Simeon, "what is all this the brothers have been telling me about you? Isn't it enough for you to fast in the same measure as the rest of us do? Haven't you heard the Gospel telling us that the disciple is not above his master, and everyone is made perfect if he does as his teacher does? (Matthew10.24-25) And tell me, my son, what is the reason for this stink which comes from your body?"
The blessed Simeon just stood there, saying nothing.
The abbot was angry, and ordered him to strip, and discovered the rope round his body covering everything except his head.
"However did this person come to us?" he cried, "overturning all the rules of the monastery? I am telling you now, you will have to leave us, and go wherever you like."
But with great care and difficulty they removed the rope from his body together with his rotten flesh, and looked after him for many days until he was cured.
Once cured, he left the monastery without telling anybody and went to an abandoned, dried up water hole, not far from the monastery, which was infested with unclean spirits. And that same night the abbot was shown a troop of demons surrounding the monastery with swords and cudgels, shouting, "Timothy, give us Simeon the servant of God. If not, we will burn the monastery down and you with it, for you have done an injury to that just man."
When he woke up he called the brothers and told them that he had seen a vision and was very worried about it. On another night he saw a crowd of strong men standing around him and crying, "Give us Simeon, the servant of God, for he is beloved of God and the Angels. Why have you punished him? He is greater in the sight of God than you are, and all the Angels of God grieve for him, for God intends to do many signs through him in this world such as nobody else has ever done."
In great fear, the abbot called the brothers together.
"Search out that man and bring him back here, lest we all die because of him. Truly he is a saint of God. I have seen and heard great things of him."
All the monks went out looking for him, searching everywhere and not finding him. They came back and reported to the abbot.
"There is nowhere left where we have not searched, unless perhaps he is near that deserted waterhole."
"I am asking you, brothers, to look there for him, and I will go with you. He is truly a saint and servant of God."
He chose five of them to go with him to the waterhole. Saying a prayer he went down into it with the brothers. When the blessed Simeon saw them coming he began to speak to them.
"Servants of God, I beg you, leave me in peace for an hour, that I may refresh my spirit which is somewhat disturbed as yet. My soul is greatly troubled, for I have offended God."
"Come, servant of God," said the abbot, "let us take you back to the monastery. For I now know that you are a servant of God."
He did not want to go, but they took him by force back to the monastery, where everyone prostrated themselves at his feet in tears.
"We have sinned against you, servant of God," they said. "Forgive us."
"Why are you making the burden on this unhappy sinner even greater?" Simeon said with a deep sigh. "It is you who are our fathers and servants of God."
But he stayed with them for a further year.
He left without telling anyone, and went to a place not far from the monastery where he built a little cell of dry stone walling. He stayed there for three years, and many people sought him out to ask for his prayers. Then he built a little column four cubits high, on which he lived for four years. As his holy reputation spread throughout the world, the pressure of people caused him to make a column twelve cubits high, on which he lived for twelve years. They then made him a column twenty cubits high, on which he lived for a further twelve years. All the people who had gathered there then built two basilicas near him and built another column for him thirty cubits high. where he lived for four years and began to perform miracles. He cured many people who came to him with diseases or demons, and restored sight to the blind. Withered hands were restored to health, the deaf heard and lepers were cleansed. He persuaded many people to embrace the Christian faith, Saracens, Persians, Armaceni and Laoti. Allophyli likewise heard about him and his powers, and came to bow down before him.
The devil in his envy then changed himself into the likeness of an Angel and appeared in splendour in a fiery chariot with horses of fire, next to the column where the blessed Simeon was standing. Simeon too was lit up with a fiery splendour like an Angel.
"Simeon," said the devil in dulcet tones, "Listen to the word which the Lord has charged me to bring you. For he has sent me, his Angel, with fiery chariot and horses, to catch you up as once I caught up Elijah (2 Kings 2.11). The time has come for you likewise to step up into this chariot which the Lord of heaven and earth has sent. Let us go likewise into heaven that you may be seen by Angels and Archangels and Mary the mother of the Lord, with Apostles and Martyrs, Confessors and Prophets, where you may speak with the Lord who created you in his image. That is all. Come up without delay."
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