Chaopter VI (continued), Life of St Simeon Stylites , Book Ib
"Lord," said Simeon, "Do you really want to take me, a sinner, up to heaven?"
He lifted his right foot to go up into the chariot and with his right hand made the sign of the cross. Suddenly the devil was nowhere to be seen. He vanished along with his persuasiveness like dust before the face of the wind, so that Simeon was then sure it was the devil.
When he came to himself he said to his foot, "Don't come back down, but stay like that until my death, until the Lord summons me, sinner that I am."
Meanwhile the devil had coolly wounded him in the thigh, which became infected with a horde of maggots which scattered out of his body and wriggled about at his feet on the column, and from thence fell down to the ground. It was a certain youth called Antony, his assistant, who witnessed this and wrote it down. Simeon told him to collect the maggots which had fallen and bring them up to him. And he put them back into his wound as Job did.
"Eat what the Lord gives you," he said to the maggots.
Basilicus, king of the Saracens, heard about him and came to visit him. As he looked up at him a maggot fell from Simeon's body as he stood in prayer. The king ran to pick it up and in act of faith held it above his eyes.
"Why do that, your majesty?" said Simeon when he saw what the king was doing. "It makes me feel guilty, for the maggot had fallen out of my putrid body."
At these words the king opened his hand and found a most precious pearl in it.
"This is no putrid maggot," he said, "but a most precious pearl."
"It is given to you as a human being according to your faith," said Simeon. "May it be blessed in your hands all the days of your life."
And that man of faith withdrew inside.
Quite a long time after this his mother heard where he was and came to visit him, but he would not let her see him, for women were forbidden to enter that place.
"Just wait for a little while," said Simeon, when he heard her voice, "and we shall see each other, God willing."
She began to weep when she heard his voice, and loosed her hair and besought him earnestly.
"My son, why have you done this? As a reward for carrying you in my womb, you have filled me with grief. For the milk with which I fed you, you have given me tears. For the kisses that I showered on you, you have given me bitter pains in my heart. For the pain and labour that I suffered for you, you have given me the most painful wounds."
She spoke so feelingly that we all wept.
As Simeon listened to the voice of his mother he buried his face in his hands and wept bitterly.
"Dear Mother," he said, "Be at peace for a little while, and we shall see each other in the place of eternal rest."
"In the name of Christ who formed you, if there is a possibility of seeing you as a sort of stranger in that great time, why not let me see you now? Or if not, now that I have heard your voice, let me die at once, for your father has already died from grieving for you. Don't leave me any longer in this state of bitterness, my son."
In weeping and wailing she went into a state of trance, and continued her pleadings to him for three days and three nights. Simeon then prayed to the Lord and she straightway gave up he spirit. They picked up her body and brought it to where he could see it.
"May the Lord receive you into his joy," said Simeon, weeping, "for you have been greatly troubled on my behalf. You carried me in your womb for nine months, you fed me with your milk, and worked hard in caring for me."
As he said this, we all noticed drops of sweat appearing on his mother's brow and we saw her body move. Simeon lifted up his eyes to heaven.
"O Lord God of power," he cried, " you sit among the Cherubim, and see into the depths of the pit, you knew Adam before he existed, you have promised the riches of the kingdom of heaven to those who love you, you spoke to Moses in the burning bush, you gave your blessing to Abraham our father, you lead the souls of the righteous into paradise and the souls of the wicked into perdition, you tamed the two lions (Daniel 6.22) and saved your servants from the fiery furnace of the Babylonians (ibid. 3.28), You sent the ravens to feed Elijah (1 Kings 17.6), receive now her soul in peace and place her among the holy fathers, for yours is the power unto the ages of ages."
It was after this that they built him a bigger column forty cubits high on which he stood for sixteen years until his death. During this time a huge wild beast (draco) was living near him in the region of Aquilo, and preventing the grass from growing. A piece of wood had damaged his right eye so that he cold no longer see out of it. He came one day to the area where the man of God lived, writhing itself into complicated coils as if asking pardon, and lowering its head in humility. Simeon looked at it carefully, and pulled a piece of wood a cubit in length out of its eye. All who saw it glorified God, even though they had kept well back through fear. The beast curled itself up and lay unmoving while all the people walked past it. Then it got up and bowed down before the door of the monastery for about two hours, before going back to its den without doing anyone any harm.
A certain woman, feeling thirsty one night, went to the water jar for a drink and swallowed a little serpent which had been in the jar. It lodged in her stomach, and all the efforts of doctors, spellbinders and wizards were unable to do anything about it. After a while she was taken to the holy Simeon, who ordered her to be placed on the ground and water from the monastery to be put into her mouth. He then cried loudly, and pulled out of her mouth a serpent three cubits long. The serpent burst within the hour, after having been inside her for seven days. In that same hour the woman was restored to health.
The greatest possible eloquence would hardly be sufficient to describe adequately all his miracles, but his powers were so great that they cannot be passed over in silence. It so happened that water was in very short supply in the region, and the people and all the animals were in danger of perishing for lack of water. Holy Simeon saw their plight and stood in prayer. At about the tenth hour of the day there was a sudden earthquake which caused an enormous upheaval in the land to the East of the monastery. A cleft appeared in which could be seen an immeasurable amount of water. He ordered a well to be dug seven cubits deep, and from that time onwards there has been no lack of water right up to the present day.
It was at this time also that there were a group of people travelling from a distance to seek for Simeon's prayers and witness his deeds, and they paused on the way to rest under a leafy tree because of the heat. As they were sitting there they suddenly saw a pregnant deer walking by.
"By the prayers of the holy Simeon," they cried, "we conjure you to stay still for us to catch you."
And the deer stayed absolutely motionless. They caught it and killed it, and after eating some of it they were struck dumb, and it was in this condition that they arrived before holy Simeon, carrying the deer's hide with them. They stayed there for two years without being able to find a complete cure for their dumbness. Their crime was so wicked that it is almost a crime to talk about it. The hide of the deer was hung up in the church as a witness to the miracle of the cursing.
There was a large leopard in those parts killing both humans and animals over a wide area. The people came from there to the holy Simeon and told him of all the great evils which the beast was responsible for. The holy Simeon ordered that some of the earth from the monastery should be taken and scattered about in that place, and it was done. The people carried out a search a little later and found the leopard lying dead, and they all glorified the God of Simeon.
This is the injunction he gave to someone he had cured:
"Go home and give glory to God who has cured you, and don't dare to say that Simeon cured you. And don't presume to swear by the name of the Lord. That is a grave sin. If you must, swear by me a humble sinner, whether you are right or wrong."
This is why all the Eastern and barbarous peoples of that region swear by Simeon.
A certain robber from Antioch named Ionathas suddenly burst into the monastery followed by many pursuers, like a lion pursued by a hunting party and unable to hide from them. He embraced the column of the holy Simeon and wept bitterly.
"Who are you, my son?" asked Simeon, "and where have you come from and why have you come here?"
"I am Ionathas, a robber. I have committed many crimes and have come here to repent."
"Of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19.14), said the holy Simeon, "but don't try and put me to the test, lest you be found to have returned to the wickednesses you have renounced."
The official pursuers from Antioch arrived as he spoke.
"Hand over to us that evil and dangerous Jonathas," they cried, "or else the city will be in a riot. For the beasts to devour him have already been prepared."
"I did not lead him to this place," said the blessed Simeon. "He who led him here is greater than I and comes to the aid of people like this. For of such is the kingdom of heaven. But if you feel able to enter here, come and seize him. I can't do that myself, for I fear him who sent him here."
Greatly afraid, the men went away and told them in Antioch what had happened. Jonathas in the meantime clung to the pillar and embraced it for the space of seven days.
"Sir," he said to the blessed Simeon, "if you gave the word I would like to be able to walk away from here."
"In a hurry to get back to your wickedness then?"
"No, sir, but my time has come."
And he gave up his spirit as he spoke. As they were about to bury him outside the monastery, another lot of officials came after him from Antioch.
"Give us this criminal", they cried. "The whole city is in an uproar because of him."
"He who led him here," said the blessed Simeon, "came with a company of the heavenly host, and he has the power to cast your whole city and everyone in it down to hell. He has reconciled this soul to himself, and I was afraid that he might also take me as well. So don't please cause me any more trouble, humble sinner that I am."
And they too, departed in great fear, and told everything that they had heard and seen.
A few years later, he prostrated himself to pray on a Friday and stayed there all day Saturday and Sunday. I became very worried, and climbed up and stood in front of him.
"Master," I said, "Please get up and give us a blessing. There have been people here for the last three days expecting a blessing from you."
He made no reply.
"How is it that you are not taking any notice of me?" I asked. "Have I done something to offend you? Please, give me your hand - or, has your spirit perchance departed?"
When he did not answer me, I thought I would not say anything to anyone - I was frightened to touch him. After standing there for half an hour I bent down to put my ear where I could listen more closely. There was no breath, only a smell as of many perfumes which rose from his body, and I knew that he had gone to rest in the Lord. Stunned, I wept bitterly, bent down kissed his eyes and smoothed his beard and his head.
"Why have you left me, my master?" I wailed. "Where now shall I find your Angelic teachings? How can I answer for you? Who will be able to took at this column without you, and refrain from mourning? What reply shall I give to the sick when they come looking for you and find you not? What shall I say? How can I in my lowliness explain? I see you here today; tomorrow I shall search both on the right hand and on the left and shall not find you. In what guise could I possibly take over your column? Alas, when they come from afar seeking you and finding you not!"
So great was my grief that I lost consciousness, and immediately he appeared to me.
"I shall not abandon this column," he said, "nor the blessed mountain in this place where I have become so well known. But go down and make excuses to the people, and send a message to the bishop in Antioch, but secretly lest there be tumult amidst the people. For I have gone to my rest, as the Lord wills. But you must carry on ministering in this place, and the Lord will reward you in heaven."
I came to, and in trepidation replied to him, "Master, remember me in your holy resting place."
Lifting his robe I fell at his feet and kissed the soles of his feet, and because I knew how much greater they were than mine, I placed them on my eyes, and cried, "Bless me, I pray, my master."
And again I wept and cried, "What may I keep of yours to remind me of you?"
And as I said this his body twitched, but I was frightened of touching him.
No one knew what had happened. I went down from the column and sent a reliable brother to the bishop in Antioch. He came at once with three other bishops and also Ardaborius, the commander-in-chief of the army. They set up tripods around the column and fixed his garments to them. They brought his body down and laid it next to an altar in front of the column, and as they gathered together, a flock of birds flew over the column, making bird cries as if in mourning, as everyone could see. The lamentation of both human beings and beasts could be heard for seven miles around. Even the mountains and fields and trees in that place were grieving, for a thick fog spread all around.
I was wondering whether an Angel would come and visit him, and indeed at about the seventh hour, seven seniors were in conversation with an Angel whose face shone like lightning and whose clothing was white as snow. And for as long as I could I listened to his voice in fear and trembling. I could not describe what it was like.
While the holy Simeon was lying on the funeral bier, the Pope of Antioch tried to take a lock from Simeon's beard for a holy relic, but as he put out his hand it was immediately paralysed. Many oaths were sworn to God and prayers made for him before his hand was restored.
Having put the body on a funeral bier they set out for Antioch. All the people from the surrounding region grieved that they were being deprived of such a great source of relics, for the bishop of Antioch had forbidden his body to be touched.
When they got as far as the village of MeroŽ, nobody was able to move it any further. Then a man who had been deaf and dumb for forty years suddenly fell down before the bier and began to speak.
"Welcome, O servant of God!" he cried. "Your arrival has cured me! If I deserve to live, I shall serve you all the days of my life."
He got up from the ground, seized one of the mules drawing the bier and immediately began to move it forward. And so that man was made whole from that moment. His sin had been to love the wife of another person. He had wanted to commit adultery with her but never had the opportunity. The woman died and was placed in a tomb, but he had broken into the sepulchre, and been immediately struck deaf and dumb, in which state he had been held for forty years.
Everyone from the city of Antioch went out to bring in the body of the holy Simeon with offerings of gold and silver. With psalms and hymns and many torches they brought him first of all the principal church, and then to the church of Penitence. Many miracles occurred at his sepulcher, more than had occurred during his lifetime, and the man who had been cured served there till the day of his death. Many people of the faith offered money to the bishop of Antioch, hoping for relics from his body, but were disappointed because of the oaths that had been sworn.
I, Antony, a humble sinner, have put together this brief account to the best my ability. Blessed is he who possesses this book and reads it in the church and house of God, for when he celebrates Simeon's memory he will receive a reward from the Most High, for his is the honour and the power and the glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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