(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Paul the Simple, is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Paul the Simple
The best known saint bearing the name of Paul was, of course, St. Paul the Apostle of Christ, credited with having written more than half of the New Testament. In the fourth century, however, another Paul came forth. This Paul was to become a saint in his own right. Although he had no part in the writings of the Bible, he patterned his life after its teachings. The man was Paul the Simple, so called because of the simplicity of his life, not his intellect, and certainly not his dedication of Christ.
The original great St. Paul would be the first to agree that history should carry down to us a man inappropriately named St. Paul the Simple. The implication in this sobriquet is more apt to apply to one’s mind than to one’s tastes, but nevertheless anyone who looks beyond his name can readily see the power of the mind of St. Paul the Simple. Very often an adjective will be added to a man’s name to avoid confusion in identities, especially among those with popular names. It is much easier to associate guilt than it is innocence, hence the use of the term guilty by association. But by association with such great men of the church as St. Anthony, greatest of all eremites, St. Paul the Simple captured the mood of self-denial through which so many of our saints have come to that pinnacle of the soul which we choose to call spiritual attainment, or fulfillment, as the case may be. Unlike the fire-and-brimstone preachers who carry the message sometimes too strongly to suit their enemies, St. Paul the Simple was spared an early death and lived to carry on God’s work for an extended span of years.
Paul the Simple was a farmer whose first full fifty years of life were lived in complete obscurity, with no indication that he would ultimately attain prominence in Christian thought and deed. His sincerity in Christian endeavor was that of the average devout believer in Jesus Christ. He followed a quiet pattern of church attendance and prayer. Outwardly he was a pious but unobstrusive, somewhat inconspicuous tiller of the soil who would scarcely have been expected actively to promote Christianity.
What stood in the way of his complete devotion to Christianity was his marriage to a girl several years his junior, whose ultimate infidelity left him a sadder but wiser man. Having done his best to preserve the marriage, and been rewarded for his patience by his wife’s leaving for other companionship, Paul the Simple found a noble purpose for his life. With high expectations he left for the desert and his true destiny.
His travels brought him into Egypt. There he sought out the greatest monastic figure of the day, St. Anthony, who was unimpressed by the farmer and suggested that he seek out some other approach to the throne of heaven. Now sixty years of age, Paul the Simple saw no reason to move. Therefore, for three days and nights he camped outside the cave of St. Anthony. The latter was thereby convinced of Paul’s complete sincerity and welcomed him into monasticism. Thus at the age of sixty, at a time when most men look to a life of ease in retirement from life’s daily struggles, Paul set about laying the foundation of his work for Christ that brought him due recognition.
He settled in a cave not far from that of St. Anthony. After a period of fasting, meditation and prayer, he plunged into the work of God which he had so earnestly sought. Soon his tiny cave was a haven for those who sought the truth of Jesus and not long afterwards his reputation became as great at St. Anthony’s, who then smiled whenever he remembered the way he had first slighted his strong friend Paul.
Paul the Simple acquired great intellectual power in his work for Christ and was said to have commanded a great power of exorcism. For this reason he was constantly consulted by troubled souls who found comfort in his gentle wisdom.
Paul’s first fifty years of life were spent in obscurity. His next forty years were those of comparative glory, for he lived to the ripe age of ninety. He died on March 7, 340.