(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 we commemorate St. Simon the Canaanite, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Simon the Canaanite
At the time of Christ, there were factions which sprang up and oppressed the people at the mercy of the Roman tyrants. Various movements of religious and political natures often blended into a common voice against the oppressor. Among these groups seeking to recuperate the soul and spirit of man, as well as to remove the yoke of tyranny, was a group that came to be known as the Zealots. From this band emerged a man destined to become the eleventh apostle of Christ – a man called Simon. Because of his energies within the movement, he was known as Simon the Zealot; sometimes he was referred to as Simon the Canaanite because he was born in Cana of Galilee.
It follows that such a man with enthusiasm for the cause of justice would be caught up in the whirlwind of Christ’s message. Simon, therefore, became a mighty force in the salvation of his fellow man through acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. His inspired dissemination of the word of Christ had a profound influence on the early formation of the Christian religion; his contribution to its everlasting glory is immeasurable. His eloquent oratory poured forth in ceaseless effort to bring to every living person the truth and beauty of Jesus.
Simon was the bridegroom at whose wedding Jesus appeared. His wedding feast was the scene of the Lord’s first miracle, the changing of water into wine. More important than the act itself – that of a true miracle – was the fact that it established the divinity of Christ and was an indication of the many wonders to come.
As a Zealot, a member of the semi-revolutionary party organized to resist the census ordered by the governor Quirinius, Simon was an anti-Roman reactionary who also became a pro-Jesus standardbearer. According to holy tradition, Simon was present at the first Pentecost, where he pledged his life to spreading the message of Christianity wherever he could make himself heard.
With other apostles, he embarked on many missionary journeys to remote and often hostile corners of the then-known world. He carried his crusade for the acceptance of Christ into Africa and Mauretania, where he established the first of his many Christian churches. An innovator and visionary, his winning ways won converts where others failed.
As one of the Zealots opposed to the tyranny of Rome, Simon was a man to be feared. As a Christian he was a man to be respected. Finally, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he came to be revered, although he attained a stature that perhaps has never loomed as large as that of the great Peter. It might very well be that Simon enjoyed the company of Jesus Christ less than his other eleven apostles because his extensive travels kept him from the side of the Messiah for longer periods of time. His missionary route extended beyond the continental limits of Europe.
It is generally accepted that in the three years of his mission, Jesus never went beyond two hundred miles or so from the place where he was born. Although all twelve apostles scattered themselves in their respective missions to countries throughout many lands of Asia Minor, Europe and northern Africa, especially Alexandria, which became a center of Christianity, none was more peripatetic than Simon, whose missionary wanderings took him as far as England, as well as to other strange lands with even stranger languages. There were areas not only of spiritual darkness, but of ignorance as well, where the Bible was unheard of and the pyramids yet unknown. Only men such as Simon would have undertaken such improbable missions, and only men such as Simon could have succeeded.
Simon’s ardor brought him to the deeply pagan land which is now England, where he was to spend his remaining years. The record of his work in England is clouded by a dark early history of paganism in this region, but it is known that he never ceased to preach the gospel, not even when he was finally set upon by the hostile heathens and tortured to death. The feast day of St. Simon is celebrated on May 10.
Image from GOArch.org.