(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. Symeon, whose account is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Symeon the New Theologian
The superlatives applied to the wondrous gifts of men such as St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian allow no comparison with either of these church greats, each of whom compares with the other but invites no comparison with any other saint. They were considered incomparable until there appeared in the tenth century a man now known to us as St. Symeon the New Theologian, a churchman of such intellect that neither St. John Chrysostom nor St. Gregory the Theologian suffers the least by the recognition of Symeon as their intellectual equal.
Symeon was born with the given name of George in 957, the son of Basil and Eugenia, who were devout Christians and of high social standing in the city of Galatine, Paphlagonia. After completing his elementary studies, he was sent at the age of fourteen to Constantinople in the care of an uncle of considerable influence in the capital city. Despite a high intellect which had been amply demonstrated, he was uninterested in the study program offered, and to relieve the boredom he sought a change by paying a visit to the famous Monastery of Studios in Constantinople. It proved to be a visit that was to alter the course of his life, much to the benefit of Christendom.
At the Studios Monastery, George spent many hours in conversation with a remarkable and quite pious monk who had earned the name of Symeon the Devout, who so inspired the young student that he asked permission to remain as a novice. Because of his youth and relative lack of study, the request was denied, and George returned to his uncle with a determination to be the brightest scholar of his day. Returning after some years of intense study, he was again denied admission to Studios because his learning had been misdirected, and he was advised to apply himself to the study of the fathers and Scriptures. The resolute George took this course of religious preparation, and at long last he was admitted to the monastery in 984 when he was twenty-seven years old.
No man has ever entered a cloister better prepared for the service of the Savior than the eager George, but again he was denied permission to be at the side of the elder monk Symeon because it was in violation of monastic rules to allow such privilege to a novice, and he was therefore sent to the monastery of St. Mamas, where he was finally ordained a priest at the age of thirty by Patriarch Nicholas Chrysoberges. At his ordination he assumed the name of his spiritual father, Symeon, with whom he remained close until the latter’s death.
Appointed by the patriarch to be abbot of the Monastery of St. Mamas, the younger Symeon brought about sweeping reforms within the monastery which called for a strict adherence to the rules concerning self-denial and fasting, reforms which brought protest from the monks. An appeal to the patriarch availed the monks little because he knew Symeon’s sterling character and supported him in his disciplinary action. A former metropolitan of Nikomedia named Stephanos, now chancellor at the Patriarchate, sided with the insurgent monks and for reasons best known to himself sought to discredit Symeon with a series of harrassments that after six years finally influenced the patriarch to the point where Symeon was exiled and sent out to fend for himself.
After some wandering, Symeon came upon a private chapel owned by one Christopher Faguras, a man of deep religious faith, who welcomed the pariah and allowed him to establish a monastery of his own. It was at his private chapel that Symeon composed sacred hymns of great beauty as well as masterful writings which encompassed all phases of theology, including catechisms.
His prolific writing was of such caliber that it was recognized throughout Christendom and acknowledged by the patriarch to be the works of a man divinely inspired. Vindicated at last, Symeon was asked to return to Constantinople, but he preferred to remain at the chapel to continue his literary efforts, which form an integral part of church reading. He died on March 12, 1022.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.