St Symeon the New Theologian
Feastday March 12/25
Saint Symeon the New Theologian, was the abbot of St. Mamas in Constantinople. He is one of three great Fathers the Orthodox Church has given the title of “Theologian”, because he is one of a few, in the history of Christianity, to ‘know’ God. The other two Theologians are Saint John the Evangelist, and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (390 AD).
Saint Symeon was born in Galatia in Paphlagonia (Asia Minor) in 949 AD. His parents were Basal and Theophana, who were Byzantine provincial nobles. St. Symeon only received a primary Greek school education until he was about eleven years old. He finished his secondary education at the age of 14 in the court of the two brother emperors Basil and Constantine Porphyrogenetes. At 14, he met St. Symeon the Studite, and he became his spiritual father and led him into the life of asceticism and prayer. Saint Symeon wanted to enter the famous monastery of the Stoudion at the age of 14, but his spiritual father told him to wait until he turned 27. During this time of preparation, Saint Symeon’s elder continued to counsel and guide him, and he prepared him gradually for the monastic life, even in the midst of worldly cares. Saint Symeon occupied himself with the management of a patrician’s household and possibly entered the service of his emperor as a diplomat and a senator. While ‘busy in the world’ he also strove to live a monk’s life in the evenings, spending his time in night vigils and reading the spiritual works of Mark the Hermit and Diadochus of Photike. One of his elder’s advice was, “if you desire to have always a soul-saving guidance, pay heed to your conscience and without fail do what it will instil in you”.
There are many books, in English, on the wealth of work by Saint Symeon. These include “Symeon the New Theologian, the Discourses” translated by C. J. deCatanzaro for Paulist Press; “The First-Created Man, Seven Homilies” translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose for St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood; and “St. Symeon the New Theologian, Life-Spirituality-Doctrine, in the Light of Christ” by Archbishop Basil Krivocheine for SVS Press. His writings grew out of his preaching and from the spiritual direction given to those under his charge. He is a writer sharing his experiences in prayer and the Triune. The monks of Mount Athos eagerly read his works today, in this Century’s spiritual renewal. His works are also being discovered by the Roman monasteries, as they start to comprehend to wealth and beauty of his writings and personal experience.
St. Symeon’s words still speak to us today, even though he lived a thousand years ago. Of special note is his emphasises to return to the essence or spirit of the early Orthodox Church, and not merely depend on or shelter under the outward forms of Church life. His burning conviction is that the Christian life must be more than just a routine or habit, but rather it should be a personal experience of the living Christ. St. Symeon urges both monks and baptised laity back to a living spiritual experience of the Triune, calling himself the “enthusiastic zealot” who has personal, mystical experiences. His spiritual emphases is, however, misused by many ‘charismatic Christians’ and others today who claim to have “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, which are probably emotional or ‘scholastic’ rather than spiritual. The following is a quote from St. Symeon on Spirituality,
“Do not say that it is impossible to receive the Spirit of God. Do not say that it is possible to be made whole without Him. Do not say that one can possess Him without knowing it. Do not say that God does not manifest Himself to man. Do not say that men cannot perceive the divine light, or that it is impossible in this age! Never is it found to be impossible, my friends. On the contrary, it is entirely possible when one desires it” (Hymn 27, 125-132).
St. Symeon the New Theologian reposed in peace in 1022 AD. His feast is celebrated on 12 March.