previous sub-section
next sub-section

All this Symeon narrated in Emesa,[10] where he pretended to be a fool,[11] to a certain deacon of the holy cathedral church of the same city of Emesa, an excellent and virtuous man, who, by the divine grace which had come to him, understood the monk’s work, and it was on his behalf that this most blessed Symeon performed a wonderful marvel, which we shall recall in its proper place. This aforementioned John, beloved of God, a virtuous deacon, narrated for us almost the entire life of that most wise one, calling on the Lord as witness to his story, that he had written nothing to add to the narrative, but rather that since that time he had forgotten most things.

Thereupon, he said,[12] they went down the path which would truly lead them to life. You can just see them overjoyed and running like Peter and John toward the Lord’s life-giving tomb [cf. Jn 20:4]! And they aroused an eagerness in each other and made each other zealous. John was afraid that Symeon’s sympathy [126] for his mother would stop him. On the other hand, Symeon wondered whether John’s attachment to his newlywed wife would pull him back toward her like a magnet. So for this reason they addressed to each other admonishing and comforting words. And one said, “Be of good courage, brother Symeon. For we hope in God that this very day we are reborn. For how will these idle possessions of our life or our wealth have the power to help us on the Day of Judgment? Will they not harm us? Furthermore, the youth and the beauty which are joined to our body do not remain unfading up to the end, but are destroyed and extinguished either by old age in its time or by untimely death.” And when John had said this and many other things to Symeon, then the other echoed back and remonstrated similarly, saying, “I have, brother John, neither a father, nor brothers, nor sisters, only that humble old mother who bore me. I do not consider this trouble for myself so much as I fear for your heart, lest your boiling for your newlywed wife drag you away from this good path.”

After they had discussed this and many other things concerning one another, they arrived at a monastery named for Abba Gerasimos. For they had prayed, “Lord God, let us find open the door to the monastery where you command us to renounce the world.” And this was where they had come. In this monastery there was an admirable man named Nikon, truly a person who achieved for himself a way of life according to his name.[13] For he was conquering[14] every demonic battalion, he shone in wonders and signs, and had been honored by God with the gift of prophecy. He had foreknowledge of the arrival of these blessed ones. For he said that on the day they arrived, he had seen in a dream someone who said to him, “Arise and open the flock’s door, so that my sheep may enter.” And he did so. Therefore, when they arrived they found the door open and the abba sitting and waiting for them. John said to Symeon, “It is a good sign, brother. Behold the door is open and the doorkeeper is sitting.” When they approached, the superior[15] said to them, “Welcome, sheep of Christ.” And he also said to Symeon, “Welcome fool,[16] truly you have (drawn) ten more (lots) than [127] Abba John. For the ten await you.” He said this on account of his perfection in the virtuous life. Giving them a bite to eat he welcomed them as ones sent by God. And before they spoke to him, he spoke to them, in the following manner, as a prayer to the Lord. “Good, good and worthy is your love of God, but only as long as you do not weaken it so that it may be extinguished by our salvation’s adversary. Your course is good, but do not give up running until you are crowned. Your resolve is good, but do not sleep, lest the fire burning your hearts today should cool. It is good that you prefer the permanent to that which passes away. Good are your parents according to the flesh, and it is good to serve them, but it is incomparably better to be well-pleasing to the heavenly Father. Good are your fleshly brothers, but spiritual brothers are more useful. Good are the friends in Christ whom you have in the world, but better to have the saints for friends and intercessors before the Master. Good are the patrons whom you have, when you need them, against the powerful, but they are not necessary when we have holy angels interceding on our behalf. It is good and praiseworthy for the prosperous to give money and alms and charity to beggars, but God does not seek any offering from us, as long as we offer our souls. Sweet is the enjoyment of the good things in life, but they are not equal to the delight of paradise. Pleasant is wealth and desired by the majority of people, but it is not equal to that which ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived’ [1 Cor 2:9]. Pleasant is the beauty of youth, but it is nothing compared to that of Christ, the heavenly bridegroom. For David says, ‘You are the fairest of the sons of men’ [Ps 44:3, RSV 45:2]. It is a great thing to wage war for the earthly king, but such a campaign is temporary and dangerous.”

He admonished them in this manner, and the devout man did not want to cease his admonition seeing the streams of tears pouring forth from their eyes. They paid attention to what was said, as if they had never heard the divine word. Then (Nikon) turned toward Symeon and said, “Do not worry; do not weep for the gray hair of the mistress, your mother, for God, persuaded by your combat, can console her much better than you. And if [128] you remained with her until her death, it is uncertain whether you would leave this life before her without having attained virtue, dying without having the power to protect yourself from the coming evils. Neither a mother’s nor a father’s love, nor a great number of brothers, neither wealth, nor glory,[17] nor marriage bonds, nor the sympathy of children could persuade the judge, nothing but virtuous conduct and toil and labors in accord with God.” Then to John he said, “Lest, child, the enemy of our souls suggest to you, ‘Who will feed my parents in old age? Who will console my spouse? Who will stop their tears?’ For if you (pl.) had forsaken them for another god and left to serve him, then it would be well for you to be anxious whether he would care about them and console them or not. But now that you have run toward and consecrated yourselves to this one, for whom you have forsaken them, it is fitting to be confident and consider this, namely that if while we are in this world and serve life, God’s goodness holds foreknowledge of all things, how much more does He care about your families, now that you have left them to serve and please Him? Therefore, O children, remember the word of the Lord to the one who said, ‘Let me first go and bury my father.’ (he responded), ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead’ [cf. Mt 8:21 ff.]. Run after Him with an unalterable mind and an unchanging heart. And why? If the earthly and mortal emperor, wanting you to gird up to be patricians or chamberlains, had persuaded you to rule his earthly palace, which appears and disappears as a shade in a dream, would you have despised all the advantages to yourselves, and wouldn’t you rush up to him eagerly and unhindered, desiring to enjoy his honors, his perspective, and his license to speak, and preferring to survive all toil and suffering and death, only so that you would be judged worthy to see that day on which the emperor would doubtless receive you, and enlist you, and honor you with gifts before his entire senate?” When they said that they would, the great Nikon said, “How [129] much more, then, children, with more zeal and compunction, do we run to the immortal and eternal King of kings, being bound to follow Him as grateful slaves. We remember the love which God shows to us, such that, for our sake, He did not spare His only-begotten son, but He delivered him up for all of us. Therefore, even when we, who were ransomed from destruction and death by his precious blood, pour forth our own blood and are placed in the brigade of the legitimate sons, still we have not offered Him anything worth as much. For the shedding of royal blood and the shedding of slave’s blood are not equal, my brothers.”

All this and much else the God-bearing man counseled them, knowing already the contests and the course which had been set for them, having been assured by God. Indeed, I mean their life in the desert, absolutely homeless, as anchorites.[18] For he understood that this was neither a chance happening nor an everyday occurrence, but something righteous and brought about blamelessly, especially when he saw their delicate bodies, clothed in soft garments, and their youth, brought up on a luxurious life, accustomed to every comfort and delusion. Whence the wise doctor and teacher, by the divine knowledge and experience which was within him, having armed and prepared them with such precepts and instructions, said again to both of them, “Do you wish the hair on your head to be tonsured, or before this would you (rather) spend a little time today with your lay clothing on?” And just as from one consideration, or rather from one holy inspiration, both fell at the superior’s feet beseeching him to tonsure them immediately and without delay. And Symeon said that unless Nikon did this with great haste, he would leave them immediately for another monastery. For Symeon was actually guileless and innocent. But John was wiser and had acquired greater knowledge. Therefore the pious Nikon took each one of them aside straightaway, wishing to test [130] their hot renunciation for God, and said to Symeon certain things, trying to dissuade him from being tonsured on that day. But when Symeon would listen to absolutely none of it, he went to the other and said to him, “You see, I have prevailed upon your brother to remain for one year as he is, a layman.” Immediately then John answered the one who had spoken thus, “If he wishes to remain so, let him. Truly, father, I cannot endure it.” And Symeon said to him, when he spoke to him alone, “Quickly father, for the Lord’s sake, for my heart trembles much for my brother John, because this year he was married to a very wealthy and beautiful woman, lest later his longing for her ravish him away and steal him from the longing for God.” Then John said this alone to the virtuous man, with much supplication and tears—for they came to his eyes more naturally than to Symeon’s—“Father, do not lose my brother by your error. For he has only a mother, and such is the extraordinary longing of each of them, that he cannot last two hours without her, but until today both slept together, his mother and he; they cannot be separated during the night. It is this above all which burns and gnaws at me until I see him tonsured and finally become free from anxiety about him.”

The great one heard the concern that both had for the other, and being fully assured that God neither dishonored nor mistook their running to Him with whole hearts and without hesitation, he brought out a pair of scissors, and with the appropriate order, having placed the scissors upon the holy altar, he tonsured them. And stripping them of their garments, he dressed them in ones base, but nevertheless holy. The wise and most sympathetic man had pity on them because of the tenderness of their bodies, which were unaccustomed to suffering. When they were tonsured, John cried a lot, and Symeon nudged him to stop, not knowing exactly why he was crying. [131] For it seemed that he was crying because of distress about his parents and love for his wife. After they were tonsured and the superior had performed the Holy Eucharist, he sat down and advised them nearly the whole day. For he knew that they would not be with him for long, since God had planned it thus.

He wanted to give them their holy habit on the next day, since it was Sunday. Therefore certain brothers said to them, “Blessed are you, for tomorrow you will be reborn and become pure from all sin, as when you were born, as if on the day you were baptized.” Both were astounded and ran to the divine Nikon late Saturday and fell at his feet, saying, “We beseech you, father, do not baptize us, for we are (already) Christians and born of Christian parents.” But he did not know what they had heard from the fathers in the monastery, and he said to them, “My children, who wants to baptize you?” They said, “Our lords and masters the fathers of the monastery said to us, ‘Tomorrow you will be rebaptized.’ ” Then the superior understood that the fathers had spoken concerning the holy habit, and he said to them, “They spoke well, my children. For with the Lord’s consent, tomorrow we will clothe you in a holy and angelic habit.” And when the innocent children of Christ understood that they did not lack anything except the monastic attire, they said to the abba, “What, father? Do we need anything else, in order to be dressed in this angelic habit, as you call it?” One week before, which was (the festival of) the Exaltation of the precious Cross, this great one had given the holy habit to a certain novice brother, and it was not yet seven full days since. He still wore the complete (habit), as is the rule. The great one commanded him to be brought into their midst immediately. When he came, both beheld him and immediately fell at the feet of the abba and said to him, “We beseech you, if you will clothe us and think us worthy of such honor and glory, do it this evening, lest perhaps, being human, during the night we die beforehand and miss such glory and joy, such an escort and crown.” When the superior heard them, speaking of missing such an escort and crown, he understood that they had had a vision with regard to bearing the holy habit, and he commanded (the novice) to return to his cell, where he had been since he was clothed in the holy habit. When he had gone, the children of Christ were very distressed, and they said [132] to the superior, “For the Lord’s sake, father, stand up, make us like that one, for there is not a man in your entire monastery who is so honored as he.” The abbot said to them, “Honored in what way?” Then they said, “By Him who judges us worthy of (this monk’s) habit and honor, father! We are blessed if we are escorted by such a crowd of monks with wax candles and carry on our heads such a brilliant crown.” For they thought that the superior also saw what they saw. Wherefore, understanding this, he said nothing to them, because he had not seen. But he remained silent and amazed by their great innocence and purity, especially Symeon’s. The great one said only this to them, most graciously, “Tomorrow we will also clothe you (in the habit), through the grace of the Holy Spirit.” When the most pious deacon affirmed this, the truthful Symeon declared confidently, “We will see each other’s faces tonight as in the day.” And, each saw a crown on the head of the other, as they had seen (on the novice) before. “Our souls,” said Symeon, “are in such joy, so that we can neither eat nor drink.”

Two days after they received the holy garment, they saw the one who had received it seven days before, in regard to whom they had beheld the crown and the procession, and he wore a coarse cloak and was performing chores and no longer had either a crown around his head or monks processing with candles. And they were amazed. And Symeon said to John, “Believe me, my brother, if we also fulfill the same seven days, we will not have this fair appearance and grace.” John said, “What do you want to happen, brother?” Then Symeon said to him, “Listen to me! Just as we renounced and set ourselves apart from worldly things, let us set ourselves apart completely from every person. For I behold another life and strange circumstances in this habit. For from the moment that this servant of God clothed us, my insides burn, I know not how, and my soul [133] seeks neither to see anyone nor speak to or hear anyone.” John said to him, “What will we eat?” Symeon said to him, “What those called the Grazers[19] eat, of whom lord Nikon spoke yesterday. For perhaps it is because he wants us to lead such a life that he narrated to us how they live, how they sleep, and all about them.” Thereupon John spoke, “And how (will we do this), since we have learned neither psalms nor rules?” Then God opened Abba Symeon’s heart, and he said, “He who saved those who were well-pleasing to him before David[20] will also save us. If we are worthy, he will teach us as he taught David when he was with his flock in the desert. Therefore do not attempt to contain my zeal, brother. But henceforward, because we led ourselves to this deed, let us not suppress it.” Then lord John said, “Let us do as you wish. But how will we leave, with the door closed at night?” Symeon said to him, “That which was open for us during the day is open for us at night.”

After they had made their plan, as soon as night fell, the superior, in his sleep, saw someone opening the door of the monastery saying, “Come outside, O branded sheep of Christ, into your pasture.” And waking immediately from his sleep, he went down to the gate and found it open, and believing that they had already left, he sat down gloomy, sighed deeply and said, “Hardened in sin, I was not judged worthy to receive the blessing of my fathers. Truly my fathers and masters and teachers were blessed and because of this I endeavored after their blessing. Heavens! Such precious stones,[21] as the scripture says, secretly rolling along the ground [cf. LXX Zec 9:16], seen by many, but discovered by few.” While he pondered these things in his anguish, behold the pure bridegrooms of Christ came in order to go out. In front of them, the very pure superior, Nikon, saw some eunuchs carrying torches, while others held scepters in their hand. When he beheld them, he was overjoyed, because he had not lost his wish. Seeing him, the blessed ones wanted to turn back. They did not recognize him as the superior. Therefore the pious Nikon ran and called them to his side. When [134] they knew that he was the superior, they were overjoyed, especially when they saw as well that the gate was open. For they understood that God had revealed this to him too. Therefore they wanted to make obeisance, but he stopped them, saying that it was not permitted for them to do such a thing on account of the honor of the angelic habit bestowed upon them. They said to him then, “We thank you, father, but we do not know what to bring to God and to your precious head. Who had hoped that we would be judged worthy of such gifts? What sort of king could honor us with such a status? What sort of earthly treasures made us so suddenly rich? What sort of baths so purified our soul? What sort of parents could so love and save us? What sort of presents and gifts are powerful enough to achieve for us the remission of our sins quickly, as you did, our dear father, beyond all our ancestors, and parents, you, our father and mother with Christ? You are our master, our helper, our leader, our guide, and all that language cannot express. Through you we obtain this inviolate treasure; through you we gain the much prized pearl; we truly learn the power of baptism, which the pious fathers proclaimed to us; we have understood the burning of our sins by the fire which inflames our hearts. Wherefore, lest we suffer it, thus burning our innards, we ask Your Beatitude to pray earnestly, father, and set your servants free to serve the God to whom we have consecrated ourselves, genuinely and with all our soul. O revered one, never forget the useless child at the time when you extend your precious hands; yes, yes, O one revered by us, your guests, pious one, remember how we are orphaned.” And taking hold of the pious man’s knees, they said again, “Remember, father, your humble sheep, whom you burnt as an offering to Christ. Remember the strange trees, whom you hastened to plant in the lovely garden of paradise. Do not forget the reluctant workers, whom you hired at the eleventh hour into Christ’s vineyard” [cf. Mt 20:6–9]. And the pastor was astonished and amazed to see those who had two days before been laymen thus suddenly made wise through putting on the divine habit.

After they had both cried for a long time, the pious Nikon knelt down, placing Symeon on his right and John on his left. Then he stood up and stretching out his hands to heaven said, “God, just and praiseworthy; God, great and [135] mighty; God eternal: harken in this hour unto a sinful man. Hear me, God, hear me in your strength; during this my prayer, do not remember my constant disobediences with contempt. Hear me, Lord, hear my prayer from within the fire, as you heard your prophet [cf. Ex 3:2].[22] Yes, God of holy powers; yes, creator of the incorporeal;[23] yes, God who says, ‘Ask, and you will receive’ [Jn 16:24]. Do not despise me, clothed with impure lips and contained in sin. Hear me, you who promised to listen to those who call upon you in truth: guide the steps of your servants, and their feet to the path of peace. Have pity on your innocent children who are in a strange place; you who say, ‘Be innocent as doves’ [Mt 10:16]. I have cried out to you with my whole heart: God, God, hear me, the hope of all ends of the earth and all far off in strange lands [cf. LXX Ps 64:6, RSV Ps 65:5]. Banish all unclean spirits far from the face of your children. Take hold of your arms and your shield, and rise up for their help. Draw your sword and defend them against those who pursue [LXX Ps 34:2–3, RSV Ps 35:2–3]. Say, O Lord, Lord, to their soul, ‘I am your salvation.’ May the spirit of timidity withdraw slowly from their thought, and the spirit of despair, of arrogance, and of every evil, and may all their burning be quenched together with all motion created in their soul by diabolic energy. May their body, and their soul, and their spirit be enlightened with the light of your knowledge, so that, arriving at the unity of the faith and the full knowledge of the holy and venerable Trinity, attaining mature manhood, and the measure of the stature [Eph 4:13], they will extol forever and ever, together with the angels and all those well pleasing to you, O God, since eternity, your all-honorable and protecting name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Grant them, together with all the good people, O Lord, to have in their heart at all times the words of this my pitiable and unworthy prayer to you for glorification and praise of your goodness.” [136] Again he said to them with many tears, “The God whom you have chosen, good children, and to whom you have run, sent out his angel before your face, and he will prepare your path in front of your feet. The angel, as the great Jacob says, ‘who has delivered me from all opposing powers’ [Gn 48:16], will lead you on your path. The one who delivered his prophet from the lions’ mouth [cf. Dn 6:23] will deliver you from the lion’s clutches. The God whom you have chosen will himself protect my bold offering.” When he had prayed these things and more for them, the God-bearing man patted their backs and said, “Save, God, save those who love your name with their whole heart. For it would be unjust, Lord, if you overlooked or abandoned those who renounced the vain things in life.” Thereupon again he said to them, “See, children, you have given yourselves into a frightful and invisible war. But do not fear; for God is mighty, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength to endure [1 Cor 10:13]. Struggle, my children, lest you be defeated by the Devil, but stand nobly, having the armor of the holy habit upon you. Remember the saying, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is fit for the kingdom of heaven’ ” [Lk 9:62]. And again concerning the building of the tower: “When you have begun this perfect and lofty building and way of life, do not slacken and fulfill in yourselves that, ‘This man began to build and did not have the power and the zeal for the completion of the foundation’ [cf. Lk 14:30]. Be on your guard, my children. The war is little; but great, the crown. Fleeting the labor; but eternal, the rest.”

The hour was far advanced. As he was about to go out the gate, by which time the prayer bell had sounded, Symeon took the superior aside and said to him, “For God’s sake, father, pray that God dissipate my brother John’s memory of his wife, lest perchance because of evil he leave me by myself and I die grieving his loss and our separation. Pray, I ask for the sake of the Lord, that God console also his family, so that they are not anxious [137] about him.” The old man was amazed at the affection which he held for his brother, and made no reply. Again in the same manner, Abba John took him and called him aside, for Symeon’s sake, saying, “For God’s sake, father, do not neglect my brother when you pray, so that he does not flee from me for his mother’s sake, feeling for her, and is not found in the harbor suffering a shipwreck.” As I said, he was astounded by the love of both for each other. He finally said to them, “Go, my children, for I have good news for you: He who opened (the door) for you here (on earth), has already opened (the door) for you there (in heaven).” And making the sign of the cross upon their breast and the whole of their body he left them in peace.

previous sub-section
next sub-section