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As the church grew institutionally during its first centuries, those flooding through its doors were not always of high caliber. In reaction, a number of Christians withdrew to a life of poverty, chastity, and separation. Monastic forms developed, and sometimes rivalry arose among monks concerning self-denial. Simeon seems to have won the contest.
He was born about 390 to a shepherd’s family in Cilicia. He kept flocks as a boy, but when thirteen he was moved by listening to the Beatitudes. He left home to join a cloister but was soon dismissed because of his acts of self-torture. Simeon moved to the Syrian desert and lived with an iron chain on his feet before having himself buried up to the neck for several months.
When crowds flocked to view his acts of perceived holiness, Simeon determined to escape the distractions by living atop a pillar. His first column was six feet high, but soon he built higher ones until his permanent abode towered sixty feet above ground.
The tiny perch wouldn’t allow for comfort, but a railing and a rope kept Simeon from falling while asleep. Disciples took his food and removed his waste by ladder. The rope eventually became embedded in his flesh, rotted, and teemed with worms. When worms fell from his sores, Simeon would pick them up and replace them, saying, “Eat what God has given you.”
Simeon lived atop his pole for thirty years, exposed to blistering heat, driving rain, and chilling frost. But if his motive was crowd avoidance, he failed. Huge numbers came to gawk at him, and Simeon preached to them daily, stressing the importance of prayer, selflessness, and justice. He settled disputes between neighbors and persuaded lenders to reduce their interest.
He was likened to a candle on a candlestick.
He died at age 69, but his example created a fashion of pillar hermits lasting over a thousand years. His name has been remembered throughout church history on January 5—in western tradition the Feast Day of Saint Simeon Stylites.
You would have to leave this world to get away from everyone who is immoral or greedy or who cheats or worships idols. (1 Corinthians 5:10)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan.5.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1874 – Kate Youngman and Mary Park opened Graham Seminary in Tokyo (named for Julia Graham, head of the Presbyterian’s foreign missionary office). They formed networks to evangelize among the Japanese and Youngman moved on to work with victims of leprosy.
1943 – After falling downstairs at his Tuskegee, Alabama, home, George Washington Carver died. He overcame the adversity of being born a slave to becoming a leading American educator and chemist. He was noted for his deep faith, humility, and lively Bible lessons.
1971 – The Jewish organization Yad Vashem recognizes the Reverend André Trocmé of the Reformed Church as Righteous among the Nations because of his efforts to rescue Jews in France during Nazi occupation. He and his wife Magda will be remembered with other Righteous Gentiles in the Episcopal Church calendar on July 19. In May 1984, Yad Vashem will recognize Magda for her role. André’s second cousin Daniel will also be recognized as Righteous among the Nations, having died in a concentration camp for his role protecting Jews.
*Information retrieved from the ChristianHistoryInstitute.org.