Sunday, March 2, 2008

Be Styli(ti)sh

Further musings on the pillar-saints... apparently they never took off in the West, though in the East the tradition continued down to the 12th C., in Russia, till 1461, among the Ruthenians, even after that. I think the world today could do with hardy ascetics, true holy athletes, preaching, fasting and praying out in the open, not dissimilar to the cranks in Hyde Park, but supernaturalized.

As we know, the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (I Tim. iii, 15), the chief apostles, that is, those who were ambassadors-of-Christ, were styled pillars (Gal. iii, 9), and Our Lord promises to make him who overcomes all, by winning the mortal combat of this life by grace, a living pillar in God's temple (Apoc. iii, 12). How fitting, then, to image in one's fixed mode of existence these truths!

Are we not called to seek the things which are above, and not to mind the things which are on earth (Col. iii, 1-2)? Therefore ought we mortify our members which are upon the earth (Col. iii, 5). Christ said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, shall draw all men to Myself" (St John xii, 32, and His painful Cross is also His - and His redeemed people's - royal Exaltation: so therefore should His would-be followers by penance in their lowliness be lifted up and spiritually crucified, after the Model of their Master, that they might be models also to others, evangelists of His love, and co-redeemers with Him, filling up - in St Paul's mysterious, paradoxical words - in our bodies whatsoever is 'wanting' in His all-redeeming Passion (cf. Col. i, 24). All this and more the Stylites sought, mounting on their severe columns toward their heart's goal, heaven - but not as proud Babel did in the imagination of its heart ensnared by power, rather as their humble Lord and Master willed to endure the weakness and scandal of the Cross.

According to one tale of St Simeon (Συμεων, also transliterated Symeon), the Devil, that ancient serpent, appeared to the Stylite as an angel of light riding a fiery chariot, which he besought him to board, for, he lied, God wished to translate him straight to heaven as meet reward for his superhuman labours. As Simeon put forth his foot to step into the apparent vehicle, he checked himself, realizing that this was a temptation of the Enemy, and repented of his presumption in imagining the Lord would grant him so extraordinary a favour - recalling that Our Lord had ascended, Our Lady had been assumed, and Enoch and Elijah carried off in wondrous wise, these four alone among all mankind - and he regained his proper humility, no doubt making the sign of the cross. Discovered, Satan disappeared in disorder, presumably leaving his trademark mephitic stench; but St Simeon's foot developed a degrading ulcer, as Divine rebuke of his prideful movement. Simeon accepted this in humility, and sought not to treat this wound sent to remind him of his weakness. Much later, an Arab chieftain, who had ridden out of the desert to seek the saint's godly counsel, begged a souvenir of Simeon at the end of their interview. While explaining in all honesty that atop his pillar he had nothing to give him, a worm eating at his ulcer fell out and was caught by the Arab, who, holding his palm closed, exclaimed, "It is a pearl, a pearl!" - and upon opening his hand indeed found therein the maggot become a lustrous pearl, testifying to the sanctity of the humble and penitent Simeon.

Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem on St Simeon may be of interest.

Behold in this (rather lengthy) vision the enormous ruins (ravaged by those of the religion 'of peace') of the complex of buildings that grew up around St Simeon's pillar:

St Simeon Stylites the Elder, pray for us.
St Daniel the Stylite, pray for us.
St Simeon Stylites the Younger, pray for us.
St Alypius the Stylite, pray for us.
St Luke the Wonderworker, Stylite, pray for us.
St Lazarus the Stylite, pray for us.
All ye holy pillar-saints, pray ye for us.

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