Tag Archives | Eastern Orthodoxy

The Discourses | Symeon the New Theologian

The cover of Symeon's The DiscoursesThe man was intense!

One the eve of a rebellion, when the monks under his supervision ran to the Patriarch of the city to get relief from their severe Abbot, Symeon spoke to them:

I cannot endure to be silent about the things I have seen, about the wonders of God I have known by fact and experience. Rather, I testify of them to all others as in God’s presence, and say with a loud voice, “Run, all of you, before the door of repentance is closed to you by death. Run, that you may take hold of it before you depart this life; make haste that you may receive it, knock, that your Master may open to you before you die, and that He may show himself to you.” (349)

Symeon was not only severe. In a compassionate moment towards those who insufficiently fasted during Lent, he said:

[God] it is who in great generosity gives crowns to the zealous and duly rewards their labors, and also in mercy and loving-kindness grants forgiveness to the weaker. (181)

Symeon was driven by a vision of God that would not let him relax. Having experienced the inexpressible light of God, he was compelled to urge the people around him to press on towards that light.

My biggest struggle with Symeon (and all the ancient Orthodox saints) is their spirit-flesh dualism and extreme asceticism. They are constantly preoccupied with escaping the material world which God deemed “very good” and validated by becoming incarnate. That said, Symeon’s passion and insight into the spiritual condition made the struggle worthwhile!

Symeon’s Discourses are deep devotional material. Written for those in a monastic life, they are still relevant today for those with a passionate commitment to Christ.

Symeon the New Theologian. The Discourses. The Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters. Translated by C. J. deCatanzaro. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980.

A Guide to St. Symeon the New Theologian | Hannah Hunt

The cover of Hannah Hunt's A Guide to St Symeon the New TheologianDon’t be fooled by the icon—Symeon the New Theologian is one fascinating saint!

Following the inspiration of the Spirit he charted his own course against the grain of the imperial court. When the official theologian of the day challenged his view of the Trinity, he answered quickly and counterattacked personally. When the court ordered him to quit venerating his spiritual father, he left his monastery in exile. (He even refused to return after the exile was lifted!)

Hunt’s Guide in the Cascade Companion series is an excellent introduction to Symeon. She clearly explains the politico-religious background of tenth century Byzantium, situating the saint firmly in his context.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition has many resources to offer the Western church. St. Symeon is a good place to start.

Hunt, Hannah. A Guide to St. Symeon the New Theologian. Cascade Companions. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015.

On the Mystical Life | Alexander Golitzin

The cover of Golitzin's On the Mystical LifeSaint Symeon the New Theologian lived in and around Constantinople in the tenth and eleventh centuries. In the Popular Patristics Series volumes 14-15 Alexander Golitzin translates Symeon’s Ethical Discourses. In this sixteenth volume, Golitzin delivers a biography of the Saint.

It is difficult to write about the life of Symeon because we only have two sources to go by:

  1. The Vita his prodigee wrote. This is a hagiography, or biography of a saint, intended to praise the subject.
  2. The autobiographical details in Symeon’s own writing.

Golitzin does a good job at sorting out the inherent biases in the sources. He outlines Symeon’s life before diving into his theology. This is where the book really shines. Golitzin uses his thorough understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy to situate Symeon in the Orthodox tradition. Despite controversy over his epistemology (he believed that alongside scripture and tradition, the Holy Spirit was a source of inspiration), Golitzin demonstrates how Symeon’s theology was thoroughly orthodox.

On the Mystical Life is a good biography and an excellent study of the theology of Saint Symeon the New Theologian.

Golitzin, Alexander. On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses / St. Symeon the New Theologian. Vol. 3: Life, Times, and Theology. Popular Patristics Series 16. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

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