Feast of St Martha, Mother of Symeon Stylites
NOT ONLY all the subjects of the Roman government know the famous Symeon, the great marvel of the world, but even the Persians, the Medes and the Ethiopians. His fame has reached the Scythian nomads and taught his love of labor and his love of wisdom. Now although I have the whole world, so to speak, as witnesses to his indescribable struggles, I feared his story might seem to those who come after like a tale wholly devoid of truth. For what took place surpasses human nature, and people are accustomed to measure what is said by the yardstick of what is natural. If something were to be said which lies outside the limits of what is natural, the narrative is considered a lie by those uninitiated in divine things. However, since the earth and sea are full of devout people who, educated in divine things and taught the gift of the all-holy Spirit, will not disbelieve what I am about to write but will surely believe, I shall write my story eagerly and confidently. [. . .]
As his reputation spread everywhere, all hurried to him – not just those in the neighborhood, but also those who lived many days’ journey distant. Some brought those with weakened bodies, others sought health for the sick, others were entreating that they might become fathers, and what they could not receive from nature they begged to receive from him. When they received it and their prayers had been heard, they joyfully returned and, by proclaiming the benefits they had obtained, they sent back many more with the same demands. As they all come from every quarter, each road is like a river: one can see collected in that spot a human sea into which rivers from all sides debouche. For it is not only inhabitants of our part of the world who pour in, but also Ishmaelites, Persians and the Armenians subject to them, the Iberians, the Homerites, and those who live even further in the interior than these. Many came from the extreme west: Spaniards, Britons, and the Gauls who dwell between them. It is superfluous to speak of Italy, for they say that he became so well-known in the great city of Rome that small portraits of him were set up on a column at the entrances of every shop to bring through that some protection and security to them.
As the visitors came in increasing numbers and they all tried to touch him and gain some blessing from those skin garments, he thought at first that this excess of honor was out of place, but then he found it annoying and tedious and therefore devised the standing on a column. First he had one hewn of six cubits (9 ft), then one of twelve(18 ft), after that one of twenty-two (33 ft), and now one of thirty-six (54 ft), for he longs to soar to heaven and leave this earthly sojourn. I myself cannot accept that his standing occurred without divine dispensation. So I appeal to fault-finders to bridle their tongues and not allow them to wag at will, but to consider how frequently the Master has contrived such things for the good of the indifferent. He ordered Isaiah to walk naked and without shoes; Jeremiah put a girdle round his loins and in this way pronounce his prophecy to the unbelieving, and at another time to place a wooden collar round his neck and later on an iron one; Hosea to marry a prostitute and again to love an adulterous woman of evil life; Ezekiel to lie down on his right side for forty days and one hundred and fifty on his left, to dig through a wall and flee, portraying in himself the captivity, and another time to sharpen a sword to a point, shave his head with it, and divide the hair four ways and assign a part here, a part there, without listing it all. The Ruler of the universe ordered each of these things to be done so that by the strangeness of the spectacle He might gather those who would not be persuaded by speech nor give an ear to prophecy and so dispose them to hear the divine oracles. For who would not be amazed to see a man of God walking about naked? Who would not have wanted to learn the reason for the phenomenon? Who would not have asked why the prophet dared to cohabit with a prostitute? So, just as the God of the universe providentially ordered each one of those done for the good of those living carelessly, so he arranged this extraordinary novelty to draw everyone by its strangeness to the spectacle and make the proferred counsel persuasive to those who come. [. . .]
It was the standing on the column which enlightened the many myriads of Ishmaelites enslaved in the deep darkness of impiety. Because this brilliant lamp, as if placed on a lamp-stand, sent off rays in every direction, like the sun. One could see, as I said, Iberians, Armenians, and Persians coming to gain the benefit of divine baptism. The Ishmaelites, who came in bands of two or three hundred at a time, sometimes even of a thousand, with a shout repudiate their ancestral error; they smash in front of that great luminary the idols revered by them . . . They partake of the divine mysteries, accepting laws from his sacred mouth and saying farewell to their ancestral customs . . . I myself was an eye-witness of these events and I have heard them renouncing their ancestral impiety and consenting to the gospel teaching.
~Blessed Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus