Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022) is the latest of three saints of the Eastern Orthodox church to have been given the title of Theologian thus, although his title of "new" was likely to distinguish him from another contemporary Symeon (the other two are John the Apostle and Gregory of Nazianzus). Symeon was a poet who embodied the mystical hesychastic tradition. He wrote that humans could and should experience God directly. His works influenced the hesychastic controversy of the 14th century. His most famous disciple was Nicetas Stethatos, his cell attendant who also wrote his life.
This morning I attended the funeral of a close family friend who died suddenly on Sunday. The Funeral Mass was celebrated in an old Franciscan Church in Paterson, New Jersey. I am sure it was built well over one hundred years ago. The inside of the church is stunningly beautiful - yet very simple. The stained glass windows feature St. Francis and St. Bonaventure in bold striking colors. The Franciscan priest who celebrated the Mass offered a very moving homily. He spoke about the reality of Eternal Life - that it is not something that we say just to make each other feel good. To the Christian, Eternal Life is a reality. When we die, it is only change to new life. When tragedies occur, as they will in every one's life, grief can overwhelm us - we lose all sense of reality. Our Lord understood this well. Oh how Our Lord cried when he found his dear friend Lazarus had died. Our belief in the reality of Eternal Life must be sustained by constant and fervant prayer. For many Christians, prayer does not come easy. I know for me, this is certainly true. I am blessed to have a Franciscan priest as a Spiritual Director. Spiritual Direction is a necessity for me, and for all Catholics. We all need guidance - in our prayer life, in our whole faith journey. I think this is what Pope Benedict XVI is speaking about in his audience of September 16th.
From the Holy See website:
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Symeon the New Theologian
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’s catechesis focuses on the life of Symeon, an Eastern monk known as the “New Theologian”. He was born in nine hundred and forty nine in Asia Minor. As a young man, he moved to Constantinople to embark on a career in the civil service but, during his studies, he was shown a work called The Spiritual Law by Mark the Monk which completely changed his life. It contained the phrase: “If you seek spritual healing, be aware of your conscience. Do everything it tells you and you will find what is useful to you”. From that day on, he made it his way of life always to listen to his conscience. He became a monk and his life and writings, collected afterwards by a disciple, reflect Symeon’s deep understanding of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of all the baptized. Symeon teaches us that Christian life is an intimate and personal communion with God. True knowledge of God comes, not from books, but from an interior purification through conversion of the heart. For Symeon, union with Christ is not something extraordinary, but the fruit of the baptism common to all Christians. Inspired by Symeon’s life, let us pay greater attention to our spiritual life, seeking the guidance we need to grow in the love of God.
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