September 1, 2023

Saint Symeon the Stylite and His Pillar (Evagrius Scholasticus)

By Evagrius Scholasticus

Ecclesiastical History (Bk. 1, Ch. 14-15)


IN these times there flourished and became illustrious Symeon, of venerable and famous memory, who originated the contrivance of stationing himself on the top of a column, thereby occupying a spot of scarcely two cubits in circumference. Domnus was then bishop of Antioch; and he, having visited Symeon, and being struck with the singularity of his position and mode of life, was desirous of more mystic intercourse. They met accordingly, and having consecrated the immaculate body, imparted to each other the life-giving communion. This man, endeavouring to realize in the flesh the existence of the heavenly hosts, lifts himself above the concerns of earth, and, overpowering the downward tendency of man's nature, is intent upon things above: placed between earth and heaven, he holds communion with God, and unites with the angels in praising him; from earth, offering his intercessions on behalf of men, and from heaven, drawing down upon them the divine favor. An account of his miracles has been written by one of those who were eye-witnesses, and an eloquent record by Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus: though they have omitted a circumstance in particular, the memory of which I found to be still retained by the inhabitants of the holy desert, and which I learnt from them as follows. When Symeon, that angel upon earth, that citizen in the flesh of the heavenly Jerusalem, had devised this strange and hitherto unknown path, the inhabitants of the holy desert sent a person to him, charged with an injunction to render a reason of this singular habitude, namely, why, abandoning the beaten path which the saints had trodden, he is pursuing another altogether unknown to mankind; and, further, that he should come down and travel the path of the elect fathers. They, at the same time, gave orders, that, if he should manifest a perfect readiness to come down, liberty should be given him to follow out the course he had chosen, inasmuch as his compliance would be sufficient proof that under God's guidance he persevered in this his endurance: but that he should be dragged down by force, in case he should manifest repugnance, or be swayed by self-will, and refuse to be guided implicitly by the injunction. When the person, thus sent, came and announced the command of the fathers, and Symeon, in pursuance of the injunction, immediately put one foot forward, then he declared him free to fulfil his own course, saying, "Be strong and brave in the post which you have chosen, for it is from God." This circumstance, which is omitted by those who have written about him, I have thus thought worthy of record. In so great a measure had the power of divine grace taken possession of him, that, when Theodosius had issued a mandate, that the synagogues of which they had been previously deprived by the Christians, should be restored to the Jews of Antioch, he wrote to the emperor with so much freedom and vehement rebuke, as standing in awe of none but his own immediate sovereign, that Theodosius re-called his commands, and in every respect favored the Christians, even superseding the prefect who had suggested the measure. He further proceeded to prefer a request to this effect, to the holy and aerial martyr, that he would entreat and pray for him, and impart a share of his own peculiar benediction. Symeon prolonged his endurance of this mode of life through fifty-six years, nine of which he spent in the first monastery, where he was instructed in divine knowledge, and forty-seven in the Mandra, as it is termed; namely, ten in a certain nook; on shorter columns, seven; and thirty upon one of forty cubits. After his departure, his holy body was conveyed to Antioch, during the episcopate of Martyrius, and the reign of the emperor Leo, when Ardabyrius was in command of the forces of the East, on which occasion the troops, with a concourse of their followers and others, proceeded to the Mandra, and escorted the venerable body of the blessed Symeon, lest the inhabitants of the neighbouring cities should muster and carry it off. In this manner, it was conveyed to Antioch, and attended during its progress by extraordinary signs. The emperor also demanded possession of the body; and the people of Antioch addressed to him a petition in deprecation of his purpose, in these terms: "Forasmuch as our city is without walls, for we have been visited in wrath by their fall, we brought hither the sacred body to be our wall and bulwark." Moved by these considerations, the emperor yielded to their prayer, and left them in possession of the venerable body. It has been preserved nearly entire to my time: and, in company with many priests, I enjoyed the sight of his sacred head, in the episcopate of the famous Gregory, when Philippicus had requested that precious relics of saints might be sent to him for the protection of the Eastern armies. And, strange as is the circumstance, the hair of his head had not perished, but is in the same state of preservation as when he was alive and sojourning with mankind. The skin of his forehead, too, was wrinkled and indurated, but is nevertheless preserved, as well as the greater part of his teeth, except such as had been violently removed by the hands of faithful men, affording by their appearance an indication of the personal appearance and years of the man of God. Beside the head lies the iron collar, to which, as the companion of its endurance, the famous body has imparted a share of its own divinely-bestowed honors; for not even in death has Symeon been deserted by the loving iron. In this manner would I have detailed every particular, thereby benefiting both myself and my readers, had not Theodoret, as I said before, already performed the task more fully.


LET me, however, add a record of another circumstance which I witnessed. I was desirous of visiting the precinct of this saint, distant nearly thirty stadia from Theopolis, and situated near the very summit of the mountain. The people of the country give it the title of Mandra, a name bequeathed to the spot, as I suppose, by the holy Symeon, in respect of the discipline which he there had practised. The ascent of the mountain is as much as twenty stadia. The temple is constructed in the form of a cross, adorned with colonnades on the four sides. Beside the colonnades are arranged handsome columns of polished stone, sustaining a roof of considerable elevation; while the centre is occupied by an unroofed court of the most excellent workmanship, where stands the pillar, of forty-cubits, on which the incarnate angel upon earth spent his heavenly life. Adjoining the roof of the colonnades is a balustrade, termed by some persons windows, forming a fence towards both the before-mentioned court and the colonnades. At the balustrade, on the left of the pillar, I saw, in company with all the people who were there assembled, while the rustics were performing dances round it, a very large and brilliant star, shooting along the whole balustrade, not merely once, twice, or thrice, but repeatedly; vanishing, moreover, frequently, and again suddenly appearing: and this occurs only at the commemorations of the saint. There are also persons who affirm — and there is no reason to doubt the sign, considering the credibility of the vouchers, and the other circumstances which I actually witnessed — that they have seen a resemblance of the saint's face flitting about here and there, with a long beard, and wearing a tiara, as was his habit. Free ingress is allowed to men, who repeatedly compass the pillar with their beasts of burden: but the most scrupulous precaution is taken, for what reason I am unable to say, that no woman should enter the sacred building: but they obtain a view of the sign from the threshold without, since one of the doors is opposite to the star's rays.*

Ecclesiastical History (Bk. 2, Ch. 9-10)


LEO also addresses encyclical letters of inquiry to the bishops throughout the empire and the most distinguished monastics, relating to the synod at Chalcedon and the ordination of Timothy, surnamed Aelurus, accompanying them with copies of the petitions which had been presented to him on the part both of Proterius and Timothy. The encyclical letters were couched in the following terms:

A copy of the sacred epistle of the most pious emperor Leo to Anatolius, bishop of Constantinople, to the metropolitans throughout the whole world, and the other bishops.

"The emperor Caesar Leo, pious, victorious, triumphant, supreme, ever-revered Augustus, to the bishop Anatolius. Through the prayers of my piety, may all the orthodox and most holy churches, and, indeed, the cities throughout the Roman dominion, enjoy perfect tranquillity, and that nothing should befall them to disturb their settled serenity. The events, however, which have lately happened at Alexandria, we are assured, are known to your holiness: but that you may be more fully informed respecting the entire transaction, and the cause of so much tumult and confusion, we have forwarded to your sanctity copies of the petitions which the most reverent bishops and clergy of the before-mentioned city, and of the Egyptian diocese, presented to our piety against Timothy, at the imperial city of Constantine; and, in addition, copies of the petitions presented to our serenity, at our sacred court, by persons from Alexandria on behalf of Timothy; so that your holiness will be able distinctly to learn what have been the proceedings of the before-mentioned Timothy, whom the people of Alexandria and their dignitaries, senators, and ship-masters request for their bishop, and what relates to the other transactions, as intimated by the tenor of the petitions, as well as regarding the synod at Chalcedon, to which these parties by no means assent, according as the matters are set forth by the petitions appended. Your reverence will accordingly forthwith cause to assemble to you all the orthodox holy bishops who are now resident in the imperial city, as also the most reverent clergy; and, after carefully investigating and testing every circumstance, considering that Alexandria is at present disturbed, and that we are most solicitous for its settlement and tranquillity, declare your opinion respecting the before-mentioned Timothy and the synod at Chalcedon, without any fear of man, and apart from all favour or dislike; setting before your eyes only the fear of the Almighty, inasmuch as you know that ye shall give account of this matter to His pure Godhead. This we enjoin, in order that, being perfectly informed by your letters, we may be able to frame the fitting issue on the entire matter." The emperor wrote also in similar terms to the other bishops, and, as I have said, to the most distinguished among those who at that period were practising the endurance of the bare and immaterial mode of life. Among these was Symeon, who first conceived the station on the pillar, and of whom I have made mention in the former part of the history; as well as Baradatus and Jacob, the Syrians.


ACCORDINGLY, in the first instance, Leo, bishop of the elder Rome, both wrote in defence of the synod at Chalcedon, and declared the ordination of Timothy to be null, as having been irregularly performed. This epistle the emperor Leo dispatches to Timothy, president of the church of Alexandria; Diomedes, the silentiary, executing the imperial commission: and Timothy wrote in rejoinder, excepting to the synod at Chalcedon and the epistle of Leo. Of these documents copies are preserved in the collection called the Circulars: but I have omitted them, to avoid encumbering the matter on hand with too great a number. The bishops, too, of the other cities, expressed their adherence to the determinations framed at Chalcedon, and unanimously condemned the ordination of Timothy. Amphilochius alone, bishop of Side, wrote an epistle, loudly reprobating the ordination of Timothy, but also rejecting the synod at Chalcedon. Zacharias the rhetorician has also treated of these transactions, and has inserted the epistle itself of Amphilochius in his work. Symeon, too, of holy memory, wrote two epistles on the occasion; namely, to the emperor Leo, and to Basil, bishop of Antioch. The latter, as being brief, I insert in this my history, as follows: "To my master, the most venerable and holy servant of God, the archbishop Basil, the sinful and humble Symeon wishes health in the Lord. Well may we now say, my master: Blessed be God, who has not rejected our prayer, nor withdrawn his mercy from us sinners. For, on the receipt of the letters of your worthiness, I admired the zeal and piety of our sovereign, beloved of God, which he manifested and still manifests towards the holy fathers and their unshaken faith. And this gift is not from ourselves, as says the holy apostle, but from God, who, through your prayers, bestowed on him this readiness of mind." And presently he proceeds: "On this account, I also, though mean and worthless, the refuse of the monks, have conveyed to his majesty my judgment respecting the faith of the six hundred and thirty holy fathers assembled at Chalcedon, firmly resolving to abide by the faith then revealed by the Holy Spirit: for if, in the midst of two or three who are gathered in His name, the Saviour is present, how could it be otherwise, than that the Holy Spirit should be throughout in the midst of so many and so distinguished holy fathers?" And afterwards he proceeds: "Wherefore be strong and brave in the cause of true piety, as was also Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, in behalf of the children of Israel. I beg you to salute from me all the pious clergy who are under your holiness, and the blessed and most faithful laity."


* "Strict care was taken so that a woman's foot did not dare to touch the threshold, which even the mother of the Saint would not be allowed to cross. It is said that a woman dressed in a man's suit, in order to enter the Church of Saint Symeon unnoticed, and when she touched the threshold of the church, at that moment she fell dead on her back. Although women also came there, as Nikephoros Kallistos writes in his Eccesiastical History, but they did not dare to approach the fence, but stood at a distance and prayed looking at the pillar." (St. Justin Popovich)

Become a Patreon or Paypal Supporter:

Recurring Gifts

Contact Form


Email *

Message *