(Feb. 2/15)


About How Great is the Holy Righteous Symeon and How Essential for Us His Prayer


        Brothers and sisters!


        Today is the great feast of the Meeting of the Lord.  At every Vespers service the Holy Church reminds us of this feast at the reading of the beloved prayer, “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master.”  This prayer is the entreaty of the righteous Symeon, the chief human help-fellow of the events we are celebrating.  In it, Saint Symeon expresses his gratitude to God for permitting him to behold the Saviour of the world, and begs his Creator to allow him to depart this life in tranquility, since he had obtained the ultimate assurance that Deliverance had arrived for his soul and the entire human race.

        All of you, dear brothers and sisters, are familiar with the story of the Meeting of the Lord, having heard and read the Gospel account of it many times.  Therefore, I will not delay with repeating what you already know very well.  But what most of you probably do not know is how great the righteous Symeon is before God, and that he stands at the very front of the choir of saints before the throne of the Almighty.  To convince you of the truth of this, I would like to read you something I translated not long ago from Saint Demetrius of Rostov’s Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints.  It is found in the soon-to-be-published June volume, under the twelfth day, in the Life of Our Venerable Father Peter, the initiator of monasticism on Mount Athos.  Saint Peter was a commander in the Byzantine Army during the Ninth Century, and this is the story in his Life that relates to Saint Symeon: 

        “Once Peter was sent on campaign to Syria with other commanders and their troops.  The Greek army was defeated, and Peter was captured and taken to the Arab city of Samarra, located on the Euphrates River.  With many other prisoners, he was cast into a dungeon and loaded with heavy iron chains.  While sitting in bonds, Peter examined his conscience and remembered that he had often considered renouncing the world and had even promised to become a monk.  He understood that it was because of his failure to carry out this good intention quickly that God had permitted him to fall into captivity and to be visited by suffering.  As a result, he wept and moaned bitterly, repenting of his heedlessness and reproaching himself with the acknowledgment that he deserved misfortune.

        “Long did Peter languish in the dungeon.  With no other hope of escape from his fetters, he prayed fervently to God Almighty, Whom he knew could deliver him by His inscrutable judgments, as He had delivered Adam from Hades and Apostle Peter from Herod’s prison.  Peter also called upon the help of the great wonderworker and holy hierarch Nicholas, who is a mighty intercessor before God and is quick to assist those in need, for he had always had strong faith in this saint and love for him second only to his love for God, and he often prayed to him with fervent hope.  To his supplications, Peter added a firm promise that, if freed, he would not return to the world, or even visit his house, but would straightway go wherever God indicated he should begin his monastic struggles.  His thought was that, if the Lord delivered him, he would betake himself to Rome and there, at the grave of the holy chief Apostle Peter, renounce the world and accept tonsure.  While praying about this, Peter began a long fast.  At first he ate a small quantity of food every second or third day, but later he spent an entire week without eating.  At the end of the week, Christ’s hierarch Nicholas appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘I have heard your entreaty, Brother Peter, and have hearkened unto the sighing of your heart.  I have prayed for you to the compassionate God, Who loves mankind, but since you were slow to keep the divine commandments, the Lord shall delay fulfilling your request, the better to further your salvation.  Nevertheless, since our clement Master has given us hope by His words in the Holy Gospel, Ask, and it shall be given you; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,[1] do not cease to beseech with prayer and to knock with sighs on the doors of His compassion, that He may incline to mercy, release you from bonds, and open the doors of the prison.  Be patient in supplication and await God’s mercy.’  Saint Nicholas then commanded Peter to strengthen himself with food, and vanished.

        “Peter awoke and ate.  After this he applied himself to prayer more diligently, and sent up entreaty day and night with steady hope, praying constantly to his helper, Saint Nicholas.  Some time passed and Saint Nicholas again appeared to him in a dream, this time with a sad countenance.  ‘Believe me, Brother Peter,’ he said, ‘I have been entreating God’s goodness for you ceaselessly, but the Lord has not revealed to me how and when He intends to deliver you.  Nevertheless, do not despair of His compassion.  The merciful Master frequently delays fulfilling our requests because this is what is best for us.  Quite often, when someone quickly receives what he asks, he little appreciates the favor shown to him.  Besides this, the Lord may desire that other saints join me in offering up supplications on your behalf.  I shall refer you to a powerful intercessor who will certainly assist you, if you call upon him for help.  I believe that if he prays for you together with me, the Lover of mankind will hearken unto us.’

        “Peter asked Saint Nicholas, ‘Holy Master!  Who can this saint be, whose entreaties are mightier before God than thine?  The whole world is saved by thy prayers and intercessions.  All Christian people hasten to thee and are delivered from calamities by thee.’

        “‘Peter, do you know of the righteous Symeon who, when Christ the Lord was forty days old, received Him into his arms and bore Him into the Temple, and for this reason is called the God-receiver?’ asked Saint Nicholas.

        “‘I do know of him, saint of God,’ Peter replied.  ‘He was a virtuous man, mentioned in the Holy Gospel.’

        “Saint Nicholas said, ‘Let us both pray that he will offer up entreaty.  Then what we have begun will come to a good end, for he is a mighty intercessor and has great boldness before God, by Whose throne he stands, near our immaculate Lady, the Virgin Theotokos, and the holy Forerunner John.’  With these words, Saint Nicholas disappeared.

        “When Peter awoke, he wiped the sleep from his eyes and again devoted himself to prayer and strict fasting, calling upon both Saint Symeon the God-receiver and Saint Nicholas.

        “Finally, the time came when the all-good God, at the entreaties of His great favorites Symeon and Nicholas, deigned to free the sufferer from his bonds.  Christ’s hierarch Nicholas appeared to Peter a third time in the night, but openly, and not in a dream.  Moreover, he did not appear alone, but with Saint Symeon the God-receiver.  ‘Take courage, Brother Peter,’ he said, ‘and sorrow no more.  Tell your vow to the common intercessor of the whole world, who has joined me in prayer, and give him thanks, after God.’

        “Peter lifted up his eyes and beheld the great Symeon, whose appearance was honorable and wondrous, and who shone with light.  Saint Symeon was clothed in the Old Testament vestment called the ephod and held a golden staff in his hand.  The sight of him filled Peter with fear, and he said to Peter, ‘Are you the one who has been begging our brother Nicholas to be freed from bonds and prison?’

        “Although he could hardly open his mouth for terror, Peter replied, ‘O favourite of God!  I am the wretch who hath acquired thy holiness as an intercessor before the Lord.’

        “‘Are you determined to fulfill your vow and become a monk, leading a life of virtue for the rest of your days?’ Saint Symeon asked.

        “Peter answered, ‘Yea, master; with God’s help, I intend to become a monk.’

        “‘If so,’ continued the righteous Symeon, ‘you may leave this prison and go wherever you wish. Nothing can hinder you in this.’  Peter then showed the saint his feet, which were still fettered, and Saint Symeon touched the irons with the golden staff.  Immediately, the bonds fell away, even as wax melteth before the fire.[2]  Peter rose and saw that the prison was open.  Following Saint Symeon and Saint Nicholas, he left the dungeon and walked out of the city.  While so doing, Peter asked himself, ‘Am I dreaming this?’ whereupon Saint Symeon turned to him and said, ‘Why are you thinking that the clear mercy of God to you is but a dream?  Do you not see where you are, and who is leading you?’  And with this Saint Symeon returned Peter to Saint Nicholas’ care, and departed.”

        Guided by Saint Nicholas, Peter went on to escape the Arab Caliphate and return to the Christian Empire.  From there he proceeded to old Rome, where he was tonsured.  Finally, he sailed to Athos, where he lived as a hermit in the wilderness and himself attained the utmost sanctity.

        And so, dear brothers and sisters, understand from this narrative how great before the Lord is the righteous Symeon.  If this be so and, besides this, the Church of Christ puts his prayer into the mouth of the faithful every day, then how important, how essential for us must be the words of that prayer!  And, again, what are the words of the prayer?  “Now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, O Master.”  These words and the extreme sanctity of the one who first uttered them remind us that the purpose of the present life is to prepare us for the next one, to allow us to cleanse ourselves of every stain of soul and body, and to permit us to be born again spiritually and be transformed into new men in Christ, so that we may depart this life in peace.  These were the high purposes Saint Symeon and all the saints set for themselves in the present life, being but men like us, although with a single difference.  That difference was that they were determined to cleanse their soul, in anticipation of life after death.  It was in this connection that once, when Saint Seraphim of Sarov was asked by some pilgrims, “Why Batiushka, can we not save our souls?” he replied simply, “Because you lack determination.”

        May the Lord, the Lover of mankind, grant us such determination, the determination to serve Him wholeheartedly and to worship Him in spirit and truth,[3] that we may ever behold His countenance with our inner eyes during this life, and say in all truth and with calm hope at the hour of our death, “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master, for mine eyes have seen thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people:  a light of revelation for the nations, and the glory of Thy people Israel!”  Amen.


[1] Matt. 7:7; Luke 11:9

[2] Ps. 67

[3] John 4:24