Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Poem From St. Symeon, the New Theologian

We awaken in Christ's body as Christ awakens our bodies
And my poor hand is Christ.
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand
And wonderfully my hand becomes Christ,
All of him,
For God is indivisibly whole,
seamless in his Godhead.
I move my foot,
At once he appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?
Then open your heart to him and let yourself receive
the one who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love him,
We wake up in Christ's body
Where all our body
All over, every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy in Him,
And he makes us utterly real.
So everything that is hurt
Everything that seemed to us
Dark, harsh, shameful, maimed ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in him transformed
And recognized as whole,
As lovely and radiant in his light.
He awakens as the Beloved
In every last part of our body.

-From The Enlightened Heart:  An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, trans. Stephen Mitchell

     Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD) was a Byzantine Christian monk and poet who was the last of three saints canonized by the Eastern Orthodox church and given the title of "Theologian" (along with John the Apostle and Gregory of Nazianzus). "Theologian" was not applied to Symeon in the modern academic sense of theological study, but to recognize someone who spoke from personal experience of the vision of God. One of his principal teachings was that humans could and should experience theoria (literally "contemplation", or direct experience of God).
     Symeon was born into the Byzantine nobility and given a traditional education. At age fourteen he met Symeon the Studite, a renowned monk of the Monastery of Stoudios in Constantinople, who convinced him to give his own life to prayer and asceticism under the elder Symeon's guidance. By the time he was thirty, Symeon the New Theologian became the abbot of the Monastery of St. Mammas, a position he held for twenty-five years. He attracted many monks and clergy with his reputation for sanctity, though his teachings brought him into conflict with church authorities, who would eventually send him into exile. His most well known disciple was Nicetas Stethatos who wrote the Life of Symeon.
      Symeon is recognized as the first Byzantine mystic to freely share his own mystical experiences. Some of his writings are included in the Philokalia, a collection of texts by early Christian mystics on contemplative prayer and hesychast teachings. Symeon wrote and spoke frequently about the importance of experiencing directly the grace of God, often talking about his own experiences of God as divine light.

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