If any pilgrim monk come from distant parts, if with wish as a guest to dwell in the monastery, and will be content with the customs which he finds in the place, and do not perchance by his lavishness disturb the monastery, but is simply content with what he finds: he shall be received, for as long a time as he desires. If, indeed, he find fault with anything, or expose it, reasonably, and with the humility of charity, the Abbot shall discuss it prudently, lest perchance God had sent for this very thing. But, if he have been found gossipy and contumacious in the time of his sojourn as guest, not only ought he not to be joined to the body of the monastery, but also it shall be said to him, honestly, that he must depart. If he does not go, let two stout monks, in the name of God, explain the matter to him.
As the traveler journeys through Southern Italy, Sicily and certain parts of what was Ancient Greece, he will see broken arches, parts of viaducts, and now and again a single, beautiful column pointing to the sky. All about is the desert or solitary pastures, and only this white milestone, marking the path of the centuries and telling in its own silent, solemn and impressive way of a day that is dead.
In the Fifth Century a monk called Simeon the Syrian, and known to us as Simeon Stylites, having taken the vow of chastity, poverty and obedience, began to fear greatly lest he might not be true to his pledge. And that he might live absolutely beyond reproach, always in public view, free from temptation, and free from the tongue of scandal, he decided to live in the world, and still not be of it. To this end he climbed to the top of a marble column, sixty feet high, and there on the capstone he lived a life beyond reproach.
Simeon was then twenty-four years old.
The environment was circumscribed, but there was outlook, sunshine, ventilation–three good things. But beyond these the place had certain disadvantages. The capstone was a little less than three feet square, so Simeon could not lie down. He slept sitting, with his head bowed between his knees, and indeed, in this posture he passed most of his time. Any recklessness in movement, and he would have slipped from his perilous position and been dashed to death upon the stones beneath.
As the sun arose he stood up, just for a few moments, and held his arms out in greeting, blessing and prayer. Three times during the day did he thus stretch his cramped limbs, and pray with his face to the East. At such times those who stood near shared in his prayers, and went away blessed and refreshed.
How did Simeon get to the top of the column?
Well, his companions at the monastery, a mile away, said he was carried there in the night by a miraculous power; that he went to sleep in his stone cell and awoke on the pillar. Other monks said that Simeon had gone to pay his respects to a fair lady, and in wrath God had caught him and placed him on high. The probabilities are, however, Terese, as viewed by an unbeliever, that he shot a line over the column with a bow and arrow and then drew up a rope ladder and ascended with ease.
However, in the morning the simple people of the scattered village saw the man on the column. All day he stayed there. The next day he was still there.
The days passed, with the scorching heat of the midday sun, and the cool winds of the night.
Still Simeon kept his place.
The rainy season came on. When the nights were cold and dark, Simeon sat there with bowed head, and drew the folds of his single garment, a black robe, over his face.