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Last updated: 12 Jan. 2019
SYMEON THE NEW THEOLOGIAN
MONASTIC AND POET, 1022
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 St. John the Evangelist and Gregory of Nazianzus). "Theologian" was not applied to Symeon in the modern academic sense of theological study; the title was designed only 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.
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. Another common subject in his writings was the need of putting oneself under the guidance of a spiritual father. The authority for many of his teachings derived from the traditions of the Desert Fathers, early Christian monks and ascetics. Symeon's writings include Hymns of Divine Love, Ethical Discourses, and The Catechetical Discourses.
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