Some time in the 13th century, Simon arrived on the Holy Mountaim Recalling the saying of the Fathers that without obedience one cannot be saved. He sought most of all to find a spiritual elder to whom he could entrust his soul without reserve.
After looking all over the Holy Mountain, he finally chose out of the multitude of monks leading virtuous lives, an unknown elder, perfect in all respects in the ascetic life. He laboured in complete submission to his elder, fulfilling all his obediences with love and zeal and soon became known all over the Holy Mountain for his irreproachable life. Finally the time came when the elder was convinced that his period of trial was over. Casting aside his paternal kindness towards the venerable Simon, he decided to dwell with him, as with a brother and on several occasions he even asked for his advice and counsel. But instead of rejoicing over the benevolence and honor bestowed upon him by his elder, Simon was utterly grieved. He decided to leave, seeking for himself total reclusion. Expressing his intention to his elder, he asked his blessing amidst a shower of tears, desiring with heartfelt sorrow that the elder would grant his consent.
For a long time St. Simon searched all over the Holy Mountain for a secluded hermitage where no one would know of his existence and no one would find him. Finally, with God’s help, he found a deserted mountainside with caves on the southern part of the Holy Mountain. For many years St. Simon remained secluded within his cave where he endured the constant battle with the unseen enemies of his soul. He lived in sorrows and utter deprivation, lacking even the assurance of his own salvation.
Meanwhile, hearing of the severity of his life and in particular of his spiritual discernment and insight, many monks on the Holy Mountain began to come to him and to receive great spiritual benefit from his soul-profiting counsel. Together with those who came to him, Simon was accounted worthy to receive from the Lord the gift of prophecy. However, through his humility he grew weary of such earthly honour, and he sought refuge from the disturbance created by all those who came to him. He was burdened by the stream of visitors which, it seemed to him, only served as a hindrance to his desire for a life of seclusion. He yearned, therefore, to abandon his dwelling for a yet more isolated one. But God, desiring the well-being and salvation of each and every person, prevented the realization of his desire in the following way:
One night, whilst praying, Simon saw outside his cave, as if before his very eyes, a divine light; an ineffable fragrance spread all around him and he heard a loud voice: “Simon, Simon, thou faithful friend and servant of my Son! Do not go away from here. I shall glorify this place; you shall be its guiding light, and your name shall be glorified.” Out of caution, Simon chose at first not to believe this vision, not desiring to fall into the nets of the evil one; for he knew, according to the word of the Apostle, that satan could transform himself into an angel of light. Nevertheless, he continued to ponder upon the actual source of the voice. This took place shortly before the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. Then, one night, walking outside his cave, he saw a strange apparition: a star descended from the heavens and came to rest just above the rocky cliffs where later the holy monastery was to be situated. This same vision repeated itself on the following evenings; but Simon was still fearful. He continued to distrust the vision.
When the Christmas Eve t arrived, he saw in a dream a brilliant star and heard a divine voice: “Simon! you must build a monastic dwelling here. I myself shall help you. Cast aside your doubts, or you shall be punished for your unbelief.” The same voice spoke to him three times. At that time (as he later related to his disciples) it seemed to him that he was in Bethlehem of Judea, in the very place where the shepherds were tending their flocks, and he heard the sweet sound of angelic singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men: fear not, for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke2:l4, 10). After this, said the saint, all fear and uneasiness were dispelled from his soul and he rejoiced in spirit, and secretly beheld the scene in Bethlehem; there, before the manger, tMary stood before Jesus, lying in swaddling clothes.
Several days after the Christmas, three rich men came to the Simon. They confessed all their sins and began to entreat him to permit them to live in obedience under his direction. After a brief period of trial and testing, Simon revealed the divine vision to them. More than once he related the vision concerning the building of a monastery on the neighboring cliffs to them, asking them not to speak of it to any, one while he was still alive until the proper time. Hearing all this, the brothers with love offered to the saintly elder all of their earthly wealth for the construction of the monastery, and in accordance with the saint’s wish and blessing, they offered immediately to prepare everything necessary for such an important and God-pleasing labor.
All necessary preparations were made. When Simon directed the brothers to the location where the church and other buildings were to be constructed they were horrified, seeing the sheer cliffs which, according to his orders, were to serve as the monastery’s foundation. “Are you trying to fool us, Abba?” they asked, ‘or are you speaking the truth? How can this be the site, when that cliff might be quite dangerous for the workers and even more so for those that will dwell here.” Seeing that he could not convince them to proceed with the work, Simon ordered the trapeza meal to be served. While they were eating, one of the saint’s disciples who was bringing wine to the table, lost his balance, and fell off the cliff into a great abyss; still holding in one hand a pitcher and in the other several glasses of wine. Stricken with horror at this sudden tragedy, the spokesman of the brothers strongly rebuked Simon:
“Behold, Abba, what has already been wrought by these deadly crags before you have even begun your undertaking. How many similar incidents of such a frightful death will occur if we should agree to build the monastery here.” The saint did not answer but secretly prayed that he would not be put to shame. What happened next was entirely unexpected: the brother who had fallen over the precipice suddenly appeared before them. He was not only perfectly whole and unscathed, but he even held the glasses and pitcher from which not a drop of wine had spilled! Such a miracle brought fear and trembling upon the labourers. They fell to their knees before the saint and begging forgiveness said: “Now we know, O father, that you are truly a man of God.” Then, under the immediate supervision of Simon himself, his disciples, formerly simple labourers, proceeded with the construction of the Monastery.
Having established the monastery which he named New Bethlehem, and having spent his life in God-pleasing labours, Simon died on the 28th of December, 1287. On the morning of the next day, in the presence of the entire brotherhood, his face shone with a wondrous light. After his soul had ascended, a fragrant myrrh issued forth from his holy relics through which St. Simon worked many miracles to the glory of God, for kings, monks, and laymen.
(adapted from the Russian “Athonite Patericon” by’Rassophore-monk Gerasim; taken from: http://www.roca.org/OA/25/25d.htm)
On this day lift before God:
- Those who desire ardently to learn to live a Christ-like life.
- All who seek solitude and silence.
- All who find others seeking their counsel.
- Construction workers.
- Those entrusted with visions for the future and those called to interpret them.