St Simeon Barsabae and Companions

Bishop, Martyrs (entered heaven in 341)

Dear Sasha,

Ah yes, I am very familiar with the temptations that belong to springtime.  Not that I am personally able to experience them here in this blessed office cubicle.  Seasons don’t change here.  And the monotony brings other temptations.  But I can empathize with yours.  You are in the flower of youth and the flush of health, and the campus sparkles under the warm light of spring sunshine after a long, cold winter… It’s only natural that you would feel the tug of idleness and indulgence.  But feeling the tug doesn’t mean you have to give in to it.  Keep following your priorities (both spiritual and academic).  Vacation is just around the corner.  If you are faithful to your duties now, you will enjoy vacation with a clean and fresh conscience later.  Maybe the extraordinary example of today’s saint will encourage you.

Simeon was the bishop of Ctesiphon, in Persia, and in fact the Patriarch of all the Christians in that Empire when Constantine was Emperor of Rome.  The more powerful Sapor II (the Persian emperor) became, the more he resented the Christians’ refusal to afford him divine honors (the Persian Emperor was considered to embody on earth the divinity of the Sun god, worshipped by the Persians). Throughout his long reign he instigated three different violent persecutions of the Christians, the third enduring for the last forty years of his life.  St Simeon and more than a hundred companions (almost all of them clergy) were its first victims.

Simeon and Sapor had been friends before.  But when Sapor demanded that the Christians worship the Sun god, Simeon sent a message chastising the emperor for making such an unreasonable demand.  Sapor was enraged by such treatment.  He had Simeon and his assistant priests arrested and brought to his palace in chains.  There he interrogated the great bishop, who was renown not only for his holiness, but also for his athletic and handsome appearance.  Witnesses said that during the interview the bishop actually glowed with a supernatural light.

Simeon refused to worship the sun, and asserted the Emperor’s superiority to that celestial orb, pointing out that the Sapor had the use of reason, but the sun didn’t.  Even so, however, Simeon wouldn’t prostrate himself and kiss the Emperor’s robe, and so Sapor only became more determined to do away with the saint.

I am especially impressed by the Emperor’s appeal to Simeon’s charity.  Sapor explained that if Simeon would worship the sun just once, all the Christians in the Empire would be spared the ordeal of torture and death.  But even then Simeon wouldn’t budge.  He retorted that the Emperor would find the Christians quite willing to give up this passing, imperfect life in order to show their allegiance and love for the God who died for them and promised them eternal life.  In the end, Simeon’s words and example inspired all the Christians in the Imperial court and throughout the realm, but didn’t move the Emperor, who beheaded the bishop on Good Friday, in the year 341.

The sunshine is beautiful, I know, but the Son is even more beautiful.  It’s much better to sacrifice a bit of spring fun in order to stay faithful to your friendship with Christ (which includes your duties and your conscience) than to sacrifice your friendship with Christ in order to pay homage to the sun.

Your un-tanned Uncle,


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