Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sts. Symeon and Anna the prophets from the Temple

The Eastern praxis in the Liturgical year has some particularities, about celebrating the saints. In the case of some big feasts, the very first day after the celebrating is dedicated to the persons implied in the event itself. As an example, the second day after Christmas is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the ones who came in the stable from Bethlehem. The name of this secondary feast, on the 26th of December is The Group (Sobor) of the God’s Mother. Only the next day, 27th, is dedicated to St. Stephen. The other case I mention here is the one after the Feast of the Theophany, when the next day is dedicated to the Sobor (group) of St. John the Baptist.

In the same manner, the Saints Symeon and Anna, the Prophets, are celebrated in in the day after the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple, which practically closes the Christmas-periods in the Calendar.

The history of St. Symeon and St. Anna, the old prophets from the temple is in the Christian thought a mixture between Scripture and tradition. According to the Holy Gospel of Luke, the earthly Parents of Our Lord went to the Temple, about 40 days after the birth, in order to accomplish a traditional Jewish ritual, consisting in “re-buying” the first male offspring through a sacrifice, consisting in a holocaust of a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.

Outer of the Bible itself, the historian Joseph Flavius is the main author who also describes the activity at the temple in Jerusalem, speaking about the auxiliary personal near the temple, including the prophets and prophetesses, the virgins etc., who supposed to help the priests and the levites not to the prescribed rituals, but with the administrative things. Of course, the prophets have totally another mission, which cannot be clearly designed.

In the moment that the Holy Parents came to the temple in order to make the ritual sacrifice, St. Symeon was nearby. The Gospel says that he was a just and devout man waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 2,25). God promised him that he would not die until the promised Messiah, Christ the Lord, came into the world.

Saint Symeon

The mention of Luke let the tradition to make some special remarks about this saint. The eastern stories, following the Letter of Aristeas (about 130 B.C.), mention that St. Symeon was one of the 72 scholars, who were supposed to complete the first translation of the Scripture from old Hebrew to ancient Greek. The Hebrew community in Alexandria, from which belongs also Philo, built after the Babylonian exile their own temple on the Elephantine Island, in Egypt, and tried to establish its own cult. There was a problem: almost all the Jews here knew only Greek, so that they couldn’t understand the Torah. From this reason, with the participation of the Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.), who wanted to include the Law of the Jews into his big Library of Alexandria, they tried to translate the text of the Torah into Greek. The legend mentions that there were invited scholars from Jerusalem, and from now on the story doesn’t follow Aristeas anymore. The number of 72 was modified into 70, in order to coincide with the 70 holy men who helped Moses by the implementing of the Law (Num. 11,24 sq.). With this it has been strongly underlined the theory of the verbal inspiration of the Bible, a still very spread idea in the Eastern Church.

St. Symeon is supposed to be one of the 70/72 scholars to translate the text. According to the Prologue from Ochrid (containing the lives of the saints, written in the Middle Ages) St. Symeon had to translate the book of Jesaias and it seems that he has been stocked at the text from 7,14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son”. Being thinking that “virgin” was inaccurate, he wanted to correct the text to read “a young woman”. At that moment an angel appeared to him and held back his hand saying, “you shall see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until you behold Christ the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin”. From this day, St Simeon lived in expectation of the Promised Messiah. One day, he received a revelation from the Holy Spirit to come to the Temple, and from here on the tradition meets again the Scripture (Luke 2,27). It was on the very day when the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph had come to the Temple in order to perform the ritual prescribed by the Jewish Law.

If we follow the legend, there’s clear that Symeon was, in the day he met Jesus, more than 300 years old (according to the legend, about 360), a quite unbelievable age. But if we put that together with the describing of the lives of the first ancestors off the humanity, Adam lived 930 years, Seth 912, Jared 962, Matusalem 969, Lamech, the father of Noah, 953 - venerable ages. Many churchfathers understand that literally, so I don’t know I should doubt, only because in our century it would be laughable. I would rather incline to believe the text of the Bible.

After seeing the Holy Child, Symeon took him into his arms and said a prayer to the Lord, which is read in all the Vesperal services of the Byzantine rite: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2,29-32). This prayer, read into the context described, it passes very well. The time for waiting would have been very long and difficult to him. Even a text from the Psalms says that the age of a man is 70 or 80, but what is more than that, is only sorrow and pain (Psalm 90, 10).That Symeon lived long beyond the normal life expectancy is mentioned by George Kedrinos in his Synopsis and by Euthymios Zygabenos in the Commentary on Luke 2, who means that the Elder Symeon was at least two hundred and seventy years old when he received the Christ Child in his arms.

But there’s not all about him. Symeon is the first one to prophesize to the Holy Mary her “way” of feeling the pain. A marianic Golgotha means to prophesize to a mother the passion of her son. The mother’s pain reporting to the crucifixion is “sword through the heart” (Luke 2,23-24), which appears mostly in the western iconography. (add image).

Saint Symeon has been connected with different other legends, according to whom he was a rabbi, the son of Hillel and the father of Gamaliel mentioned in Acts 5,34, but that contrasts with the simple reference of Luke to Simeon as “a man in Jerusalem”. The apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus (17,1-3) mentions about two sons of Simeon, Charinus, and Leucius, who were resurrected, when Our Lord descended into the Hell (according to Mat. 27,52). The eastern tradition states that Symeon would have been a priest, that’s why he was at the temple. The Churchfathers who mention that are Athanasius the Great, in About the same nature of the Father and of the Son, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in Homily at the Presentation of the Lord, and St. Epiphanius of Salamis, in Teaching about the Parents of the Old Law. Also saint Joseph the Hymnographer, the composer of the Canon for the celebration of St. Symeon, identifies him as a ministering priest: “O blessed priest, thou didst offer up the sacrifices of the law, the lamb, for ineffable mercy, showing forth beforehand the blood of the Savior; and receiving Him incarnate, O Symeon, thou wast shown to be more glorious than Moses and all the prophets”.

Saint Anna

The Evangelist Luke speaks in the further 3 verses of his story about the Presentation about a mysterious prophetess named Anna, who also prophesized the Messiah. “And there was Anna, a prophetess, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, she was much advanced in days, having lived with an husband seven years from her virginity, and she is a widow of about eighty-four years, who did depart not from the temple, with fasts and supplications serving, night and day, and she, at that hour, having come in, was confessing, likewise, to the Lord, and was speaking concerning him, to all those looking for redemption in Jerusalem”. (Luke 2,36-38)

A Jesuit scholar from the 17th century, Cornelius Lapide pointed out that the name of Phanuel means “the face of God”, while Anna means “Grace”, an interesting combination of names, which symbolically may be connected with a text from Genesis 32,30: “For grace proceeds from the face and from the mouth of God, and is breathed into the faithful”. Also the place where Jacob saw God face to face, was called by him Peniel or “Phanuel”. The mystery about Anna is bigger, because she came from the tribe of Asher, one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel.

Luke describes that Anna was very old, and many Bibles and older commentaries state that she was 84 years old. Anyway, the passage from Luke’s Gospel is ambiguous: it could mean that she was 84 years old, or that she had been a widow for 84 years. Some scholars, abd between them also Ambrosius of Milan, consider the latter to be the more likely option. On this option, she could not have married younger than about age 14, and so she would have been at least 14 + 7 + 84 = 105 years old. The intention of St. Luke is probably to state that she practically was like a virgin, so that the purity of the prophecy seems to be connected with the carnal purity, which is also seen in the eastern Christianity and specially in the monasticism as a “must be”.

Saint Anna, who’s name means symbolically “Grace”, is the Western tradition the protector saint of the widows, virgins and ascete women. The Catholic Church celebrates her on September 1, but in the Eastern Church she is celebrated together with St. Symeon, on February 3.

The Relics of Saint Symeon the God-Receiver

There are two different traditions about the “trip” of the relics of St. Symeon the Prophet. In the West there is the tradition that Charles the Great might have obtained, after an incredible journey in Constantinople, the arm of the saint which had carried the Christ. This relic might have been deposited at Aachen, and from there it was moved to Saint Denis, near Paris, by Charles the Bald. Some other places who are hosting traditionally parts of the Relics are Perigueux, Palermo, and Brussels.

Another tradition, which may not necessary contradict the first, states that the body of Saint Simeon was moved from Syria to Constantinople sometimes between 565 and 578, during the reign of Justin II, who settled them in the Church of Saint James the Brother of the Lord, which was raised by Emperor Justin, near Hagia Sophia, in the sixth century. His grave was seen by the Russian pilgrim St Anthony, the future Archbishop of Novgorod (October 8) in 1200. Maybe from here a part of them were offered to Charles the Great, but there are no mentions in the Byzantine documents. The Relics of the Saint remained here until the Crusaders captured Constantinople in 1203 with the help of the Venetian fleet. The crusaders took the Relics of St. Symeon only in 1203 and let them in Zara (now, Zadar, in Croatia) on the Dalmatian Coast, controlled by the Venetians, in the Church of the Virgin, the pilgrim’s hospice at that time, apparently because of a big storm on the sea, who prevented a further sailing to Venice.

There is a church called San Simeone Grande in Venice, dedicated to the saint, where there is a beautiful monument (cenotaph), in which is kept an old shrine from Zadar, dated in 1317. On it there is mentioned that “here was the body of Symeon for 114 years” (hic stetit corpus Beati Symeonis annis centum et XIIII), but now this monument is empty.

On 17 October 2010, at the insistence of the Abbot Theodoret of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, the Archbishop Želimir Puljić of Zadar offered a part of these relics to the Church of the Katamon Monastery of St. Simeon, being received by the Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem. In this monastery there was an old grave, traditionally the very grave of St. Symeon

About the relics of St. Anna I couldn’t find any information. So how much her life is a mystery, as much also her earthly remains are unknown.

Troparion (Hymn) of the Saints

In the Temple thou didst embrace as an infant God the Word Who became flesh. O glorious Elder Symeon, who didst hold God in thine arms. And also as a prophetess the august Anna ascribed praise to Him. We acclaim you as divine servants of Christ!

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