Symeon the New Theologian
Parable about Monasticism
and Silent Meditation
Teach me Inseparability, oh my Lord!
Let me fill my flesh
with Your Unearthly Light,
so that You always will be with me
in life and death!
Teach me Oneness, oh my Creator!
The prayer told by Symeon
Once there was a young man. His family was rich and noble. He studied successfully different sciences. Everyone expected him to make an excellent career in the Imperial Court…
But his heart’s desire was another. He did not want or look for riches! And he did not strive for glory and honor! But he often thought about the meaning of human life, about God and about how to understand the Divine mystery of existence.
He asked his father’s permission to retire to a monastery for the studies and for the purification of the soul.
The father was very angry with such a request of his son! He said to him:
“You are young! But only people in their old age go into a monastery to pray for forgiveness of their crimes! Change your mind! All other roads are open for you!”
The young man answered him:
“But why do you think, father, that only in old age, at the threshold of death — one needs to know about God and the meaning of life? What if my life is doomed to be short, so that I will not have time to find out — why do I live?
“I want to know about the meaning of life, about God, but not about how to please a sovereign or noblemen or how to occupy a higher position! I don’t want either to multiply your riches tenfold or hundredfold!
“I saw dead — young ones and old ones. And the same fate awaits everyone who is alive now! And if a person does not know why he or she lives — what answer can this person give to God when the time comes to die?”
But his father forbade him from going to a monastery. And the young man obeyed his wish.
Yet he did not leave the search for God and the meaning of human life.
Once he went to an elder — a prior of a monastery. This elder was very much honored by people.
The young man was welcomed by the elder and told him about his striving for a monastic life and about the prohibition of his father.
The elder looked at the young man kindly and said:
“Why do you want to live in a monastery if you are not enticed by earthly temptations, but attracted by the love for the Lord? Living in the world, you can do all the same things as you would do in a monastery!
“Who is a real monk? It is not that one who hides oneself from the world in a dark cell in order not to see or hear anything!
“A soul realizes itself before God not because it lives inside the walls of a monastery!
“A monk is the one who dedicates all his acts and thoughts to God and seeks passionately to cleanse the soul before the Heavenly Father!”
And the young man asked the elder to teach him how to keep a monastic live while living in the world:
“Tell me, how should I live from now on? What should I refuse and what should I strive for?
The elder said:
“Give up indulging yourself in everything bad! And to understand what is bad, you can always ask your conscience. It never deceives you!
“Give up laziness and anger!
“Give up the idle talks! Do not speak a word in vain! Restrain your speech by the silence!
“Don’t offend others!
“Don’t be offended yourself!
“Forgive when others are unfair to you! Be meek and ask forgiveness, especially when you yourself have been wrong!
“Jesus taught to love our neighbors! Try to realize this in practice!
“This will be enough for you to begin with.”
But the young man asked:
“But how to pray? I know that monks spend every day before the Heavenly Father chanting prayers, and through this, they obtain grace!”
And the elder replied:
“Well, if you want to be before God incessantly, I’ll teach you a silent meditation that you can practice all the time.
“You must learn to stay in the silence in your spiritual heart! And then — not before an icon, but in your own spiritual heart — light the lamp of love for your Heavenly Father! And let the fire of love always shine in the silence of the spiritual heart!
“Whatever you do, do it with patience and diligence! And do not interrupt your silent meditation!”
The young man began trying to do what the elder told him. And it turned out to be… not so easy! Sometimes he began to see inside himself the shadows of irritation or anger, which he could not restrain in time… Sometimes he noticed how unnecessary words were pronounced by him thoughtlessly or out of place… Sometimes he got offended when others were unfair to him… Sometimes he saw his own laziness or forgot about his silent meditation…
But he did not stop working on himself as a soul.
And so closely was he watching for his thoughts and deeds that he changed in a short time.
And his silent meditation was shining with joy inside his heart! And he made an effort to keep it shining. And since then the lamp lighted in the soul for God was always radiating!
And he came again to the elder and said:
“I feel so good because of the silent meditation — as if God Himself is watching it!”
“Why do you think He isn’t watching?” — the elder asked him. — “God sees and knows everything: each thought and each action of every one of us! At that very moment when you think about God, He is ready to help you with an answer. It is so, because He is always everywhere! And your silent meditation is pleasant for Him, since in this meditation you don’t want anything for yourself but only to glorify and thank the Lord!”
And the young man changed so much in a short time that his father relented and allowed him to realize his desire to go to the monastery to the wise elder for learning.
* * *
So the elder taught him further: “You’ve learned the first silent meditation — the heart meditation! And now I’ll teach you the second silent meditation, which consists in the mergence of the soul with the Holy Spirit.”
The elder invited him to the temple, where the flow of the sun's rays was coming in through the window, and said:
“Look: this sunlight is like the Divine Light that proceeds from the Father!
“A human body is a temple, and God is the Light! So you should fill your own temple of the soul with the flow of the Divine Light!
“What is this Light? What is Its nature? This Light is Love. It proceeds from the Heavenly Father. And the entrance for this Light of the Father’s Love is the spiritual heart that was opened by the first silent meditation.”
And then the young man felt that this Light was… Living and that this Light was the Flow of God’s Love!
And in that Light he touched the Great Purity!
And — for a moment — he became One with this Light!…
* * *
A lot of time had passed since then. The young man was trying hard to master the second silent meditation. But he could not fill himself once again with the Holy Spirit until he realized that only those could merge with the Flow of God’s Love who themselves became such Love — tender, pure, and giving!
It is so, because the similar can merge only with the similar!
* * *
But living in the monastery, the young man saw that all the same things happened here as in the world: anger, resentments, vanity, and envy… He noticed in other monks those things that he considered unacceptable for a monk. And his confusion was growing day after day!
He asked the elder to advise him what he should do to avoid the feeling of condemnation of what he saw and how to help in such a trouble.
And the elder said to him:
“Who is a monk? That is one who strives for God with all thoughts of the mind and with all the soul!
“But a soul cannot take off immediately all the heavy covers that have adhered to it during many years. These covers cloud the eyes and ears of a soul, hide its wounds and defects, and paralyze it with heaviness, which does not allow a soul to see and feel the Light of the Lord!
“It’s not easy to take these covers off. That is why souls cannot be cleansed and healed quickly!
“That one who can see these covers and defects without condemnation can be a healer of souls.
“I am going to appoint you — instead of me — as the prior of the monastery, for I have to leave soon…
“You are young, but your purity and sincerity before the Heavenly Father guarantees that you will take care of the souls in this house of the Lord better than other people! You can help those who are striving to purify themselves as souls and to love the Heavenly Father!
“If you see that you can remove at least one heavy cover from the soul, heal one of its wounds, or correct one of its defects — do this for the glory of the Lord! From now on it will be your main occupation!
“Teach worldly people to live in peace and love and keep the other commandments of Jesus.
“Teach monks to experience themselves as souls in front of God.
“You yourself will gain wisdom — only if you help other people to obtain purity of souls in front of God.
“You should learn not to condemn but to awaken in souls a deliberate aspiration to get rid of vices.
“The Lord will always tell you what medication you should prescribe every soul!”
And the elder fell silent…
But the young man dared to ask:
“You told me that there is the third silent meditation… Please, tell me about it!”
“The third meditation will be cognized by you when you abandon yourself…”
* * *
And the elder left.
The young man became the prior of the monastery.
And because of the great responsibility — he always asked God how he should act. And he began to hear recommendations of God and to see the Divine Light — as the Sun!
The Holy Spirit began to flow through him — and his words and actions became filled with wisdom.
And since that moment the second silent meditation became his essence, for the Holy Spirit was in him, spoke and acted through him.
* * *
Time passed by… He helped many people to get rid of heavy covers that stifled souls, shrouded them from the Light, stopped their breathing… He healed many souls’ wounds, taught how to correct many souls’ defects.
… At that time his father died, and the young man inherited all his estate.
But he did not give his father’s riches to the monastery, as many monks dreamt… And he did not cover icons and the interiors of the temple with gold and precious stones… Instead of this, he opened a school for children, a hospital, and a shelter for lonely old people…
And there were monks unsatisfied with this. Those monks lived in the monastery as in the world: they looked for position and rank, for favor of people with power, and for respect from their inferiors… But they did not try to liberate themselves as souls from heavy covers and terrible vices…
They decided to expel their prior from the monastery… They wrote a report in which they stated that their prior was tempted by the evil spirits, because he saw the Light similar to sunlight, heard recommendations from the Holy Spirit, received guidance from God, and composed hymns for Him being out of his mind!
Thus he was expelled from the monastery… And taking off his prior clothes, he left having nothing but the second silent meditation mastered by him.
* * *
And when he was coming out of the monastery gate — old and grey-haired — people asked him: “Who are you?”
And he answered: “God’s monk.”
So he went to the seashore, then found a secluded cave in a mountain, and began to live there.
And he saw God!
And he heard God!
And God was with him always!
And the God’s monk was only with God!
And when he did not leave the Light of the Holy Spirit anymore — the Heavenly Father opened for him the gates of His Abode!
And the soul put on the robes of Christ.
At that moment he cognized the third silent meditation, because there was already nothing for him but God! Only God was Everything and everywhere!
Yes, now God was living in the monk and did through him all that He needed…
And signs of God’s Love appeared around the monk…
And people began to call him Saint Elder. And so many pilgrims gathered around him that they built a new cloister near his cave.
And the elder never refused to give them advice and assistance.
* * *
One day a young man came to him and asked:
“Tell me, wise elder, for what have you lived your life?”
And the elder replied:
“At first I lived to cognize the heart love.
“Then I lived to give love to people, to teach them to love, so that they could learn from our Creator what care is.
“And now God lives in me and I live in Him. And what I do — it is He Who does.”
The young man said:
“Teach me to live like this!”
And the elder began to tell him about the first silent meditation…