Mar 29 2013

Symeon the New Theologian – The fire rises in me

Published by at 9:39 am under Poetry

The fire rises in me
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Ivan M. Granger

The fire rises in me,
      and lights up my heart.
Like the sun!
Like the golden disk!
Opening, expanding, radiant —
      — a flame!

I say again:
      I don’t know
      what to say!

I’d fall silent
— If only I could —
but this marvel
      makes my heart leap,
it leaves me open mouthed
      like a fool,

urging me
      to summon words
      from my silence.

— from Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, by Ivan M. Granger

/ Photo by ImagineAMatrix /

This is a poem of fire and silence.

Why fire? In ecstasy, there is often a sense of heat — filled with immense love — that permeates the body. This warmth seems to emerge from the seat, flares in the belly, and rises upward, fanning out at the heart.

The fire rises in me,
and lights up my heart.

As this fire moves through the body, it also moves through the awareness, consuming all thoughts (or, more accurately, the tremors from which thoughts emerge).

I say again:
      I don’t know
      what to say!

This fire burns away even the thought of “I” — only the sense of this living flame remains.

it leaves me open mouthed
      like a fool…

But the heart, giddy with the expanding vista of bliss, nonetheless wants to share its joy. Though it has no words left, it still wishes to speak of “this marvel,”

urging me
      to summon words
      from my silence.

Have a day of bliss, fire and silence!

Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian poetry Symeon the New Theologian

Turkey (949 – 1032) Timeline
Christian : Eastern Orthodox

Symeon was born into an aristocratic family in Asia Minor (Turkey) and was given the name George. This was when the region was still part of the Christian Byzantine Empire. From boyhood George was groomed for a life in politics. At age eleven, he was sent to the capital Constantinople (Istanbul) to live with his uncle who guided him in his early education.

When he was 14, George met a monk at the the monastery of Studios named Symeon the Pious. George accepted Symeon the Pious as his spiritual director while continuing to prepare for a life in politics.

Somewhere around age 20, George was overcome by an ecstatic state in which, as with many other mystics, he experienced God as a living presence of radiant light.

Despite this radically transformative experience, he spent several more years attempting to fulfill his family’s expectations, eventually becoming an imperial senator. However, his continuing mystical experiences were not compatible with such a public life and, at age 27, he renounced his previous life and became a monk, entering the monastery at Studios to continue under the direct guidance his spiritual director, even taking on the same monastic name — Symeon.

The closeness teacher and disciple shared worried the monastic authorities and the two were separated. The young Symeon was given the choice of remaining at Studios and no longer receiving spiritual guidance from the elder Symeon, or he could go to another monastery and keep his spiritual director.

So as not to lose the guidance of Symeon the Pious, the young Symeon chose to move to the monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople. There, Symeon was ordained a priest and eventually became the abbot of the monastery, reviving the monastery’s life of prayer and meditation. While abbot of St. Mamas, Symeon wrote extensive treatises (called the Catecheses) as guidelines for the ideal monastic and God-focused life, emphasizing the power of contemplative prayer and meditation.

The mystical spiritual practices that he advocated led to further conflicts with authorities and Symeon was exiled in 1009 to a small hermitage on the far side of the Bosphorus.

Disciples began to gather around Symeon and soon the small hermitage grew into a full monastery. It was there that Symeon wrote his most personal work, Hymns of Divine Love, a collection of poems describing his mystical experiences.

Symeon’s doctrines and poetry emphasize not only the possibility, but the necessity of personally experiencing the Divine. He also stated that one need not be a monk or renunciate, saying that one “who has wife and children, crowds of servants, much property, and a prominent position in the world” can still directly experience communion with the divine.

He is called Symeon the New Theologian to distinguish him from John the Evangelist (called John the Theologian in Greek) and Gregory of Nyzanius (also called Gregory the Theologian in the Eastern Orthodox tradition).

More poetry by Symeon the New Theologian

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Symeon the New Theologian – The fire rises in me”

  1. Philemonon 30 Mar 2013 at 6:11 am

    Fire, heart and sun: such universal symbols! Fire has two aspects: heat, signifying love and light signifying knowledge. Both aspects are perfectly one in the Sun, shining at the heart of all creation.

  2. Jackon 30 Mar 2013 at 11:45 am

    Awesome Reading: As a Catholic Priest I cherish your choice of poems and your insights. Coming upon the Easter Vigil with the new fire this speaks to me deeply. I will even share it with the congregation. I do that often and show the people that there is a deep spirituality that is able to unite the Human Family with all of creation. Thanks and may the light and fire of the divine illumine our holy darkness

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