October 28th, Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude
“In Persia, the birthday of the blessed Apostles Simon the Canaanite and Thaddeus, who is also called Jude; Simon preached the Gospel in Egypt and Thaddeus in Mesopotamia, and then they both entered Persia and suffered martyrdom there, after having made subject an innumerable multitude of that people to the yoke of Christ.” (Roman Martyrology)
It is a minor point of irony that both Simon and Jude share names with others of the Apostles – St. Simon, of course, shares his name with St. Peter who was first called Simon; while St. Jude has this name in common with Judas, the betrayer. Thus, St. Simon is called either “the Zealot” (“Zelotes”) or “the Canaanite” in order to distinguish him from the Prince of the Apostles, while St. Jude is called “Thaddeus” as distinct from the Iscariot.
We do well on this day to consider the person of St. Simon the Zealot: Who was he? Where was he from? Was he a Zealot? And how did he die?
St. Simon was not a Canaanite
In Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18, St. Simon is distinguished from St. Simon Peter as being “the Canaanite”. This has led some – notably, those who know neither Greek nor Hebrew – to conclude that Simon was literally a Canaanite gentile, and not a Jew. A brief consideration of the Greek text of the Gospels will show that the traditional belief that St. Simon was a Jew is the better opinion.
The Greek text of both Matthew and Mark calls St. Simon a “Canaanite”, but uses the Greek word: ὁ Καναναῖος which can be transliterated as ho kananaios. However, the land of Canaan – from which come the Canaanites – is named after Canaan, the son of Ham, whose name is spelled Χανααν (chanaan). The Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 is called “Canaanite” with the Greek word Χαναναία (chananaia)
What is important to notice here is that the first Greek letter of the word “Canaanite” as applied to St. Simon is the “Kappa” (Κ) or the “k”, while the first letter of the word “Canaanite” as applied to the people of the region of Canaan is the “Chi” (Χ) or the “ch”. They are not even the same words! Though they look identical in English (and also in Latin), the Greek (as well as the Hebrew) is clear: St. Simon is not a “Canaanite” as being from Canaan.
What then does the word “Canaanite” mean, as applied to St. Simon? Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide explains: “This Simon is not so called because he was sprung from the Canaanites, as some wrongly imagine, for all the Apostles were Jews, but because he was born at Cana of Galilee.”
Still, there is some linguistic difficulty here as well (the Greek for “Canaanite” does not quite match up with the Greek for “of Cana”) – hence, some of the modern scholars argue that St. Simon did not even come from Cana. [personally, I side with St. Jerome and the major part of the tradition (of both East and West), holding that St. Simon was indeed from Cana in Galilee]
However, we must admit that the sur-name “Canaanite” implies more than simply the location from wither Simon came. Indeed, the name “Canaanite” is closely related to the Hebrew word for “zealous”.
St. Simon was not a Zealot
In both Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13, St. Simon is called “the Zealot” or “Zelotes”. However, we are not to think that St. Simon was a member of the politico-religious Jewish movement of the Zealots. Rather, St. Simon is called the Zealot in reference to his great zeal for the faith.
Here it is good to note that the Hebrew word for zeal is qana, which would easily lead to a Greek transliteration into “Canaanite” or Kananaios (as in Matthew 10:4), meaning “the zealous”. Thus, even when St. Simon is called “the Canaanite”, the real meaning of this word is that he was filled with zeal for the true faith. Hence, “the Canaanite” means the same as “the Zealot”.
St. Jerome, in particular, has maintained that the name “Zelotes” or “the Zealot” (together with “the Canaanite”) is a double allusion both to the fact that St. Simon was born in Cana in Galilee and to his great zeal.
St. Simon, the bridegroom of Cana?
The Greeks, Copts, and Ethiopians believe that St. Simon is Nathanael who is mentioned only in St. John’s Gospel. However, the Latin tradition (with good, indeed better, reason) holds that Nathanael is St. Bartholomew.
Still, it is worth noting that the Greeks have traditionally believed that St. Simon was the bridegroom of the marriage of Cana, where our Savior turned the water into wine.
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide is open to this tradition as well; since there is good reason to believe (following the more ancient tradition, rather than the modern speculation) that St. Simon was originally from Cana.
The martyrdom of St. Simon
St. Simon preached the Gospel throughout the known world – though it is difficult to establish just when and where this ministry took place. We have good reason to believe that he suffered martyrdom in Persia, perhaps at Suanir. Other ancient traditions believe that he was crucified while ministering as the Bishop of Jerusalem (after having preached in Samaria for some time).
The principal Latin tradition holds that Simon was sawed to pieces in Suanir, Persia. Moreover, most depictions of his martyrdom show St. Simon being sawn in half – either top down, or bottom up. For this reason, he is often represented as holding a saw.
St. Simon the Zealot, Pray for us!