Simon of Cyrene
|Bishop, and Martyr|
|Venerated in||Church of the East, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church|
|Attributes||Carrying Jesus’ Cross before His Crucifixion|
Simon of Cyrene (Hebrew: שמעון, Standard Hebrew Šimʿon, Tiberian Hebrew Šimʿôn; Greek: Σίμων Κυρηναῖος, Simōn Kyrēnaios; ) was the man compelled by the Romans to carry the cross of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus was taken to his crucifixion, according to all three Synoptic Gospels:
Cyrene was located in northern Africa in eastern Libya. A Greek city in the province of Cyrenaica, it had a Jewish community where 100,000 Judean Jews had been forced to settle during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323–285 BC) and was an early center of Christianity.
Simon's act of carrying the cross, patibulum (crossbeam in Latin), for Jesus is the fifth or seventh of the Stations of the Cross. Some interpret the passage as indicating that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus. Others point out that the text itself says nothing, that he had no choice, and that there is no basis to consider the carrying of the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.
Mark 15:21 identifies Simon as "the father of Alexander and Rufus". Tradition states that they became missionaries; the inclusion of their names may suggest that they were of some standing in the Early Christian community at Rome. It has also been suggested that the Rufus (in Greek: Ῥοῦφον or Rhouphon) mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene. Some also link Simon himself with the "men of Cyrene" who preached the Gospel to the Greeks in Acts 11:20. On the other hand, Simon's name alone does not prove he was Jewish, and Alexander and Rufus were both common names and may have referred to others.
A burial cave in the Kidron Valley discovered in 1941 by E. L. Sukenik, belonging to Cyrenian Jews and dating before AD 70, was found to have an ossuary inscribed twice in Greek "Alexander son of Simon". It cannot, however, be certain that this refers to the same person.
According to some Gnostic traditions, Simon of Cyrene, by mistaken identity, suffered the events leading up to the crucifixion. This is the story presented in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, although it is unclear whether Simon or another actually died on the cross. This is part of a belief held by some Gnostics that Jesus was not of flesh, but only took on the appearance of flesh (see also Basilides, and Swoon hypothesis).
Basilides, in his gospel of Basilides, is reported by Irenaeus as having taught a docetic doctrine of Christ's passion. He states the teaching that Christ, in Jesus, as a wholly divine being, could not suffer bodily pain and did not die on the cross; but that the person crucified was, in fact, Simon of Cyrene. Irenaeus quotes Basiledes:
He appeared on earth as a man and performed miracles. Thus he himself did not suffer. Rather, a certain Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry his cross for him. It was he who was ignorantly and erroneously crucified, being transfigured by him, so that he might be thought to be Jesus. Moreover, Jesus assumed the form of Simon, and stood by laughing at them. — Irenaeus, Against Heresies
The 1979 comedy film Monty Python's Life of Brian contains a vignette referencing the Simon of Cyrene episode. In this case, a seemingly pious and generous man offers to one of the condemned carrying a cross, "Brother, let me shoulder your burden." Upon doing so, the condemned man runs off, leaving the generous man stuck with the cross and future crucifixion.
The film The Passion of the Christ portrays Simon as a Jew who, having been forced by the Romans to carry the cross, is initially unwilling but comes to show compassion to Jesus and helps him.
This commemoration is found only in the Lectionary Paris BN gr. 282 (9th cent.).
Et gentibus ipsorum autem apparuisse eum in terra hominem, et virtutes perfecisse. Quapropter neque passsum eum, sed Simonem quendam Cyrenæum angariatum portasse crucem ejus pro eo: et hunc secundum ignorantiam et errorem crucifixum, transfiguratum ab eo, uti putaretur ipse esse Jesus: et ipsum autem Jesum Simonis accepisse formam, et stantem irrisisse eos.