Wednesday, December 11, 2019


There have been many, many kinds of saints. One of the interesting classes is that of the Stylites. The stylitic movement was begun by St. Simeon Stylite the Elder, who at some point in the early fifth century got kicked out of his monastery for being too weirdly ascetic; his fellow monks told him that he was not suited for life in a community. So he became a hermit, but in his eremitic life he continued his weirdness; at one point his ascetic discipline was to stay standing as long as possible, which some people were beginning to try out at the time. Extreme ascetic devotions were popular in Syria at the time, and word of him spread, so that pilgrims started going out of their way to see him and get his blessing, and then he became pilgrimage destination in his own right. That really started exasperating him as crowds started interfering with his prayers. So he came up with an ingenious solution: having discovered a pillar in some nearby ruins, he built a little platform on top it, climbed up, and stayed there. It definitely improved things, although he eventually had to move to a taller pillar, and he eventually had to have people build a wall around to control the crowds. Passing shepherd boys would pass him food. The crowds still came -- more than ever, in fact, to see the monk on the pillar -- but visitors could climb up part of the way to talk to him if they needed, he'd often preach to the grounds, and he started corresponding with people who sent him messages. You'd think living on top of a pillar all the time would reduce your social interactions, but in fact, while the interactions became more manageable, being on his own terms, St. Simeon's interaction with the world increased massively. However weird pillar-life might sound, it was a very effective and balanced ascetic approach, allowing for a little of everything. St. Simeon, too weird to accommodate life in the communities he found, climbed a pillar and found a community coming to accommodate him.

Thus the stylitic movement was born, with a long list of stylites following in his wake, many of whom became saints: St. Simeon Stylites the Younger, St. Symeon Stylites of Lesbos, St. Luke the Younger, and so forth. And that brings us to St. Daniel the Stylite, whose feast is today. He visited St. Simeon Stylite the Elder in his travels from monastery to monastery, and it inspired him to imitate the saint. He found a great place for a pillar, the ruins of a pagan temple north of Constantinople; he climbed up, and did the standing asceticism as much as possible. Unfortunately, he never asked the owner of the land for permission. The owner tried to convince him to go, and couldn't, so the owner appealed to the Patriarch of Constantinople, St. Gennadius. St. Gennadius couldn't convince him to leave, and St. Daniel managed, somehow, to convince the Patriarch that he shouldn't have to leave. He stayed there over thirty years until his death in the 490s, preaching against monophysitism and encouraging people to pray, and it was widely said that people who touched his pillar were cured of their illnesses.