Friday, September 20, 2013

Mountain Spirituality, Stylite Style

During the occasions when I visit St. Thomas Orthodox Church (see my earlier article, I still act like a good Lutheran, and always sit in the same pew toward the back of the church.  So, I always end up sitting by an icon of St. Simeon the Stylite.  Given my interest in what I have called "mountain spirituality" (see my earlier posts here -, its perhaps no accident that I sit by St. Simeon.

St. Simeon was a Fifth Century hermit-monk who lived for 37 years on top of a small platform.  He had developed a reputation as a holy man, so many came to him for prayers and advice, but he desired solitude.  So, he ascended to the top of an abandoned pillar in order to live and pray alone.

As you can see in many of the icons depicting St. Simeon, though, he did not achieve his desire for solitude by living on top of the pillar, as many still came to see him. After St. Simeon, others hermits, known as "stylites" followed his ascetic practice of living, praying, and fasting on top of platforms. 

I thought this tradition was unique to the Byzantine period, and was therefore extinct.  To my surprise, I read an article in yesterday's Huffington Post that this ancient tradition is being revived by a monk who lives in the former Soviet republic of Georgia:

The monk, a 59 year old man named Maxime Qavtaradze, spent time in prison during his younger years, but now, like St. Simeon, offers prayers and counsel to people who come to rock to meet him.  But, also like St. Simeon, he lives on the rock because of the solitude:  "It is up here in the silence that you can feel God's presence." 

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