I blogged on this site once about the original and most famous stylite, St Simeon the Stylite as well as one of his successors, St Daniel the Stylite. Stylites are people who are the living embodiment of ancient desert monasticism, poised between earth and heaven, continually interceding for those below. They were most popular in the fifth century and have pretty much died out. But here we see that there is one in Georgia! What impresses me is that the monastery at the bottom of the pillar serves as an outreach to troubled young men. This is what true asceticism is about — the quest for holiness and God reaching ever upwards and then, as a natural result, turn outwards to bring Grace to the world.
I recently read the Life of Daniel the Stylite here. St. Daniel lived from 409-493 in the Eastern Roman Empire. I recommend his Life. It’s long, but the author gives a nice recap at the end:
Our all-praiseworthy father Daniel bade adieu to his parents when he was twelve years old, then for twenty-five years he lived in a monastery; after that during five years he visited the fathers and from each learned what might serve his purpose, making his anthology from their teaching. At the time when the crown of his endurance began to be woven the Saint had completed his forty-second year, and at that age he came by divine guidance, as we have explained above, to this our imperial city. He dwelt in the church for nine years, standing on the capital of a column, thus training himself beforehand in the practice of that discipline which he was destined to bring to perfection. For he had learned from many divine revelations that his duty was to enter upon the way of life practised by the blessed and sainted Simeon.
For three and thirty years and three months he stood for varying periods on the three columns, as he changed from one to another, so that the whole span of his life was a little more than eighty-four years.
During these he was deemed worthy to receive ‘the prize of his high calling’;( 1 Philipp. 3:14.)1 he blessed all men, he prayed on behalf of all, he counselled all not to be covetous, he instructed all in the things necessary to salvation, he showed hospitality to all, yet he possessed nothing on earth beyond the confines of the spot on which the enclosure and religious houses had been built. And though many, amongst whom were sovereigns and very distinguished officials occupying the highest posts, wished to present him with splendid possessions he never consented, but he listened to each one’s offer and then prayed that he might be recompensed by God for his pious intention.
One of the things from this life that interested me was his battle with demons in a little church. This demon-battling role is something that we find frequently in the monks and anchorites of the fourth and fifth centuries. The holy man does battle with the spiritual forces of evil on our behalf. St. Daniel cast out demons from people as well as places. He also healed the sick.
Holiness for the ancients wasn’t simply good, moral living. That’s called virtue. Holiness is that something more, that way of life that goes to the next level.
Martyrs, for example, bear witness to Christ through their deaths. The ascetic, once Roman persecution ceases, takes his place, bearing witness to Christ through his suffering. The martyrs are glorified by the wounds from their deaths — Tertullian imagines that they will still have them even at the Resurrection. Daniel was glorified through the wounds on his feet caused by standing on a pillar all the time.
The Stylite — a type of asceticism founded by Simeon — is a living symbol of what all monks are. He stands on his pillar between Earth and Heaven, interceding for the people below. He is an intermediary, and the pillar clearly shows us this aspect of the monastic role in society.
Daniel is also notable because, being a Stylite and being so close to Constantinople (1 mile North along the Bosporos), he was easily accessible to the emperors and aristocrats. The pious Emperor Leo of blessed memory (as the Life calls him) liked listening to Daniel so much that he had a palace built nearby. The Monophysite usurper Basiliscus sent an envoy to essentially get Daniel’s blessing. A very different world than our friend St. Antony of Egypt!
And so we see Daniel the Stylite. Living on a pillar isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it seems to have worked for him. One last thought from his biographer to close:
While we bear in mind our holy father’s spiritual counsels let us do our utmost to follow in his steps and to preserve the garment of our body unspotted and to keep the lamp of faith unquenched, carrying the oil of sympathy in our vessels that we may find mercy and grace in the day of judgment from the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost now and henceforth and to all eternity, Amen.