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Stylites: So you think you are dedicated?

In its almost-2000 year history, Christianity has produced many different types of groups. Most of these grew out of different ways of understanding Scripture, but not always. Sometimes people simply came up with a different way of being Christian which fit their circumstances.

One of these groups, and it was tiny, was known as "stylites"; this unique method of Christianity existed from the 400s to the 900s. It wasn’t a very popular Christian lifestyle and you probably would not have joined it. Why not? Read on to find out.

But first we have to talk about monks. Protestants do not have monks (well, the Anglicans have a some in England, but that is a different story), but Catholics and Orthodox do. The idea first developed in the Egyptian desert in the 300s. Christian men (and often women) in the Egyptian cities sometimes fled from the busy-ness of a stressful urban life by moving to the desert. Their purpose was to reduce the stress and "noise" of the city so they could focus more clearly on God.

In this endeavor many found success. As a matter of fact, this type of quiet life became so popular that the number of monks and nuns living in the desert swelled. The first monks lived by themselves, but they soon gathered into small communities as the numbers increased. (This is origin of monasteries.)

So the deserts got more and more crowded (like the suburbs of today). Yet still some wanted to live a solitary life. They could not get away from people by moving out, and so they decided to move in the only other direction they could: up.

No, they didn’t kill themselves in order to be with God. Some individuals decided to go higher. But they didn’t go to the mountains, instead they went straight up--they started sitting on pillars (think about a column in front of a large house or some public building).

I am not kidding. A few Christians began sitting on pillars in order to get away from crowds. (They didn’t sit in small groups, instead each person had his own pillar.) They were known as "stylites" because the Greek word for "pillar" is "stulos." Often the stylite had a small structure (very small) built on top of the pillar on which he could lean. Stylites usually had followers and disciples who stayed on the ground and provided food and water to their leaders.

And of course they drew a crowd, which is what they were trying to get away from (or maybe some did it to get the attention?). They engaged in conversation with the people below, and many came seeking wisdom from someone who was closer to God (pun intended). Stylites often remained on their pillars until death.

The most famous (and first) stylite was Simeon (390-459). He lived alone on the ground for a number of years and then started living on pillars. He started low and gradually moved up to living on a pillar about 40 feet tall, which is where he was when he died.

Whether or not you agree with them, those people were dedicated. They found a unique solution to the problem we all face of having too much to do and too little time to do it in.

©2005 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved