Tuesday, September 10, 2013

If I had the wings of a dove, I'd fly away and be at rest... (Psalm 55:6)

A modern stylite?

Evidently.  A recluse in Georgia lives atop a high outcrop of rock, following the monastic tradition of ancient stylites. 

Maxime Qavtaradze is following in the ancient traditions of the Stylites, or Pillar Saints: men of the Byzantine world who believed residing up pillars would remove them from temptation and provide ample opportunity for prayer and contemplation. 
The monk's life of solitude came to light after New Zealand photographer Amos Chapple was permitted to photograph the man and his rock, but only after he had spent four days in intensive prayer. 
At first life on the Katskhi Pillar, Mr Qavtaradze's limestone monolith which stands in the Caucasus Mountains that run through Georgia, was tough for the monk. 
"For the first two years there was nothing up here so I slept in an old fridge to protect me from the weather," said the 59-year-old monk. Later, Christian supporters renovated a derelict chapel and built a cottage to provide him with a few creature comforts.  
Mr Qavtaradze makes the 20 minute and perilous climb down a ladder attached to the pillar twice a week to pray at a small monastery at the foot of the tower. But he relies on daily provisions winched to him by supporters on the ground.

Once home to Stylites, the Katskhi Pillar had remained derelict for centuries, and it was only in 1944 that a team of climbers scaled the tower, finding at the top the skeleton of its last occupant. Mr Qavtaradze moved in 1993 after taking his monastic vows, and found it moved him closer to God and help banish a troubled past.  
"It is up here in the silence that you can feel God's presence," he said. "When I was young I drank, sold drugs, everything. When I ended up in prison I knew it was time for a change.  
"I used to drink with friends in the hills around here and look up at this place, where land met sky," he added. "We knew the monks had lived up there before and I felt great respect for them." - Finish reading here.
 Earlier stylites were said to stand day in and night out, atop high columns - at least they are thus depicted in icons.  So this stylite is more a recluse, hermit whose solitude is uniquely situated atop an outcrop of rock.  It strikes me as more habitable, more hospitable.  The fact that the stylite descends twice a week suggests he is well guided or directed in the spiritual life, that is, he is probably spiritually accountable to someone.  He also has access to the sacraments.

That said, the hermitage seems sufficient protection from the elements.  I would like to live there myself, although I wouldn't want to come down twice a week.  It's somewhat edifying to know that aspects of ancient monasticism continue to be observed - especially penitence.

It's too bad his solitude was invaded and exposed to worldly curiosity.

Did you ever stop and think that monks and nuns are just ordinary men and women?

They just dress funny.

I've been thinking that the mystical life/spiritual life - the way of perfection - is really analogous with the ordinary Christian life.  It isn't something separate from ordinary life.  I suppose that sounds just too obvious of course, but what I'm trying to say is that the so-called stages of prayer, the prescriptions for the 'way of perfection' - commonly understood to mark the stages of the spiritual life, are indeed analogous with ordinary Christian life - that is, the authentic Christian life.  The acquisition of the Holy Spirit, our imitation and conformity to Christ, union with God - whatever you call it:  The means are the same, the failings as well as the progress of the soul cannot be compartmentalized or removed from ordinary life. 

In itself, climbing a high column doesn't bring us closer to God.  God is already close, closer than we 'can ask or imagine'.  As St. Paul admonished in today's first reading:
"Walk in Christ Jesus, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving..." - Colossians 2:6-15
I think the lives of the early Christian martyrs witness to this fact - from there, we understand better the purpose of standing on a column at the mercy of the elements - and the 'elemental spirits'.

I wish I could express my thought better, but I lack the vocabulary to do so. 
"We are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them." - Ephesians 2



  1. I like what you said about sanctification occurring amidst the ordinary. Many of us are craving something extraordinary: another Lourdes, Fatima or another Padre Pio or Anthony of Padua. But that's not the way God works, and even Bernadette and Lucia had to sanctify themselves amidst the ordinary once the apparitions ended.

    Unfortunately, damnation also occurs amidst the ordinary. You don't have to be a war criminal, bank robber or serial killer to end up in hell. Remember the well-traveled story about the German nun who left behind an account of her young friend who rejected God? The young woman, Ani, died in a car accident, and was damned because she had a heart of stone. Her sins were very pedestrian by today's standards, but her fundamental orientation was one of self-isolation and absorption.
    The story was published by the diocese of Treves, Germany, and the explanatory footnotes are from Fr. Krempel CP, Doctor of Theology. It can be found here:

    The Bunuel movie clip was definitely something. Can you imagine the brilliant movies he could have made as a Catholic?

  2. I've been having the same realization regarding ordinary life while reading Abandonment to Divine Providence lately. The still, small voice of God is there right in the midst of 'life' and all that entails. I think the more primary task is discerning what kind of life God wants each of us to live - meaning what vocation - and then living it and finding God there, wherever that may be.

  3. Scott - You are right. I also read the story. It is scary that on her last day she said no to the inspiration to go to Mass.

  4. Patrick - That book and the letters of De Caussade are treasures.

  5. I often think about how the Saints and priests, monks and nuns are human beings. I love the book by DeSales, Introduction to the Devout Life. He outlines how all people can aspire to live their vocations to the fullest. Much like Patrick said.
    I think we all contribute to the whole, no matter how hidden, or maybe, especially when hidden.
    We met a local hermit while at a retreat last year. (The Jesus Retreat). I was very taken with how stripped of trappings he was. And how fervent were his prayers, and how completely unselfconscious he was. You should have seen how clear and bright his eyes were. All that time spent with Jesus.


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