Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Monday, 19 October 2015

St Daniel the Stylite

Having been born in 409AD, and raised in Mesopotamia, Daniel accepted his call to monasticism at a very young age. Although there was reluctance from his Abbot, he was tonsured by the age of twelve due to his insistence and thirst for asceticism and solitude. 

St Daniel followed the example of his spiritual guide, Simeon the Stylite, who in the fifth century set the model for a somewhat strange form of penitential asceticism. With Syrian asceticism concentrating on solitude, rather than a shared common life in a monastery, the aim was to subdue to the passions of man's flesh, remaining stationary in a particular location or cell. Like Athonite and other ascetics of today, some would stand all night keeping vigil, and some would continuously stand in prayer for hours and days on end. 

Saint Simeon the Stylite lived upon a pillar, where he would pray, prostrate, and repent endlessly, with very little food or sleep. Daniel, after coming into contact with Simeon, knew he was being called to this specific way of life, devoted to Christ. 

Saint Daniel grew strongly in faith, wisdom and love for Christ, through his own ascetic struggles on the pillar. Like his predecessor Saint Simeon, he would be visited by many Christians, asking for his blessing and wisdom. There was only one instance where he decided to descend from the pillar, travelling to the Great Mother Church in Constantinople to confront the emperor regarding an issue with the faith. It was through Daniel's counselling, guidance and faith that this issue was sorted, and Orthodoxy was affirmed and secured.

It became abundantly clear to the Emperor, and Hierarchy of the Church that Daniel was a gifted, holy monastic and ascetic, as well as an example to all. His chosen form of asceticism, living on a column for thirty-three years is of course radical and rare, however it is the way in which he found his own path to sanctity, holiness and unity with God. 

In Daniel's life and example, we are able to see the importance, and significance of holiness, sainthood and asceticism within the Byzantine Empire throughout this period. Since the Early Church and its teaching, Christianity has been the faith that is not of this world. The Christian does not belong to a specific city or country, but awaits the coming of the renewer, restorer and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Christian's life should reflect the Lord's Kingdom, rather than this world. The Gospel clarifies that evil rules this world and its cares, with 'the ruler of this world cast out' (John 12:31) having 'no power over me.' (John 14:30) One way of going against the evil of this world is through the practice of asceticism, with much of the Byzantine world looking to this with wonder and admiration, as is still the case today in the Orthodox Church.

Saint Paul writes, 'I discipline my body and keep it under control' (1 Cor 9:27) 'for if you live according to the flesh you die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you live.' (Rom 8:13) The task of the ascetic Saint, such as for Saint Daniel, is to be constantly reminded of this calling, to transcend the deeds and passions of the flesh. This is the 'good fight' (1 Tim 6:12) fought by Saint Mary of Egypt, Saint Anthony, the Great Desert Father, and all the Saints of the Church. This is nothing less than acquiring complete freedom from sin, and is what we are called to. 

'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 judgement from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and henceforth and to all eternity, Amen.' 
- The Life and Works of our Holy Father St Daniel the Stylite

Main Source:
 - Three Byzantine Saints: Contemporary Biographies of St Daniel the Stylite, St Theodore of Sykeon and St John the Almsgiver, trans. Elizabeth Dawes, and instructions and notes by Norman H.Baynes, (London:1948) 

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