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Hermits against War Can hermits be forces for peace? the example of the pillar saints, asks Frank Gelli


he definition of a hermit is that of a person living in solitude. When one considers that the harshest and most-dreaded punishment that can be inflicted on a prisoner is solitary confinement, one realises the severity of a hermit’s life. In Christianity, however, being a hermit is a free choice, emanating from the highest religious motives. Surprisingly, saints like the pillar-dwelling ascetics


islam today

May 2018

of Syria and Asia Minor show how a hermit can also be active in promoting peace among people, individuals and nations. The first famous stylite hermit to live on top of a pillar (‘stylus’ is Greek for column or pillar) was a Syrian shepherd-boy called Simeon (390459 AD). Especially devoted to bodily austerities, such as long fasts, he lived in various monasteries in Northern Syria until his Abbot felt he was going too far in self-denial and asked him to

leave. To give an example, he is said to have passed the whole 40 days of Lent in imitation of Christ, without either eating or drinking, so that he nearly died. On another occasion he had his leg fastened to a rock with an iron chain. Wisely, a priest told him it was better to forge an iron will, subservient to God’s will, than to be physically chained. Simeon obeyed and had the iron fetter removed. His reputation for holiness quickly grew among the surrounding

Ruins of the ancient baptistery near the Basilica of St Simeon where the Saint lived on a pillar for about 40 years, Qala›at Samaan, Syria. The baptistery was built a little after the main church but is an important part


Islam today issue 59 may 2018  
Islam today issue 59 may 2018