Of Anchorites and Stylites in Lent

I have never understood the aversion most Christians have to fasting. Say the word ‘fasting’ and you get distasteful and alarmed expressions, as if to say, “Good heavens! That’s rather unnecessarily extremist isn’t it?” One suspects that they think you go in for ‘physical mortifications’ of other kinds like flagellation or living in a cave or wearing a hair shirt or rolling naked in the briar patch or becoming a stylite.

I should add as a parenthesis that I think our modern society could use a few more troglodytes, hermits, stylites, anchorites and so forth. The sort of crazy religious nuts we have are usually terrorists of some sort–whether it is the loonies from the Westboro Baptist Church or Muslims who get teenaged girls to blow themselves up in order to kill a few other folk. Just musing–maybe if we had more properly holy religious extremists it would provide an outlet for those folks who want to do something crazy for Jesus, and maybe the reason we have crazy murderous religious loonies is because nobody gave them the opportunity to be an anchorite and be immured in the wall of a church, or become a stylite and spend thirty eight years on top of a pillar in the desert the way St Simeon Stylities did.

Instead we cultivate a nice, cosy, middle class shopping mall kind of religion in which we all shine our shoes and comb our hair (if we are blessed with such) and troop off to church on Sunday (unless of course there is something more important to do) and think about being good for an hour and then go home and live as we wish for the rest of the week. In doing so we believe ourselves to be very good, forgetting that it was the ‘very good’ people who were the wicked ones who killed Jesus.

Alas, here is the perennial paradox of the gospel–in today’s Mass reading it says that the ‘just one’ has come to confront the evil doers, and in the gospel Jesus is seen confronting the Scribes and Pharisees which reminds us that the ‘evil doers’ were good people. They were the establishment; the priests, the scholars, the teachers, the board members, the bankers, the well to do, the well connected, the well off, the well, well, well–we’ll all go to hell people.

And this is where a little bit of extremism (if that is not a contradiction in terms) could do us some good. If were were more radical in our love for Jesus it would be impossible to be one of the good people who are actually evil doers. Perhaps we need to do more Catholic things that are embarrassing. I have been tempted for some time to go to downtown Greenville on a Friday evening and do some street preaching. When the Franciscan Friars of the renewal are in town with their beards and bald heads and rough robes and a fire in their belly I want to run off and join them, but when I asked they said that they couldn’t really be doing with the wife and children.

So I try to fast and pray more–but I’m not supposed to tell you that–and I wish to do something radical for God again. Like the time when I was first an Anglican curate and suddenly had a pay check. I had lived by faith for four years as a student really and truly not knowing where the money would come from to pay my school bills, and then I had a pay check which was rather boring. So my brother Daryl (who is still more of a radical than I am) said I should give half the pay check away. So I did and we saw miracles happen.

Well, this is a rambling post, but it is my way to encourage myself and encourage you to keep up with your Lenten fast–whatever it is–and when you get a chance do something radical for God. Fast totally one day. Really try it! Write a check for $100.00 or $1,000.00; or if you are very wealthy anyway for ten times that amount and give it to the poor. Get up off your Laodicean backside and go do the Stations of the Cross or pray the rosary more of just spend time on your knees before the Blessed Sacrament.

You’ll be glad you did, and who knows, next Lent might be your opportunity to spend forty days on top of a pillar.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    I don't want to go to hell, but there's parts of me that are trying their best to send me there. It's only in the last few years that I have begun to acknowledge these parts, owning them is an even harder task. Father John Abberton, over at stellamaris blog linked to a good homily on fasting called: The Significance of Fasting in the Struggle against Fallen Spirits. By St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)."When the fallen angel approaches a person who is fasting,he does not see the material domination that he needs and desireshe cannot stir up the blood that has been beneficently cooled by fasting;he cannot arouse the flesh that is not inclined to play, for it has been restrained by fasting;the mind and heart are not obedient to him, for they have felt an especial spiritual vigor due to fasting."Bet you manage to desire to fast after reading it!!Find the whole homily at:http://orthodox.net/redeemingthetime/2011/04/03/the-significance-of-fasting-in-the-struggle-against-fallen-spirits-by-st-ignatius-brianchaninov/PS. Hope I've kept within the new combox rules by linking to the latter?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10705270251238023966 Quanah

    I find it very sad that the reason Christians respond to fasting the way they do is because of the Church's heirarchy. Their pastoral decisions have taken away almost all awareness and understanding of discipline and penance. While I am sure there are exceptions, I have yet to meet a Byzantine or traditional Catholic who doesn't put oil on their face while fasting. It's just part of how they live.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02082723705687057148 justamouse


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    you know as well as the next the minute anyone gets anywhere near what you are talking about the churchy types are the first to call the men in the white coats… fiction and fantasy you write in this regard. And @shadowlands a really nice Sister of Charity and her sister gave me a prayer card yesterday asked me my name, repeated it and said 'you will be a saint too'…'probably not' i replied. You say nuns, like the one on the plane to Eire who sprinkled me with holy water know these things.St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) was also noted for having observed the main problem was the many 'priests' and few Fathers.Yup, that would be correct. And the ones there are are about half useless, lax, self-impresssed, boring, half-wits.Unlike Fr Longenecker one HASTENS to add.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15834914537026166447 ered103132

    I think if we had more devotion to Christ we would have more 'extremists' – we seem to be all too often more like Judas and less like Mary in John 12:1-8.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15834914537026166447 ered103132

    I wonder if perhaps the problem is not with the priests and hierarchy, but with the rest of us who blame them for our own lack of fervor. Perhaps if we in the pews were holier, the many prayers and sacrifices we offer on behalf of our priests might be of more support to them in times of temptation and weariness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11883812287455069169 Victoria

    I am an anchorite and spouse of the Beloved Jesus and the Eternal Triune God, the Holy Trinity. Father Lazarus El Anthony is not the last one. I have no maid to get me food, so I must go out occasionally, preferably once a month, to get food and go to the bank. I drink liquids most of the time even if I am hungry, and that is how I fast. Most of the time I spend in silence and writing. I constantly adore the Most Blessed Sacrament in my monstrance. I am constantly aware that that is God. I read the Liturgy of the Hours for years, but I do not relate to it anymore, so if I pray anything, it is the Raccolta. My writing and the music I play are mostly spiritual. I have a website:http://mysite.verizon.net/vzezunbp/I would like to start a worldwide network of anchorites called the Order of the Ravenites of Elijah, so if anyone is interested, get in touch.