One of the several saints on today’s calendar is St. Simeon Stylites, who lived this way for 36 years:
In these times [about 440 A.D.] flourished and became illustrious, Simeon, of holy and famous memory, who originated the contrivance of stationing himself on the top of a column, thereby occupying a space of scarce two cubits in circumference. This man, endeavoring to realize in the flesh the existence of the heavenly hosts, lifts himself above the concerns of earth, and overpowering the downward tendency of man’s nature, is intent on things above. He was adored by all the countryside, wrought many miracles, and the Emperor Theodosius II listened to his advice and sought his benediction.
Simeon prolonged his endurance of this mode of life through fifty-six years; nine of which he spent in the first monastery where he was instructed in divine knowledge, and forty-seven in the “Mandra” as it was called; namely, ten in a certain nook; on shorter columns, seven; and thirty upon one of forty cubits. After his departure [from this life] his holy body was conveyed to Antioch, escorted by the garrison, and a great concourse guarding the venerable body, lest the inhabitants of the neighboring cities should gather and carry it off. In this manner it was conveyed to Antioch, and attended, during its progress, with extraordinary prodigies….
…According to another writer, Theodoret, in Simeon’s lifetime, he was visited by pilgrims from near and far; Persia, Ethiopia, Spain, and even Britain. To these at times he delivered sermons.
You’ve heard of him, and perhaps you have thought of him as being nothing more than an extremely strange person.
His life is a radical statement, to be sure, but what is discipleship but radical?
Simeon sought to live his earthly life reaching for God, but don’t think that he therefore separated himself from the needs of others. Paradoxically, from that distance, he was able to serve, and powerfully.
I wrote about him in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. He’s under “Saints are people who surprise others.” While that chapter is not online, here are some screenshots of the first couple of pages:
A word about this book. When Loyola asked me to write a book of saints for children all those years ago, I though long and hard about a structure. It seemed that everything had been done: to arrange the saints chronologically according to their lives or according to the liturgical year, or alphabetically. What might be different?
Then I hit upon this notion of sections, each beginning, “Saints are people who…..”
In addition, I wrote the stories, not just to inform, but also to help children see that the circumstances of their own lives may look much different from those of the saints, but they really are not. The temptations, the obstacles and then, the abundance of grace through Christ mark the lives of the saint, yes, but also our lives – no matter how old we are.
Also, back to the saint – this book suggests that the pillars had held pagan statuary, and were appropriated by the stylite hermits for Christ. Interesting.