St Daniel the Stylite

(entered heaven in 493)

Dear Danny,

I hope you’re taking Advent seriously.  Too many people don’t, you know. What a waste.  God rains down all kinds of blessings for us during the different liturgical seasons, and most of us walk around with our umbrella of indifference, letting them skim right off and flow uselessly back to their source.  I hope you have organized some kind of Advent retreat, or special Holy Hour, or Advent talks, or something to help everybody (including yourself) put their umbrellas away. We have to make an effort to step out of the ordinary flow of worldly business to stay plugged into real life – the life of the Church, the life of Christ.  Today’s saint had a stunning way of doing just that.

He grew up as a Christian (in what is now Iraq) and joined a monastery when he was only 12 years old.  On some travels that he undertook with his Abbot, he had the great privilege of meeting St Simeon, the Elder, the first and best known of the stylites, or “pillar-saints.”  You’ve probably heard of them. They were recluses, or hermits, who lived out their special vocation to prayer and solitude by dwelling on small (some were bigger than others) platforms erected on the top of marble or stone columns (usually only one large column, sometimes more than one joined together).  St Simeon blessed the young monk and prophesied that he would have to suffer much for the name of Jesus Christ. So Daniel went back to his monastery, and when his abbot died, the brother monks wanted him to take over. He declined, however, and went again to visit St Simeon. He was restless, wondering how God wanted him to serve the Church.  

A couple of weeks spent near Simeon’s pillar didn’t clear things up, so he undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Wars in the region barred his way, however, and he took what he thought would be a temporary detour to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, in Turkey).  The bishop there permitted him to build a little hermitage outside the city, where he spent nine years in prayer, manual labor, and solitude. During those years, St Simeon had died, and Daniel had come into possession of the holy man’s cloak.  Simeon had intended his cloak to be given to the Emperor, but his disciple was unsuccessful in getting an audience with the illustrious ruler, so he gave the relic to Daniel instead. The serendipitous event confirmed Daniel’s growing conviction that God was calling him to follow the example of St Simeon.  So he eventually made his home on an elevated pillar platform a few miles outside the city. He lived there for the next 33 years, until his death at the age of 84.

They were eventful years.  Aloof from the hubbub and hullabaloo of the great city’s affairs, St Daniel became a beloved and revered spiritual director for Constantinople’s rulers and common folk alike.  They came to him whenever they needed prayers or advice, and he served them well, helping them see their troubles and challenges from the perspective of faith. Only once did he descend from the pillar (and they had to carry him around in a chair, because he was so unused to walking), when the bishop and people begged him to defend the Church against Basiliscus, who had usurped the imperial throne and was abetting the Eutychian heretics (they purported that Christ had no real human nature).  It worked. Then St Daniel returned to his post and continued to be the beacon and protector of the troubled city for the rest of his days.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not telling you to take up residence in the dorm belfry or anything so radical as that.  But I daresay that if you don’t make a conscious effort to step out of the hustle and bustle of college life on a regular basis, the culture of self-indulgence that rules it will soon rule you too.  And that would be tragic.

Sincerely, Uncle Eddy

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