When I think of abnormal Christianity today, I tend to think of heretical churches that teach and believe heretical things, like Jesus was a woman, or other such non-sense.
When I read through Three Byzantine Saints by Elizabeth Dawes, I was introduced to a different segment of “abnormal” Christianity.
This book describes the lives of Saint Daniel the Stylite, Saint Theodore of Sykeon, and Saint John the Almsgiver.
It was very difficult to get through this book. Some of these men’s stories seemed a bit out-there, and I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be getting out of this book.
Who were these men?
Saint Daniel the Stylite lived during the fifth century (c. 409-493) in what is today Turkey. He’s known for sitting on the top of Roman columns, and never coming down. He lived on top of this column for approximately 33 years, braving the elements and painful sores. But during his time on the column, he advised emperors and bishops.
Saint Theodore of Sykeon lived during the latter part of the 6th century into the early 7th century in Galatia. He was healed from the bubonic plague at the shrine of St. John the Baptist when he was twelve. He also spent many years at a shrine dedicated to St. George. Nearby in a cave, he lived for two years in complete solitude. After that he was made Bishop of Anastasioupolis. During this time he made a contraption much like a cage suspended from a ceiling. He lived inside this contraption for many years. He too advised emperors who came seeking holy guidance from the Lord.
Saint John the Almsgiver’s life was a little less physically extreme than the previous two. He had previously been married and had children, but they all died early on, and from then on he entered into the church. He was appointed Patriarch of Alexandria in the early 7th century. During his time as bishop, he was famous for giving away whatever money came into his hands. He famously even gave to those who did not need it, or who had already received money that day, saying that perhaps the Lord was testing his charity.
How was I to receive these three men? For a long while, I wrongly assumed that Father Phil had given me the book because he wanted me to choose one of them as my patron saint. I couldn’t fathom selecting Daniel or Theodore because I felt no real connection to them, John was a little easier to grasp, but even though I try to give to the poor and needy, I didn’t feel called the way he was.
I met again with Father Phil, and I was very wary of it, because I didn’t want him to say, “So these guys were great, huh? Who do you want as your patron saint?!” I wasn’t mentally ready to convert, much less choose a patron saint.
Instead, Father Phil asked me, “What did you think of these men?”
I responded honestly and said they were a bit extreme and I couldn’t relate to them at all, except maybe with Saint John, and only slightly at that.
He smiled and said, “Good. I wanted to show you these men so that you could see the more extreme side of Orthodoxy.”
I must have looked confused, because he then added, “What you have read so far has shown nothing but normal, everyday Orthodoxy. You should also be aware of the more extreme sides of Orthodoxy. Some of the “crazies” if you will.”
He then went on to tell anecdotes of many different Fools for Christ, the stories of which I don’t remember, and should look up again one day.
We would now go back to learning more “normal” Orthodox practices and traditions.