In our patrimony, there are many stylites who practiced asceticism in many regions. Saint Symeon the Stylite was the first of them in this way of life. One might then wonder: is asceticism the subjugation of the body through unusual methods?
What is asceticism?
In Greek the word used is ἀσκησις, which means ‘exercise’.
It is exercise in emptying oneself (κένοσις, cf. Philippians 2:7) of the ego. All passions and sins are tied to the ego and the ego is the source of the fall and estrangement from God and the other.
Most people think that asceticism is only for monks and ascetics, but this is something that is required of all believers. The Church teaches us how to live it through prayer, fasting and repentance according to the Lord Jesus’ commandments to us.
Thus asceticism is the life of prayer, fasting and repentance with the goal of emptying ourselves of our ego so that God may become our ego, our life and everything for us.
Asceticism is escape from the self– that is, from the source of the passions– through setting aside the pleasures and passions that fight man within himself, his heart and his being, through personal effort, firm and sincere desire, and God’s grace.
This is what is called the ascetic struggle or spiritual struggle. It is an activity that is shared between the will of man and the grace of the Holy Trinity, which we call ‘synergy’ (συνεργία).
Monks have become teachers of the spiritual life because they have left the world and all therein. They have sold it and distributed it in order to follow Christ. The first of them were taught by God directly, as He taught Saint Anthony the Great when an angel appeared to him and taught him to defeat weariness through work, prayer and spiritual reading.
Monks and ascetics, each according to his ability, began to struggle to control the body, acting according to the words of the Apostle Paul: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Saint Symeon the Stylite invented this manner of living on a pillar in heat and cold and others followed him in this.
Nevertheless, in the Orthodox Church, as we have mentioned above, asceticism is fundamentally the struggle of prayer, fasting and asceticism so that one may become practiced in knowledge of the self and purification of the heart in order to ascend in his relationship with God and the other until he arrived, through unity with the Trinity, at unity with all creation and the service of God in man.
Beloved, the life, teachings, and traditions of our Orthodox Church are saturated with the spirit of asceticism, prayer and fasting. Our liturgy is filled with spiritual teachings that encourage repentance, humility, judgment of the soul, judgment of sin and love of the sinner.
In our Church we have a treasury of teachings of the fathers about how to combat the passions and confront temptations.
We must drink from the wells of grace that are in our Orthodox Church and the writings of her fathers, so that we may walk as those who came before us walked and become holy as they became holy. There is no Christian life without asceticism.
He who has ears, let him hear.
Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies