That’s the record claimed by Simon Stylites the Elder in AD 460 in Syria. Or so it’s said. In 423 he climbed a pillar or column and stayed there in contemplation and privation until he died thirty-seven years later. Stulos is the word for “pillar” or “column” in Greek; the letter upsilon in Greek is frequently transliterated into English as a “y”, hence the Stylites or order of Pole-Saints inaugurated by Simon’s example.
Simon evidently started something.
In fact, church historians tell us of a whole series of imitators who followed his example. We read of one hermit who passed ten years in a tub suspended in midair between poles. We read of Saint Alypius who, after standing upright for 53 years found that his feet could no longer support him, but instead of descending from his pillar he chose to lie down on top of it for another eleven years until his death.
Sounds like a contender for the all time record.
Then we read about adherants of competing theological schools pole-sitting within earshot of each another who would while the time away arguing theology from their respective poles. Now there’s a whole new (or not so new, really) idea for a reality series.
It would seem that when others will not crucify us, we will devise ways to accomplish it ourselves.
The Revived Order of the Stylites.
Just how much of our Christian landscape over the past two millenia has been dominated by (or at least frequently marked by) poles and columns (read “churches” or “pulpits”) which believers have mounted and from which they argue the finer points of their pole-sitting convictions with rival pole-sitters. Of course, they can’t help but argue over whose pole is more solid, more grounded, more true and ancient and holy and sound. Or whose pole is bigger.
Such religious poles also, of course, offer a glorious vantage point from which to look down on the rest of humanity milling about at our feet. Pole-sitters. Pole-preachers and screechers.
Jesus, of course, was crucified not on a pole but on a cross that traditionally is pictured as having both a a vertical and a horizontal beam. It’s an apt picture of what the Gospel of Jesus is meant to accomplish. Vertical connection with the Father. Horizontal connection with one another. Both pivotal. Interconnected. Vital. The vertical ultimately leading to the horizontal. The love of God birthing passionate love for one another. To disconnect the two is the primary error that Jesus confronts. Emphasize the vertical connection of loving God while minimizing or dismissing the horizontal implications and connections compelled by that love leaves the vertical beam of the cross a hollow religious contrivance that, according to John (1 John 4:7-21), only serves as a perch for liars. Dismiss the reality of the Christ event in his death, burial and resurrection – the reality of the vertical beam of the cross – and the horizontal beam collapses into the dust in a heap of mere humanistic feel-good intentions.
Human nature seems to thrive on the solitary nature of the Stylite’s pole, the superiority of my pole-position over yours or his or hers or theirs. We are naturally inclined to distinguish ourselves as Stylites, standing on our column or sitting on our pole far above the maddening crowd as we haggle over details of our doctrines with other pole-sitters, trying to establish our claim to superiority.
And all the while the Son of Man goes about on the ground at our feet ministering among a desperate and distressed crowd, inviting us to come down off our high poles and join him in bearing the cross with two beams among them.