Saint Alipios the Stylite
Our holy Father Alypius was born in the city of Adrianople in the province of Paphlagonia during the reign of Heraclius (610-41). When he was only three his father died, and his mother placed him in the care of Bishop Theodore to study sacred literature and to be brought up for the service of the Church. The child’s remarkable ability as well as his great piety commended him to the Bishop’s successor, who made him steward of the church and ordained him deacon when he reached the canonical age. He fulfilled this double office admirably, but he longed to follow the eremitic life. As a result, he gave away his goods to the poor and told his pious mother of his intention to leave for the Holy Land and to embrace the monastic life.
Taking to the road in secret lest the Bishop and people of the city hold him back, he went as far as Euchaita, when the Bishop caught up with and insisted on his returning home. Forced back to the world, Alipios was consoled by a vision of the holy places of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Golgotha where God would have him engage in the blessed contests of ascetic life. He began looking for a remote spot to live in, and he was brought by a vision to a place with a spring of water, on an arid mountain. Here he dedicated a chapel and built a cell. But the Bishop wanted Alipios to serve in the world to which he was a stranger, so he blocked up the spring to oblige him to come down to the plain where he would be more accessible.
Undaunted, the Saint fixed on a demon-haunted spot, full of old tombs and pagan sanctuaries that everyone kept well away from. His relatives tried in vain to dissuade him from climbing up one of the derelict monuments on which was a pillar surmounted by the statue of a fabulous animal, half bull, half lion. ‘Here is my resting place!’ he exclaimed, and went back to the town to fetch a Cross and a crowbar. He dislodged the statue and threw it to the ground, setting up the life-giving Cross in its place, determined henceforth to rout the demons in their own lair.
Having business that required his attending on the Emperor, the Bishop constrained Alypius to accompany him to court. When they reached Chalcedon, the Saint hid in the oratory of St. Bassa by the sea, and was asleep when the Bishop embarked for Constantinople. Saint Euphemia, the patroness of Chalcedon, appeared to him as he slept and she told him to go home, assuring him of her protection. On returning to his hermitage, Alipios built a chapel dedicated the Saint Euphemia at a place miraculously pointed out to him in a vision. As he possessed nothing himself, some of his friends provided everything necessary for building the chapel, and they all set about the work of construction. Despite his desire to settle on the pillar, Alipios followed the advice of the Elders with due regard for their discernment, and he withdrew to a narrow cell not far from the chapel in order to give himself ardently to the purification of his soul by fasting, vigil and prayer. He was thirty years old at the time, and spent two years in this cell waging relentless war against the demons. Their evil suggestions could not shake him, and he drove them off by the sign of the Cross and the fire-bearing words of Holy Scripture.
So fast did word spread of the servant of God that, much as he wished to persist in his holy work without distraction, he was under the necessity of welcoming many of the faithful who came to receive his blessing. Gentle, easy to speak to, attentive to all alike, young and old, rich and poor, he would have no one leave him except filled with spiritual joy. But becoming aware that such involvement was harmful to his soul, and having by then sufficient skill in the ascetic art, he decided to make his abode on top of the pillar, protected from the weather by a small, rough, wooden roof. Since there was not room enough on the pillar to lie down or to sit, Alipios was always on his feet, like a living column, year in year out exposed to the elements, struggling against heat and cold, wind and rain. Whereas the sufferings of the Martyrs lasted for a little while, Saint Alipios offered himself to this daily martyrdom for fifty-three years, doing violence to nature each day in order to gain everlasting life.
He was ferociously attacked by demons jealous of his progress. When they began hurling stones at him, he asked his mother, who lived at the foot of the pillar, for an axe, intending to show them that soldiers of Christ rate their attacks no more than juvenile insults. Throwing the roof that sheltered him to the ground, he faced without protection the hail of stones, prepared to die like Stephen the first Martyr, if that were the will of God. Alarmed by his boldness and unshakeable faith in God, the demons took flight from the place, bewailing their discomfiture.
Set in the sight of all like a lamp on its stand, the Saint gave light to all by his virtues (Matt. 5:14-16). He had overcome self-love and self conceit and offered himself like the Apostles as a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men for love of Christ (1 Cor. 4:9). Crowds of people made haste to the pillar, asking for the Stylite’s intercession. The first of these was Euphemia, who was soon joined by another women Eubula, who became abbess of the convent, which was established at one side of the pillar. Some time later, Alypius founded a monastery on the other side of the pillar for the men who wanted to stay by him. It was wonderful to hear the choir of virgins and that of the monks chanting the praises of God responsively seven times a day, and to behold the Saint, that earthly angel and heavenly man standing between the two, joining his voice to theirs and raising his hands to the Triune God in intercession for the salvation of the world.
The Saint received the gift of prophecy; he healed the sick, reconciled enemies, gave instruction in the mysteries of divine wisdom, either directly or in letters; he became all things to all men that he might by all means save some for Christ (1 Cor. 9:22). One day, having thrown down his tunic to a poor man in need, he remained shivering on the pillar until a recluse of the men’s monastery saw his state and came to his assistance.
After fifty-three years of such ascetic contest, paralysis seized half his body, and his feet gave out. He could now only lie on one side, all but immobile, for the remaining fourteen years of his earthly life. Afflicted at the same time with a painful ulcer, he blessed the name of the Lord like righteous Job (Job 1:21). When he gave us his soul to God at last, aged ninety-nine, the people hastened to venerate his body and a possessed man was healed in its presence. The feast day of Saint Alipios is celebrated on November 26.
Portions of the preceding text are from “The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church” by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, and translated from the French by Christopher Hookway
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