Orthodox monk seeks blessing to become a modern Stylite
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Georgian Monk Builds Stairway to Heaven

Come summertime, getting away from it all is the dream that haunts everyone. One Georgian Orthodox monk, though, has come up with a plan for a lifetime of escape atop a 40-meter-high rock column in central Georgia’s Imereti region.

In pagan times, the towering Katskhi Pillar, located about 10 kilometers from the mining town of Chiatura, was thought to represent a local god of fertility. With the arrival of Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century, it came to represent seclusion from the hurly-burly of ordinary life.

A church was first built atop the rock between the 6th and 8th centuries -- no one knows exactly how or why. Stylites, early Christian ascetics who prayed and fasted on top of pillars, used Katskhi for their devotions until some time in the 15th century, when Georgia was struck by domestic upheaval and invasions by Ottoman Turkey. The remains of one unknown practitioner today lay buried beneath the church.

Father Maxim, a 55-year-old native of Chiatura, says that he has dreamed of living atop the Pillar, like the Stylites, since he was young. “When my friends and I used to come up here to drink outdoors, I always envied that monk who used to live there when I looked at the pillar,” he recalled.

In 1993, Father Maxim took monastic vows, and two years later decided to move to Katskhi. After spending one winter in a grotto beneath the rock column, he received money from a “friend from Tbilisi” to build a new church on its top. The Georgian Orthodox Church’s local eparchy, or regional administration, allegedly granted Father Maxim permission to erect the structure on the site.

Amidst an ongoing religious revival in Georgia, Father Maxim’s mission easily found supporters. More and more people now come to Katskhi to donate money or building materials for the church’s construction -- a generosity that makes the overall cost of the project difficult to estimate, he claims. Many local villagers also volunteer to work on the site for free.

The labor involved, though, can require a head for heights, as well as for matters spiritual. Scaffolding runs halfway up the column; an iron ladder reaches to the top. Builders use ropes to lift heavy construction materials from the ground.

Following the example of the first Stylite, Simeon, Father Maxim does not allow women on the site -- a ban also practiced at pagan shrines in Georgia’s mountain regions of Tusheti and Khevsureti.

Work on the project should be largely finished by the summer of 2011.

Before that date, Father Maxim hopes to secure a blessing from Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II that would allow the monk to live on top of Katskhi alongside his newly built church. “They told me they allowed me to come here, but not to live up there,” he recounted, laughing. “They told me I was too young then. Now they’ll probably tell me I’m too old.”

The Patriarch’s office could not be reached for comment.

But if the blessing ever comes, Father Maxim knows what he will do -- climb up Katskhi, pull the ladder up after him and live apart from the world’s tumult, once and for all.
Sounds like my kind of monk!

The Stylite: A Matter of Faith - Trailer 1

A spec trailer for a new documentary about a monk who hopes to live atop a 140ft rock outcrop in the central Imereti region of the Republic of Georgia. He would be the first in 600yrs. This trailer was cut from footage captured during our first research trip and a short documentary is coming soon. Join the growing international community around this project about a modern day Stylite and help us bring the feature length version to a theater near you.

Official website:
Directors Statement Wrote:The Stylite began as a work of fiction about a man who in the face of a world growing increasingly materialistic, depersonalized, and divided decides to withdraw into contemplation and become a modern day Stylite.

While researching Stylite asceticism for this story I happened upon a photo essay by Georgian photo journalist Temo Bardzimashvili about a monk who is rebuilding a hermitage and chapel on a one hundred forty foot rock column called Katskhi in the central Georgian province of Imereti. Father Maxim hopes to become the first Stylite on Katskhi Pillar in six hundred years. It seemed that my character had come to life.

Intrigued, I immediately contacted Temo and so began an international collaboration to bring this remarkable story to the screen. Personally, I have long been interested in the history of religion and I am myself on a journey to catch a glimpse into the nature of purpose. This film will be one of the vehicles I plan to use.

There is, however, a broader more pressing objective for this film. With technology breaking down the dynamics and nuances of human communication into computer like abbreviated text messages, we are gradually becoming more isolated. While at the same time the multi-media revolution threatens to drown out and replace the independent thoughts we might otherwise have had. We are, in effect, losing our souls, our free will, and our minds. There is now little time or patience for quiet reflection as we are tempted by the next big thing boiled down into a repetitious crawl scrolling endlessly through our subconscious. Yet, this one trait, this ability of reflection, has been carried within us like a torch throughout the eons. It can be argued that this self reflection is what makes us human and now with all our gadgets, distractions, and conveniences we are in danger of extinguishing this vital inheritance.

Therefore, with The Stylite, we will strive to create a cinematic space within which the viewer can return to that primal reflection which has brought us masterpieces in art, breakthroughs in science, and love in our hearts.
This is quite interesting and a story I'll have to follow.  I didn't think there were any "Stylite" monks left. One interesting phenomenon is that with the collapse of communism in many of the old Soviet states there has been a sort of monastic and religious revival. Most of them aren't Catholic but quite frankly I'd rather see former communists return to their Orthodox roots than profess the agnostic/atheist secularism that has befallen so many of us in the West.
Please don't shoot me, but the two things immediately came to me when I saw this:

1. I thought of the Pharisee standing tall in the sanctuary.

2. Chesterton's Fr. Brown, in "The Hammer of God", speaks to a murdering priest who had dropped a hammer down on someone's head from the high steeple of a gothic church, killing him. Fr. Brown explains that Presbyterians, with their hilly, mountainous origins, stirred up such pride in themselves when developing their religion in bleak places at the top of the world, such as Scotland. He also muses on the urge of a man to pray at the top of a high place, rather than with his face on the floor before the altar.

The Innocence of Father Brown Wrote:“I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on these high places even to pray,” said Father Brown. “Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from.”

“Do you mean that one may fall over,” asked Wilfred.

“I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,” said the other priest.

“I scarcely understand you,” remarked Bohun indistinctly.

“Look at that blacksmith, for instance,” went on Father Brown calmly; “a good man, but not a Christian—hard, imperious, unforgiving. Well, his Scotch religion was made up by men who prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the world more than to look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

“I knew a man,” he said, “who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one ofthose dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he was a good man, he committed a great crime.”

There's always wisdom to be found in Chesterton.

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