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February 27, 2016

Saint Thalelaios the Cilician

St. Thalelaios of Syria (Feast Day - February 27)


Thalelaios brightly has come towards the heavens,
Like a sprouting olive tree, he is crowned for his virtues.

By Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus, Syria

Nor shall I be silent about the story of Thalelaios (Thalelaeus);1 for the spectacle is full of wonder, and not only have I heard the accounts of others but have myself been an eyewitness of the extraordinary spectacle. At twenty stades from Gabala - it is a small and charming city - he repaired to a hill on which there was a precinct dedicated to demons and honored with many sacrifices by the impious of old. Here he pitched a small hut. They always served those miscreants, they said, in an attempt to appease by service their great cruelty, for they caused harm to many passing by or of the neighborhood, not only men but also asses and mules, oxen and sheep, not making war on irrational animals but by means of them plotting against men. On this occasion, when they saw him arrive, they tried to frighten him, but were unable to do so, since faith fenced him round and grace fought on his behalf. Therefore, filled with rage and frenzy, they proceeded against the trees planted there - there happened to be many flourishing fig and olive trees on this hill. They say that more than five hundred of these were suddenly uprooted; I heard this recounted by the neighboring peasants, who were formerly engulfed by the darkness of impiety but received through his teaching and miracle-working the light of the knowledge of God.

Since even by doing this the wicked demons had failed to frighten the athlete of philosophy, they again applied other devices. By wailing and displaying torches at night, they tried to terrify him and instil confusion in his thought. But when he laughed at all their assaults, they afterwards left him and fled away.

Making two wheels of two cubits in diameter, he joined both wheels together with planks not fitted to each other but separated apart. Then seating himself inside and fixing these separated planks firmly with bolts and nails, he hung the wheel up in the air. Fixing three other tall wooden stakes in the ground and connecting their upper ends with other pieces of wood, he fastened the double wheel in the midst of them and raised it up, the inside of the wheel having a height of two cubits and a breadth of a cubit. Sitting or rather suspended in this, he has spent ten years up till now. Since he has a very big body, not even sitting can he straighten his neck, but he always sits bent double, with his forehead tightly pressed against his knees.

On coming to see him, I found him reaping the benefit of the divine Gospels, gathering benefit therefrom with extreme concentration. I questioned him, out of desire to learn the reason for this novel mode of life. He replied to me in Greek, for he happens to be Cilician in race: "Burdened," he said, "with many sins and believing in the penalties that are threatened, I have devised this form of life, contriving moderate punishments for the body, in order to reduce the mass of those awaited. For the latter are more grievous not only in quantity but also in quality; for they are involuntary, and what happens against our will is particularly disagreeable, while what is voluntary, even if wearisome, is less painful - for my labor is self-chosen and not compulsory. So if (he concluded) by these slight afflictions I lessen those awaited, great is the profit I shall derive therefrom." Hearing this, I was overwhelmed with admiration for his shrewdness, because he not only contended beyond the course laid down and devised other contests of his own will, but also knew the reason for them and taught it to others.

The local inhabitants have declared that many miracles occur through his prayer, with not only men but also camels, asses, and mules enjoying healing. In consequence, all this people, formerly in the grip of impiety, have disowned their ancestral imposture and accepted the splendor of divine light. With their assistance he has demolished the precinct of demons and erected a great shrine to the triumphant martyrs, opposing to those falsely called gods the godly dead. May it be that by their intercession this man too may with the same victory reach the goal of the contests, and that we, aided by both them and him, may become fervent lovers of the contests of philosophy.


1. Thalelaios was a hermit on a hill twenty stades (two miles) outside Gabala, a city on the Mediterranean coast sixty miles south of Antioch. He lived at first in a eel, and then, from 430, in the strange contraption of a suspended cylinder, which may be compared to Varadatos's chest (XXVII.l). He converted the peasants of the district to Christianity. Theodoret once visited him.

From The History of the Monks of Syria.