September 29, 2020

Why Saint Kyriakos is Not Called a "Hermit" But Instead Called an "Anchorite"

I did a Google search of "St. Kyriakos" this morning, since it is his feast day, and coupled it with his traditional epithet of "Anchorite", receiving results that were very disappointing. On the first page of the results, there were only two results given with the correct epithet of "Anchorite", namely my post on him back in 2015 as well as his Wikipedia page. The rest were official pages of various Orthodox jurisdictions who gave him the epithet "Hermit" instead. 

Now most people will see this as not that big of a deal. After all, an "anchorite" and a "hermit" are basically the same thing, right? Well, no, not really. An "anchorite" is traditionally defined as someone who "withdraws" from the world to dedicate their life to God, while a "hermit" is someone who lives in a deserted place alone. Is it just a matter of semantics? Absolutely not. In Greek St. Kyriakos is specifically called an "Anchorite" (Κυριακός ο Αναχωρητής) for a reason, and is never referred to as a "Hermit" for a reason as well.
In his Synaxaristes, Nikodemos the Hagiorite accurately gives us the reason why St. Kyriakos is called an "Anchorite". He writes: "It seems he was called an anchorite because of the many and frequent withdrawals he made, withdrawing from monastery to monastery, and from one desert to another desert, as indicated in his biography." Indeed, if one reads his biography by Cyril of Scythopolis, we find Kyriakos withdrawing from one place to another for various reasons, exactly the opposite of what a hermit would. The words "withdrew" and "anchorite" so frequently appear in his biography, that even those who knew him referred to him not only as an anchorite, but as Cyril of Scythopolis who knew him personally called him, he was the "best of all anchorites".
Let's look at some examples:
1. When he was 18 years old, he went to church one Sunday and heard the Gospel of Matthew (16:24) which says, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." This call of Jesus to withdrawal (anachoresis) from the world inspired the lad to board a ship from his hometown of Corinth for the Holy Land.

2. In Jerusalem he met a holy man named Eustorgios who had founded a monastery near Holy Zion, and he spent the winter there. When winter passed, it was his desire to withdraw into the desert, which he did with the blessing of Eustorgios.

3. In the Palestinian desert Kyriakos went to the Lavra of Euthymios the Great. However, he was not allowed to stay there because he was still young and beardless, so he was received in the cenobium of Gerasimos. He stayed there for nine years.

4. With the expansion of the cenobium and his attachment to another elder, Kyriakos then went to live in the Lavra of Euthymios for ten years.

5. Circumstances then led Kyriakos to go and stay at the Lavra of Souka for thirty-three years.

6. When he was 77 years old, he decided to withdraw into the desert of Natoupha accompanied by a disciple, and stayed there for five years.

7. Having performed a miracle that became widely known, Kyriakos withdrew further into the desert to Rouba where he stayed for five years.

8. The sick and afflicted followed Kyriakos into the inner desert, so he went to a place difficult to get to in the district of Sousakim. He stayed there for seven years.

9. Approaching the end of his life, Kyriakos went back to the nearby Lavra of Souka to be taken care of by the fathers. He lived in the cell of Saint Chariton for five years, "battling the Origenists" who were in the New Lavra.

10. Wanting to go back to Sousakim, Kyriakos lived there for another eight years.

11. Two years before his death, he was persuaded by the fathers to return to the cell of Saint Chariton to be taken care of.

What we can conclude from the life of Saint Kyriakos is that he was a man who would constantly withdraw from place to place in order to attain perfection in virtue through the grace of Christ. Never did he set his mind on settling anywhere, but he settled when it was to his spiritual advantage and he withdrew and settled elsewhere when it was to his spiritual advantage. It didn't matter if he did it in the setting of a lavra, a cenobium or as a hermit. Above all, he was a consistent "anchorite", which is why this is the epithet that has always accompanied his name.

Update: As of this posting, it seems I Googled "St. Kosmas the Anchorite" so many times, that now on the first page it switched to giving me the right results, leaving the pages with "Hermit" for the second page. Hopefully those who still refer to him as "Hermit" will now make a switch to the correct epithet.