Saint of the Day: St. Kyriakos the Recluse

Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Kyriakos, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)

Very few saints who emerged from Christendom’s ever-growing numbers seem to have come from a “middle ground” way of life. It merely appears that way because so many saints, particularly those selected from the hierarchy, spent a lifetime in the public eye, while others lived in such insularemoteness. It appears on the surface that they dropped out of the society of man. One such recluse who withdrew from the crowds in search of God was a man named Kyriakos, whose incredibly long span of years was one of the longest sustained periods of service to Jesus Christ in church history.

Born in Corinth in 448 to parents named John and Eudoxia, Kyriakos belonged to a branch of a family tree which boasted several members of the hierarchy, notably his uncle Peter, the bishop of the diocese of Corinth, whose spiritual leadership earned him an intimacy with Emperor Theodosios II. With such a family background it was apparent that Kyriakos would one day acquire a stature in the Church which would bring him recognition equal to, if not exceeding, that of his famous uncle. He exceeded his uncle to the extent that he achieved sainthood, but he chose a different route, preferring virtual anonymity as a hermit until found to be possessed of those virtues that bind a man so close to God that he becomes an instrument of the Almighty. This, in turn, brings men closer to him for true spiritual uplifting.

At eighteen, a reader of the church who familiarized himself with holy Scripture, Kyriakos was haunted by the passage from Matthew which reads, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up the cross and follow me” (Mat. 26:24). Taking the passage literally to heart, he chose not to rise through the ranks as a hierarch, but to deny himself completely in answer to his call as an ascetic. He pledged himself to subsist on the bare essentials of the temporal while acquiring a spiritual fulfillment to serve Jesus Christ and mankind. On this road to glory he encountered men of equal dedication, chief of whom was St. Gerasimos, who sponsored him in the monastic life on the recommendation of the eminent St. Euthymios of Jerusalem.

The early years under Gerasimos were uneventful, but Kyriakos emerged as a man of extreme piety and wisdom, and with a hardihood that kept him as fit as a well-trained and well-fed athlete (despite the fact that he subsisted on rations barely enough to sustain human life). The beard and garment of the monks concealed many a sunken cheek and gaunt frame, but the robust Kyriakos was on hand for the most demanding of physical chores, apparently nourished by an unseen food which came not out of the barren desert or the sparse gardens of the monastery, but from a power known to very few. To a man, the monks looked upon him as favored by God, as did Gerasimos himself.

When word came that St. Euthymios lay dying, St. Gerasimos chose Kyriakos to accompany him to the Monastery of Lavra, where both officiated at the funeral of the eminent monastic. For a period of nine years thereafter, Kyriakos remained close to Gerasimos in their holy work, but with the death of the latter, the younger monk chose to go to another monastery in an area known as Suka. No longer in the shadow of others, Kyriakos asserted himself in a manner which earned him the respect of those not only in the cloister, but in the populace in the surrounding area who came in increasing numbers to hear his impassioned homilies and to receive cures at his hands.

Refusing any form of tribute or honor, Kyriakos finally consented to have himself ordained a priest at the age of forty, some twenty-two years after he had answered the call to Christ, but it was with the understanding that he continue his own way of serving God and man. He remained at the cloister as a preacher and counselor until, at the age of seventy, he felt called upon to refresh his spirit with total isolation. He vanished into a forbidding area of the desert called Natufa, where he managed to survive in a wasteland fit for insects and scorpions.

He is said to have emerged from this barren land at the age of ninety, like Moses descending from Sinai, appearing hearty for a man of his years. Settling at the edge of the trackless waste, he exuded a spiritual mood captured by many passersby and pilgrims whom he counseled until his death on September 26, 557, after a phenomenal ninety years devoted to Jesus Christ.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.

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