The Hermit Monk of the Katskhi Pillar

Maxime Qavtaradze is a Georgian monk in his early sixties who has literally taken his piety to new heights: for over 20 years, he has been living in almost complete solitude atop a 131-foot natural column outside the town of Chiatura, Georgia (the country).

Monk Maxime is continuing the ancient practice of the stylites, also known as pillar-saints, Christian ascetics who lived on pillars to avoid worldly temptation and be closer to God. It was first practiced over 1,500 years ago, with the monastery on the Katskhi pillar dating back to the ninth or tenth century.

Abandoned since the fifteenth century, locals could only look up at the mysterious ruins at its summit. In 1944, mountaineer Alexander Japaridze lead a team in the first documented ascent of the pillar, discovering the remains of a chapel and a stylite.

Amid the religious revival that swept post-Soviet Georgia, Maxime arrived in 1995 and revived the practice, remaining there to this day. The former crane operator had become involved in drugs, alcohol, and crime, and had finished a stint in prison before taking his religious orders in 1993 in an effort to turn his life around. His profession made him well disposed to heights.

Supplies are winched up to Maxime by his followers, who are usually troubled young men or priests. He comes down, via ladder, only twice a week for twenty minutes to pray with them. He knew of the stylite tradition while growing up in the nearby village, and reports on the comfort and awe he feels amid the silence and tranquility of the pillar, which offers a breathtaking view of the area.

I may not be religious, but I can definitely appreciate the awe and serenity of this practice in any context. Even a day atop this quiet and secluded place, surrounded by an endless expanse of nature, could probably do a lot of good to the mind and soul. Maybe I will get to see it someday, at least from afar.

Photos by Amos Chapple and Levan Nioradze. Source: DailyMail.

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