Life of a prominent Christian ascetic and stoic

Saint Nilus, ascetic of Sinai – illuminating the Universe

November 25, 2021

Saint Nilus

Saint Nilus is a saint who left a rich legacy in the history of the Eastern church. A brilliantly educated man, and a disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, he acquired perfection of the spirit and gave guidance and reassurance to many on their spiritual journey to Christ. He was one of the founders of the Hesychast tradition in Christian asceticism and left many soul-profiting writings to his successors. Readers of his works are impressed by their clarity, eloquence and brevity. Many are included in the first volume of the English Philokalia, a collection of Christian writings on the practice of spiritual life.

He made a brilliant career in civil service. While still a young man, he became Prefect of the capital of Byzantine. While in civil service, he married and had two children. Eventually, however, the couple found that their life at the imperial court distracted them from the path of service to God. They agreed to separate and retire to the monasteries in Egypt. His wife and daughter joined a women's monastery, and he and his son went to Mount Sinai. There, they dug out by hand a cave, where the saint ascetised for the next forty years.

As an ascetic, Saint Nilus suffered many misfortunes. Invariably, he found strength and reassurance in prayer. In the early fifth century, the Saracens invaded Mount Sinai and captured his son, intending to sacrifice him to the idols. The saint prayed to the Lord vehemently, and the Lord came to the rescue. The bishop of Edessa paid a ransom for his son. Saint Nylos found him after many years, both were ordained as presbyters and ascetised together on Mount Sinai until Nilus's departure to God.

Commenting on the importance of prayer in his life, Saint Nylos wrote, "The state of prayer is a passionless, settled disposition of the soul which, by supreme love, transports the wisdom-loving mind to spiritual heights."

The Greek Philokalia has a quote from Saint Neilos beneath his icon: "The state of prayer is a passionless, settled disposition of the soul which, by supreme love, transports the wisdom-loving mind to spiritual heights."

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