Christian Ascetics: Marana and Cyra

Among the fascinating ascetics of early Christianity, we find that Syrian asceticism was perhaps the one that dealt with the mortification of the flesh the most.  It was a visible form of penance, and it can be understood perhaps from that time period better.  The times in which most of these ascetics lived lasted roughly 200 years, between 300AD and 500AD.   Most of these ascetical practices were done not only for the personal penance, but for outer penance, so as to inspire the many people who were still not converts and practiced Paganism.

When we read of ascetics in the Syrian desert circa 350AD, we imagine a frail man, tormented by the many labors of his practice.  We rarely imagine women in such a role.  But there were many women ascetics of early Christianity.  Among the most interesting were the sisters Marana and Cyra.

Marana and Cyra were born in the Syrian village of Berea into a noble Roman family.  The life that was given to them was full of wealth, splendor, and adoration.  We know that the family was extremely rich and owned lots of property and slaves.   The fame of Marana and Cyra’s family wealth was so widespreaed that years later, when after they were ascetics for some time, the Visigoths came to demand money from them.

From a young age the two sisters became Christians and decided to worship the Lord in the most extreme ways.  Apparently their favorite Scripture was from Lazarus and Dives, in which they understood that the Lord loves poverty and suffering for him.  Soon they became disgusted with their way of life when they realized that wealth and power did not open the gates of heaven.

In 398 the two sisters moved out of their parents home and purchased a roofless building on the edges of the city, where they lived with a door completely closed from the world.  Many of their slaves, who were all female, decided to move in and share the same humble existance.  The sisters built small little huts for their sisters.  No men were allowed into this small hermitage.

The two sisters ate very little, as was the style of man ascetics.  But what perhaps set them apart from other hermits was that Marana and Cyra lived in extreme asceticism – they attached large chains attached to even larger iron devices, which made walking extremely difficult.  Like prisoners the lived in the small little hut and communicating with their sisters through a small little window in the hut, through which food was passed.

We know that Cyra was very sickly, and the chains which she dragged were so heavy that throughout her entire life she could never stand upright.   The only man who ever entered the small enclosure was Theodoret, because of his distinction as a man of God.   When Theodoret saw the conditions in which the sisters lived, he asked them take off their chains, which they did.   He was shocked to see their frail bodies.  They wore very large and heavy cloaks, with hoods that covered their faces completely, and dragged along the ground.   We also know that Cyra never spoke.   Theodoret was also shocked that there was no roof and the women were exposed to the heat, snow, and rain of all seasons.  The only way to enter their tiny hut was by digging through the door area which they covered up.

When Theodoret left the women put the chains back on.

Their eating habits were just as extreme.  Theodoret notes how often they would often fast for 40 days during Lent.  And perhaps the most extreme form of penance was their journey to Jerusalem, which is about 388 miles from their location, they never took any nourishment on the way there and on the way back.  They only nourished themselves when they were in Jerusalem.

The photo above has nothing to dow ith Marana and Cyra, but I found it through Coolris, I guess it can give the reader some sort of idea of a roofless home.  It’s really there just for viewing.  I took the photograph from this very interesting photo blog:


~ by alexmalina on February 11, 2009.

3 Responses to “Christian Ascetics: Marana and Cyra”

  1. It’s amazing to me the strength that God can give people to endure such harsh ascetisism. Another really inspriting story of a woman ascetic is St. Mary of Egypt. If you haven’t heard of her yet, you should look up her story!

  2. Dear Doulos,

    Thank you for your comments. It is so true, the strength that is found in these people is truly inspiring. Yes, Mary of Egypt was a beautiful human being, whose life is inspiring in itself. I plan to write about her as well, so that more people would be aware.

    Kind regards,

  3. […] forms of asceticism, and they can be found in early Christian Desert Fathers such as Baradatus and Marana and Cyra, as well as certain Sadhus in India and Buddhist’s in Thailand.  Extreme asceticism is best […]

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