Christian Ascetics: Grazers

Among the fascinating men and women of early Christianity that I have come across in my studies of the subject matter of early Christian ascetics, perhaps the oddest and most intriguing would be what were later called “grazers.”  Put simply, grazers were men and women who renounced the life of humanity, left for the grassy hills, plains, and meadows, to live as the wild beasts of the Earth – walking only on all fours, in modest rags or naked, feeding off whatever they could find, often grass and raw foods, never speaking the human tongue, or acting human whatsoever.

There is very little information available today about the grazers.  We do know that such forms of penance, mortification, and asceticism existed in other religious cultures, most notably the Sufi ascetics in the East, also saw such “grazers” in the extreme of their religion.

We do know that grazers often chose to also wear heavy chains on their entire body, so as to never rise and walk like a human being, and to be constantly lowered like an animal towards the ground.  We know that the few people who did encounter grazers noted how shocking and strange they looked, that they often barked and ran off as if wild animals into the forests.   However, we do know that the people who chose to become grazers did so out of a religious passion, and not from some sort of disorder

Very little information exists, and there are no definitely “grazers” that have become Saints, or some that can be identified into a category, as could, for example, the “stylites.”   But we can look towards some ascetics from the antique period at such people as St. Fructousus who lived without any clothing and with no care for what he would eat or drink. People noted that he lived in a cave like an animal.

It is fascinating how very little information is found about such a bizarre and extreme form of Christian practice.  Perhaps the only antique texts that mention grazers, or “boksoi” as they were called in Greek and ancient texts, is found in John Moscho’s sixth century text, The Spiritual Meadow and The Life of Saba by Cyrill Scythopolis.  But even then the boksoi are mentioned simply as existing, and nothing is written about their existance, how they chose such a way life, what drove them to such a spiritual practice, what their daily lives were like, or even what their names were.

One comes to think that perhaps the men of the day were not as fascinated or intrigued by the grazers as they were with other ascetics, such as Simeon, Baradatus, and the other Desert Fathers?  Perhaps the grazers were simply too bizarre for the regular man to approach, perhaps because they chose to abandon all forms of their previous human life, and they seemed too frightening.  Even today such an existance seems wild, and it is difficult for us to comprehend how one lives in such a manner, or what draws one to live so removed from even your own human nature.

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~ by alexmalina on February 19, 2009.

2 Responses to “Christian Ascetics: Grazers”

  1. It’s crazy that I’ve missed your blog previously. What a gem. You will find explicit mention of grazers in Leontius of Neapolis’ Life of Symeon (curiously relevant to your reference to disorder), and implicitly in Evagrius Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History. But as you say, Moschos wins for sheer number of references.

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