The “Low Level” Ascetic Saint: Characteristics and Misconceptions

The “low level” saint is a theological term (not accepted by all scholars) aiming to describe a category of saints who lived with ordinary people and who were not usually members of the Church hierarchy (with some exceptions, like St. Nectarios of Pentapolis). There are many well-known “low level” ascetic saints of the ancient Church (for example the various Sts. Anargyroi) and many “low level” ascetics who lived in modern times (e.g. Paisios the Hagiorite, the Elder Porfyrios and Fr. Iakovos Tsalikis) who are considered holy people by the faith community. All these ascetics (ancient and contemporary) share common characteristics; which are oftentimes misunderstood for their value.

First, they are indifferent about material things and social rewards. This indifference is not based on a manichaistic belief that everything material is evil. The ascetics separate themselves from the secular mentality of their time focusing on their spiritual needs without rejecting the material world. Sometimes, this separation leads to the formation of an “alternative society” (a group of faithful people visiting the isolated ascetics or a monastic community formed by like-minded monks or nuns).

Second, the lives of the “low level” ascetics are different from the lives of ordinary people in a number of ways. This different lifestyle is not always appreciated. The ascetics, for example, do not have sexual relations, not because they are erotophobic, as some people would say, but because they have projected their erotic love to another dimension, desiring the Divine Eros. They also have kept a distance from their relatives, but at the same time, they pray for them constantly. Finally, they have reduced to a minimum their physical needs for food and sleep, being nevertheless healthy or even healthier than many non-ascetics.

The freedom of the “low level” ascetics from ordinary needs is accompanied with a life of unceasing prayer, frequent participation in the sacraments of the Church and engagement in spiritual exercises (like self-imposed hardships and studying regularly the holy scriptures and patristic texts). This unique lifestyle leads, oftentimes, the ascetics to be holy, receiving by God the power to understand people’s inner thoughts or to heal people’s illnesses. These special powers validate not only their holiness but also the worthiness of their choices in life [although there are various ways to achieve holiness beyond asceticism], making them role models to other “low level” ascetics who continue to struggle for spiritual perfection and sanctification.

Fr. Vassilios Bebis, PhD

Senior Fellow of the Sophia Institute (NY)

frvassilios-1About the Author:


Rev.Fr.Dr.Vassilios Bebis is the Presiding Priest at Saint Nektarios Orthodox Church in Rosindale,Boston and a Senior Fellow of the Sophia Institute.