Anachorets or Anchorets
Anachorets or Anchorets (ἀναχωρέω, to separate, to retire, to withdraw), monks, so called from their retiring from society, and living privately in cells. When the ascetics withdrew to the lonely and remote districts of the Egyptian desert, they assumed particular appellations, expressive of their solitary mode of life: monks, from the Greek μόνος, alone, one who dwells alone; eremites, corrupted into hermits, from ἐρῆμος, a desert; — and anchorets, those who withdraw from society. These terms were afterward employed to define more accurately the various shades of austerity by which these ascetics were distinguished. Thus, monks denoted those who adopted a secluded habit of life, but were still disposed occasionally to hold intercourse with society, and later, as coenobites, to dwell in communities; the hermits were those who withdrew to sequestered places, but who did not deny themselves a fixed place of shelter, or that supply of food which might be obtained from cultivating the ground; the anchorets were most excessive in their austerities, and chose the wildest localities as their retreats. Many of the anchorets voluntarily subjected themselves to the vicissitudes of the weather, without proper habitation or clothing, restricted themselves to coarse and scanty fare, wore chains and iron rings, and even throughout many years maintained painful postures, such as standing on the top of a pillar, SEE STYLITES, thus displaying an earnestness which greater enlightenment might have directed to the good of mankind. Paul (q.v.) the Hermit, and Antony (q.v.), were among the first and most celebrated anchorets. The anchorets were not able always to preserve their solitude unbroken. The fame of their sanctity drew many to visit them; their advice was often sought; and the number of their visitors was much increased by the belief that maladies, particularly mental diseases, were cured by their blessing. Sometimes, also, they returned for a short time to the midst of their fellow-men to deliver warnings, instructions, or encouragements, and were received as if they had been inspired prophets or angels from heaven. The number of anchorets, however, gradually diminished, and the religious life of convents was preferred to that of the hermitage. The Western Church, indeed, at no time abounded in anchorets like the Eastern, and perhaps the reason may in part be found in the difference of climate, which renders a manner of life impossible in most parts of Europe that could be pursued for many years in Egypt or Syria. — Helyot, Ordres Relig. t. i. SEE COENOBITE; SEE MONACHISM; SEE ASCETICISM.