Meaning of Anchorite


A Greek word came to medieval Latin as anachoreta, which later derived, in our language, from the term anchorite. This word we can determine that it is the result of the sum of several clearly defined components:
-The prefix “ana-“, which can be translated as “up”.
-The noun “khoros”, which is synonymous with “space”.
-The suffix “-ta”, which is used to indicate what is an agent.

This is the name of the individual who lives in an isolated area, dedicated to penance and recollection.

An anchorite, in this way, lives away from people, usually with few material belongings. In his retirement, this person indulges in prayer and atonement, orienting himself to spirituality.

In ancient times, there were Catholic individuals who became anchorites by escaping the harassment of those who professed their faith. In this way they decided to withdraw from society and turn to comply with Christian precepts in the way they interpreted them.

In addition to all that we have explained of what it means to be an anchorite, we cannot ignore either that this individual is identified by other signs of identity. Which? For taking strict sexual abstinence, because he dedicates himself to working in manual activities and because he establishes his own penances. In the same way, he leads a life where silence takes center stage.

Thus he began to associate anchorites with a lifestyle. The anchorites decided to withdraw from the community to detach themselves from human creations, purifying their hearts and souls to come closer to God. In the process they also focused on the contemplation of the divine work.

Several anchorites began to have followers: people who also moved away from the towns to settle near them. As a consequence, small isolated groups arose, who only approached the cities to attend church or perform charity.

Throughout history there have been many anchorites who have generated expectation and followers. Specifically, among the most significant are from San Pablo, who is considered to be the first anchorite, to San Antonio Abad, Pacomio or Carlos de Foucauld (1858 – 1916). This was a contemplative mystic who became a benchmark of what, over time, has been called desert spirituality. And it is that, after exercising as a military man and explorer, he left everything to take the priesthood and develop it in the Sahara desert.

There is not much knowledge about anchorite women, although there are. A good example of this are Mary of Egypt (344 – 421), who retired to the desert after a life marked by prostitution, or Syncretic of Alexandria.

It should be noted that the anchorite idea is associated with the hermit concept and the development of monasteries. The disciples of these solitary individuals made the hermitages become monasteries, arising religious orders that lived in a cloister but in community.