St. Abraham Kidunaia

(Sixth Century)

The call to be a hermit is not common, yet in every Christian century some have received that call.

The golden age of hermits was from around 250 A.D. to 700 A.D. Hermits were more numerous in the Near East than in Europe. One of the most interesting of them was St. Abraham Kidunaia. He was a sixth-century Syrian, born in Mesopotamia near the city of Edessa, a vanished metropolis in what is now southeast Turkey.

Abraham’s parents were rich and prominent. When he came of age, they picked a bride for him, according to the Syrian custom. This embarrassed the young man. He had already privately decided to practice a life of religious celibacy. Afraid to disobey his parents, he tried to figure out some escape.

Now, marriages in that time and place were gala occasions, with a week of partying before the marriage day. Abraham decided to take part in the week-long festivities as if he had no problem. On the seventh day, however, he took flight to the nearby desert, occupying a cave as a cell. Of course, the parents sent a search party after him. Eventually they found him at prayer. They used every argument to persuade him to return, but he stood his ground, so the pursuers finally gave up and left. Then Abraham sealed up the door of his cave, leaving only a small window, through which friends in the desert could pass him food.

St. Abraham remained a hermit there for the rest of his life. When his parents died, he fell heir to their fortune, but he distributed it to the poor. He had only four possessions he could call his own: a goatskin tunic, a cloak, a bowl to serve both as dish and cup, and a mat of rushes for a bed. We are told that Abraham was an intense man never seen to smile, who looked on each day as his last, and lived it that way. His feats of self-denial were remarkable, yet they did not undermine his naturally frail constitution. He was to reach a hearty seventy.

Although at heart a solitary, Abraham did obey a request of the local bishop. The bishop called one day and lamented the fact that he had had no success in his efforts to Christianize the nearby town of Beth-Kiduna, which was inhabited by pagans rooted in idolatry and given up to abominable practices. He asked the hermit to make a try at converting them. Abraham consented, however reluctantly, and even accepted priestly ordination from the bishop.

Once ordained, Father Abraham went over to Beth-Kiduna. He talked to the people, but they sharply rejected his invitation to baptism. He therefore asked the bishop to build a church in the village. When the church was finished, Abraham, after prolonged prayer, entered the town and toppled over all the images and altars of the gods.

The citizens were furious, of course, and whipped him out of the village… But he returned the same night and in the morning they found him praying in the church. Going out into the square, he began to preach, urging all to give up their superstitions. Instead, they seized him, took him out side the walls, stoned him, and left him for dead.

The hermit was not dead, however. He returned to the square and resumed his preaching. For three years he made this his daily chore. The pagans did not try again to kill him, but they continued to insult him, throw an occasional rock at him, and strike him now and then with a club.

After three years of apparent failure, Abraham suddenly noticed a change for the better. His patience and meekness had finally persuaded the people that he was a holy man, and therefore deserved to be listened to. Eventually he was able to baptize 1000. Then he spent a full year instructing the citizens more fully in the faith, and baptizing still more. When the year was up, leaving them in the care of other priests, he returned to his cell, his assignment finished.

When Abraham entered his final illness, the whole neighborhood came to ask his final blessing. After his death, the faithful sought bits of his clothing as precious relics.

Good actions speak louder than words. St. Abraham Kidunaia, the unwilling groom, confirms that proverb.

--Father Robert F McNamara