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CLOSER TO GOD: Monk who lives on top of a 131-foot pillar

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Maxime Qavtaradze, a 59-year-old monk, has taken his devotion to God - to new heights -- literally. Qavtaradze has lived a life of virtual solitude on top of a pillar high above his Georgian monastery for 20 years.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When he wants to leave the Katskhi Pillar, he spends 20 minutes getting down a 131-foot ladder. Supplies are winched up to him by his followers. He only comes down twice a week to pray with his followers.

Having worked as a crane operator before taking his orders in 1993, Maxime has always had a head for heights. "It is up here in the silence that you can feel God's presence," he says.

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 His only visitors are priests along with a group of troubled young men who seek solace in the monastery at the foot of the pillar.

Photographer Amos Chapple paid a visit to Maxime. He was not at first allowed up onto the pillar. Chapple had to spend four days taking part in seven hours of daily prayers including a four hour stint from 2 a.m. until sunrise.

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Finally allowed to scale the "dicey" ladder to the top, he was worried that it might be too dark to get back down. Reaching the top, Maxime told Amos that he became a monk after a stretch in prison and decided he wanted to make a change.

He first slept in a refrigerator when he first moved to the top of the pillar. He now has a bed inside a cottage.

The Katskhi Pillar was used by stylites, Christians who lived on top of pillars to avoid worldly temptation until the 15th century when the practice was stopped following the Ottoman invasion of Georgia.

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For centuries the 131-foot high pillar lay abandoned and locals could only look up at the mysterious ruins at its summit.

A group led by the mountaineer Alexander Japaridze in 1944 made the first documented ascent of the pillar and discovered the remains of a chapel and the skeleton of a stylite who had perished there.

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With the collapse of communism, and the resurgence of religion in Georgia, Maxime decided to live atop the pillar in the way of the old stylites.

"When I was young I drank, sold drugs, everything. When I ended up in prison I knew it was time for a change.

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"I used to drink with friends in the hills around here and look up at this place, where land met sky.
"We knew the monks had lived up there before and I felt great respect for them."

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