A number of individuals in Byzantium wished to lead especially holy lives. They were inspired by early Christian ascetics in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia who observed extreme self-denial. Some abandoned society altogether and lived hermit lives in deserts or caves; others adopted a life of celibacy, fasting, and prayer. The most remarkable were the "pillar saints," several men and at least two women who perched atop tall pillars for years.
The most famous of these was St. Simeon Stylite; who attracted admirers from as far away as Gaul. This was at a time when the upper echelons (Emperor, patriarch, and high church officials) were more concerned with ritual and theological matters than the welfare of the common people.
In the Byzantine Empire, there was little separation between healing the body and mind from healing the soul. The early Church's prayers for healing also included petitions for the "forgiveness of sins," and "healing for the mind" and "healing for the body." Most importantly the prayer for the healing from the passions, the particular sins that the early church had laid out, that afflicted the minds and bodies.
Prescriptions of fasting, prayer, bodily labors, tasks, and understanding of the particular passion was taught to the disciple. The fathers talked about the "noon day demon," a type of depression that afflicted the person during the day.
Among the rules, monks and nuns gave up personal possessions and lived communally. They followed the rule of elected superiors and everyone in the community dedicated oneself to work and prayer. The movement quickly spread throughout the Byzantine Empire.
Some of these prayers were incorporated into the modern Roman Missal. They reiterate the role of Mary in the Incarnation of Christ:
Christ delivers (1st Saturday of Advent)
The Incarnation reveals the glory of God (December 19)
Mary who embodied the Word is all filled with the light of the Holy Spirit (Dec. 20)
The Incarnation is Godís Mercy (December 23)
Saint Euphemia was born in Chalcedon, and after a brief life of Christian service was burned at the stake for refusing to deny Jesus Christ. The lethal flames could not completely destroy her mortal remains which were entombed within the walls of a chapel in Chalcedon named in her memory.
The chapel grew into a shrine when it was discovered that earnest prayer involving her name near these walls resulted in cures for the afflicted and though many were to leave disappointed, religious pilgrims came from all over the Byzantine Empire to pray in this small chapel. Enough miraculous cures were affected to assure a steady stream of Christians, each of whom spread the word of the wonders of the chapel in Chalcedon on returning to his respective community.
Many Basilian monks went to extremes in search of a mystical union with God through prayer and meditation. Some did so by special techniques such as controlled breathing or intense gazing to bring illumination. Others retired to remote destinations where they were not bothered by outside influences. The most extreme example was that of the monasteries of Mt. Athos in northern Greece, which still exist. The place is cold and barren; but even so, females, both animal and human, are forbidden, lest they appeal to the "carnal natures" of the brethren.