The Twenty-Ninth Day
of the Month of October
The Life of Our Holy Monastic Father
Hilarion the Great
From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 2: October,
compiled by St. Demetrius of Rostov
The venerable Hilarion was born in the village of Tabatha, which is in Palestine near the city of Gaza. Hilarion was like a rose blossoming among thorns, for although his parents were pagans, he emitted the fragrance which is Christ. His father and mother sent him to study in Alexandria, and there he acquired not only the knowledge which the Hellenes seek and which is easily mastered, but spiritual wisdom as well. He believed in our Lord Jesus Christ, received Holy Baptism, and went frequently to church where he gave heed to teaching that served to instruct and to enlighten him. As he exercised himself in the virtues, his heart began to burn with love for God, and he considered how he might serve the Lord.
Hilarion soon learned of Saint Anthony the Great, for the fame of Anthony’s virtuous life had spread everywhere at that time. Wishing to see Anthony, Hilarion hastened to where the saint lived. When he reached Anthony’s dwelling place in the desert, he beheld his countenance, comely with virtue, and hearkened unto his sweet discourse. The godly one indicated to him the path that leads a man to perfection, and Hilarion remained with Anthony for some time. He beheld Anthony’s fervent and frequent prayers, his handiwork and constant labor, his fasting and abstinence, hospitality and freedom from avarice, and his perfect fulfillment of the statutes of monasticism, and saw how Anthony’s life thereby rivalled that of the angels. But since many visitors came to the venerable Anthony, some to be healed of their infirmities, others to receive his blessing, and yet others to hear his divinely inspired and edifying words, Hilarion did not wish to remain there permanently. He could not have perfect solitude and quiet there, and so he considered how he might find a place where he could dwell alone with the one God without any distraction. Taking the venerable one’s blessing, he returned to his homeland where he learned that his parents had died. He divided his inheritance into two parts: one portion he gave to his kindred, the other to the poor, leaving nothing for himself. Counting all things as dung, he renounced himself and the whole world, that he might become Christ’s disciple and an emulator of His poverty.
Hilarion thus left behind every vain thing, went into the desert about four and a half miles from Maiouma, the port of Gaza, and settled alone between a lake and the sea. As that wilderness was infested with robbers, many of his acquaintances warned him to depart, so as not to fall into the hands of thieves and be murdered. But he did not fear the death of the body and was only concerned that his soul not perish. "It behooves us to flee the robbers that slay the soul," he said. "I do not fear robbers who kill the body. The Lord is my light and my Saviour; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?" Thus he remained there, fasting and praying without ceasing. He ate fifteen figs each day after the setting of the sun and was clad with a hair shirt and a leather cloak which he received from the venerable Anthony.
When the devil saw that he was being overcome by the young monk, he raised up warfare against him and sought to conquer the spiritual warrior through the desires of the body. He set afire his youthful flesh and confused his mind with defiled thoughts. As soon as Hilarion perceived that the unclean serpent sought to destroy him with the poison of sin, he trampled him underfoot by mortifying his flesh yet more. He armed himself with fervent prayer to God and utterly crushed the head of the foe. He added fasting to his fasts and labor to his labors, remaining three and sometimes four days without food. He wore down his flesh, now by digging the earth, now by plaiting rope, and he repeated to himself the Apostle’s words: If any would not work, neither should he eat. He beat his breast like the publican and sighed from the depths of his soul, thus expelling the defiled thoughts lodged in his heart. He called his body an ass, saying to it: "I will subdue you, 0 ass! I shall feed you not barley but chaff! I shall afflict you with hunger and thirst and load you with a heavy burden, that you may think of food rather than of wantonness!"
He fulfilled these words which he spoke to himself, for he so mortified his flesh that his bones were covered only by skin.
When the enemy saw that he had achieved nothing through this temptation and that he had not only failed to prevail over Hilarion but had himself been overcome, he resolved to frighten the blessed one with fantasies and specters. Thus, one night, as Hilarion stood at prayer, he heard the crying of children, the wailing of women, lions roaring, and the sounds of other beasts and cattle, a din and clamor like that of a great battle. The devil had brought his companions, the demons, and they made such an uproar that they hoped to force Hilarion to flee the desert by the sound of their voices alone. The saint understood that all this was merely a ruse of the demons, so he signed himself with the Cross, took up the shield of faith, fell to his knees, and prayed God fervently that He bestow upon him strength from on high. As he prostrated himself in prayer, he laid low his assailant. When he looked up, wishing to see with his eyes that which his ears heard (for it was a bright, moonlit night), he beheld a great chariot, pulled by wild steeds, which made much noise as it went by. He cried out, "0 Lord Jesus Christ, help me!" and immediately the earth split open and swallowed up the host of demons. The saint then chanted the hymn of triumph over Pharaoh: "Horse and rider hath He hurled into the sea; He stretched forth His right hand and the earth consumed them. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God. They have been fettered and have fallen, but we are risen and are set upright."
Although he was defeated, the foe, nevertheless, did not cease to rise up and to attack the saint, tempting him by various means. When the saint was at rest, he would present before his eyes naked women who mocked him lewdly. When he hungered and thirsted, the devil showed him sweet foods and drink. As Hilarion prayed, Satan would now cause a wolf to appear before him and howl, now foxes to scamper by, now soldiers to do battle before the saint. Once, one of the soldiers fell mortally wounded at Hilarion’s feet and asked the saint to give him burial.
One day, as the godly one stood at prayer, his mind was overcome by the weakness of nature. His thoughts wandered off, and he began to think about some other matter. Immediately, a demon jumped upon his shoulders like a wrestler, kicked him in the sides with his feet, and thrashed him upon his shoulders and neck with a switch, saying, "Run, run! Why do you sleep?" Then the evil one laughed and said, "Would you like some barley?" But the saint counted all these demonic devices as nothing and caused them to vanish by the sign of the Cross.
Saint Hilarion made a little cell for himself which was like a grave. Although he could scarcely fit into it, he remained there, struggling against the invisible spirits. One night, robbers came searching for him, hoping to steal something from him, but though they searched for him all night, they could not find him. In the morning they came upon him and saw that he had no possessions. They said to him, "What would you do if robbers were to come upon you?"
Hilarion answered them, "The naked do not fear robbers."
They said to him, "But they could slay you."
The saint replied, "Since I am prepared to die, I do not fear robbers."
So amazed were the thieves by his bravery and faith that they told him how they had searched for him through the night but could not find him. They promised to correct their lives and departed.
After Hilarion had lived in that desert for many years, word of the holiness of his life began to spread throughout Palestine. People who were in need of assistance began to come to him, seeking aid through his holy prayers. The first to come was a woman from Eleutheropolis, who had lived in wedlock for fifteen years and was barren. She was reviled and reproached by her husband because she was childless, so she determined to go to the saint and to fall down at his feet. When the saint saw her, he turned away from her, but she said to him, weeping, "0 servant of God, why do you turn away from me, who am held fast by sorrow? Why do you run from her who entreats your help, weeping? Do not reject me because I am a woman, but rather look upon the sorrow of my heart and my tears. Have compassion on me, 0 servant of Christ, and remember that the Saviour honored our sex by His Incarnation. It was also a woman who bore you; therefore, do not reject her who has come to you seeking to be freed by your prayers from the bonds of barrenness, for my husband upbraids and reviles me unceasingly because of my unfruitfulness."
By saying such things as these, the woman inclined Saint Hilarion to show her mercy. The godly one lifted up his eyes unto heaven, prayed for her, and told her to return to her house. He said, "Go with firm faith, and the Lord will grant your request."
The woman departed rejoicing, for she believed the saint’s words. God hearkened unto the prayers of His servant and loosed the bonds of the woman’s barrenness. Soon she conceived and bore a son as Saint Hilarion had foretold. The following year, she went to the godly one, bearing the child in her arms, and said, "Behold the fruit of your holy prayers, 0 servant of God! Bless the child whom you besought God to grant me!"
The saint blessed both the child and his mother and let them depart in peace. The woman praised the Lord and spread abroad the glory of the saint throughout that land.
Later another woman, Aristenete, who believed in our Lord Jesus Christ and was the wife of a nobleman named Elpidius, heard that Saint Hilarion dwelt in the desert. She had three sons who had fallen ill on the same day with malaria. No doctor could help them, and they lay nearly dead. The woman took her maidservants and eunuchs and went to the saint, fell at his feet weeping, and said, "I adjure you by our Lord Jesus Christ and His precious Cross to come to Gaza and to raise up from their bed of illness my three dying sons. Thus, the name of the Lord shall be glorified in that pagan city, my children healed, and Mamas, the vain god worshipped by the unbelievers of Gaza, shall be put to shame."
The saint replied, "Never have I left the wilderness, either to go to the city or to a village."
But the woman continued to trouble Hilarion with her tearful entreaties until at length he agreed to come after the setting of the sun. After dark fell the saint went to Gaza, and when he touched the ailing youths, calling upon the name of Jesus Christ as he stood over them, sweat began to stream from them like water from a spring. They arose healed at that very hour, and they ate, giving thanks to God and kissing the holy hands of their physician. Word of this spread throughout Gaza, and from that time those who were ill with various maladies began to visit the venerable Hilarion in the desert. They received healing through his prayers, and because of this a multitude of pagans was converted to our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, many of them wished to emulate the saint’s virtuous life, so they forsook the world and went to dwell with him in the desert. Soon the number of his disciples increased greatly, and thus Saint Hilarion in Gaza became the instructor of the monks of Palestine, as Saint Anthony was of those in Egypt.
Once, a woman who had been blind for ten years was brought to the godly one. She had spent all her living on physicians but had received no benefit from them. The saint healed her with spittle, in imitation of his Lord, for when he spit into her face, she immediately received her sight. Seeing this, all gave glory to God.
The servant and driver of a certain nobleman of Gaza was set upon by a demon as he was driving his carriage. He became stiff and could not move at all but remained able to speak. This servant was brought to the godly Hilarion in the desert, and as soon as the saint laid eyes on him, he said, "You cannot be cured of your infirmity unless you first believe in Christ the Lord, Who alone can heal you of your ailment."
The sick man cried out piteously, "I believe in Him; only let Him heal me!"
The saint prayed and healed the man by the power of Christ, and then instructed him in the faith. He told the servant to be baptized and sent him home freed from bondage to the devil and whole in body and soul.
There was another young man named Marsitus, from the region of Jerusalem, who had such strength that he could lift up and carry more than five hundred pounds of wheat. He was so strong that he did not need an ass to carry heavy burdens. A demon entered this man and began to torment him, driving him through fields and deserts. Finally, he was caught, bound hand and foot with chains and iron shackles, and kept shut up under close watch. But so great was his natural strength (to which was added the power of the demons) that he broke his bonds and burst open the door behind which he was shut. He then fled and began to assault everyone he met along the way. He cut off the nose, the lips, or the ears of this one; broke the arms and legs of that one; dug out the eyes of a third; and strangled still another. He spread terror among all the inhabitants of that region, but no one could subdue him. At length a multitude of people gathered together, seized him, bound his whole body with chains, and dragged him like a wild bull to the venerable one. When the godly Hilarion saw him, he ordered that he be set free, and Marsitus became as meek as a lamb. The saint then prayed for him and said to the demon which dwelt within him, "0 unclean spirit! In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to depart from this man and to flee into the desert!"
The demon shook the man, cast him to the ground, and then departed from him. By the grace of the Lord and the prayers of the saint, the man was healed and began to praise the venerable Hilarion greatly. But the saint forbade him to do this and said both to him and to the others who were there, "It was not we who brought this to pass but the grace of our Saviour, Who loves mankind. Because of His ineffable compassion for us, His servants, He bore our infirmities; therefore, we ought to glorify, to thank, and to magnify Him without ceasing."
As he said this, another man was brought to the saint, bound with iron chains, for a legion of demons had taken possession of him. His name was Orion; he was one of the chief men of the city of Aila and was very wealthy. As he approached the saint, he tore himself out of the hands of those accompanying him, seized the saint from behind, and lifted him above his head. All those present cried out, for they feared that Hilarion would be cast to the ground and his bones, which were dried up from much fasting, would be shattered. But the saint smiled and said, "Let my opponent wrestle with me!"
Then he stretched forth his hand, took the demonized man by the hair, and forced him to lie down at his feet. After this Hilarion bound Orion’s hands and stepped on his feet, and he said, "Suffer, O legion of demons, suffer!"
The demons within the man cried out, shouting with many voices like a great crowd of people, and the saint began to pray, "0 Lord Jesus Christ, free this poor man from this legion of demons, for as Thou canst overcome a single devil, so art Thou able to prevail over a multitude of evil spirits."
Immediately, the demons came forth from the man, crying out loudly. The man was freed from their torments, made whole, and gave thanks to God and to His servant, Saint Hilarion. Some time thereafter, he returned with his wife and friends, bearing rich gifts for the saint in thanks for his healing. But the saint would not accept them, saying, "Have you not heard how Gehazi suffered for taking gifts from the man who was healed of leprosy? The grace of God cannot be purchased. Go, distribute among the poor who live in your city the things you have brought me. We who dwell in the desert have no need of possessions." Thus he sent the man back with his gifts.
After this a stonemason of the city of Maiouma who was sick of the palsy was brought to the godly one, and by the prayers of the saint he was immediately made whole.
On another occasion a possessed maiden from the region of Gaza was brought to the saint. The cause of her affliction was as follows. There was a youth who fell in love with her and was stricken with desire for her. She, however, would have nothing to do with him and would not submit to his vile lusts. When the young man saw that he could not gain his purpose either through enticing words or costly gifts, he went to the sorcerers of Aesculapius in Memphis, a city of Egypt. He told them how he had been wounded with desire for the maiden, and they gave him a copper plate upon which magic spells were inscribed. When he returned home, he buried the plate beneath the portal of the house where the maiden lived, as the wizards had instructed him to do. Immediately, a demon entered the maiden and set her aflame with lust so that she began to cry out without shame the name of the youth, telling him to come and fulfill his desires. She lewdly stripped herself of her clothes, and the fire of desire brought her to a frenzy. When her parents saw her condition, they understood that a devil had gained possession of her, and they took her to the monastery where the venerable one lived (for a multitude of brethren had gathered about the godly one, and he had founded a great monastery).
As the maiden was being led there, the demon within her cried out and wailed, saying, "It would have been better for me to remain in Memphis, where I led people astray with dreams, than to be sent here." Then, as she was brought before the saint, the demon cried, "I did not enter this maiden willingly: I was sent to her against my will by them that have charge over me. Now I am tormented cruelly and cannot come forth from her, for I am bound to the copper plate buried beneath the portal. I cannot come out until the youth who bound me looses me!"
The saint laughed a little and said, "How great is your strength, 0 devil! You are tied with a little string and held fast by a plate of copper!" Then he asked the demon, "Why did you not enter the young man who bound you?"
The demon replied, "He is possessed by one of my fellows, a demon of fornication."
The saint then prayed and expelled the demon from the maiden, and he warned her to guard herself from the snares of the enemy and to flee from conversations with shameless youths.
There was a certain prince who was possessed by an unclean demon. He went to the saint and was healed by him, and to thank his unmercenary physician, offered him ten litres of gold. The saint showed him his barley bread and said, "Those who eat such bread count gold as dirt." The Prince departed, completely healed, but the saint would not take the gold.
When the venerable Anthony heard of the deeds Hilarion worked, he rejoiced in spirit and began to write to him frequently. He said to those who came to him from Syria to be healed, "Why do you trouble yourselves, making such a long journey to come to me, when you have nearby Hilarion, my son in Christ, who has received from God the gift of healing every infirmity?"
Monasteries were established throughout Palestine with Saint Hilarion’s blessing, and all the monks would come to him to hear his instructions, by which he guided them along the path to salvation. Once, the brethren entreated him to visit their monasteries, which through his prayers and blessing had multiplied in number, that he might give the monks a rule of life and establish them in the way of virtue. As he prepared to begin his visitations, about three thousand monks gathered around him. They followed the saint, delighting in his sweet teaching. While the venerable one went about the monasteries and visited their brotherhoods, he worked numerous miracles. There was one brother, a most hospitable man, who had a vineyard that produced about a hundred measures of wine every year. This monk received Saint Hilarion kindly and besought the brethren to go into his vineyard, permitting each of them to take as many grapes as he wished, for the grapes were already ripe. The brethren, as has been said, numbered about three thousand, and each of them took what he desired. When the venerable one witnessed that man’s kindness, he blessed his vineyard, and on account of his hospitality to the brethren, the brother’s vines produced, through the saint’s blessing, more than three hundred measures of wine that year. But there was another brother, a miserly and heartless man, who when he saw the saint approaching with his spiritual flock, set a watch about his vineyard so that no one could take a single grape. When the brethren drew near, the guards cast stones at them and said, "This vineyard belongs to another; do not come near it." The saint did not bless those vines, and they gave very little wine, and what they did produce turned to vinegar.
Once, as Hilarion was travelling through the wilderness of Kadesh to visit one of his disciples, he passed by the barbarous city known as Elusa. A multitude of barbarians and people from the cities nearby had assembled there to celebrate a feast in honor of the demons. As they were offering oblations and making merry in the temple of the vile goddess Aphrodite, they heard that Saint Hilarion was approaching. They went forth with their wives and children to meet him, for they had heard for a long time that he was a great wonderworker. When they saw him, they bowed their heads and cried out in the Syriac tongue, "Varach, varach!" which means "Bless, bless!" They brought to him many sick and demonized persons, and the venerable one healed them all by the power of Christ. He taught them to know the one, true God and led the people to the faith. He did not depart until he had destroyed the pagan temple, shattered its idols, erected a holy church, and baptized them all in the name of the Lord. After confirming them in the faith and bestowing upon them his blessing, the godly Hilarion continued on his way.
Such was the grace which the venerable one received from God that he could tell by the smell of a man’s body and even of the clothing he had worn what passion afflicted his soul. Once, a certain brother who was a miser sent the saint vegetables from his garden. That evening, when the saint sat down to supper, his disciples offered him greens sent by the miserly brother. When the saint saw them, he turned away and said, "I cannot bear the stench of those vegetables; take them away!"
Then his disciple, the blessed Hesychius, began to insist that Hilarion bless the vegetables and eat them, saying that the brother had brought them out of love for the saint. He said, "Father, do not disdain our brother’s gift, for he has come with faith, bearing the first fruits of his garden."
The saint replied, "Do you not smell the stench of greed coming forth from those vegetables?"
Said Hesychius, "What smell can greens give off other than that which is natural to them? How can vegetables smell of someone’s passions?"
The saint answered, "Since you do not believe me, give the vegetables to the oxen, and see if they will eat them."
Hesychius took the greens and placed them in a trough before the oxen, but unable to bear the stench, they began to bellow, and they tore themselves free from the trough and fled.
When this took place the saint was sixty-three years old. A large number of brethren had gathered about him, and it was necessary to enlarge the monastery. The many cares involved in its administration deprived the venerable Hilarion of his silence; moreover, he was visited by a multitude of people, some to be healed, others to receive a blessing. Bishops, presbyters and the other clergy, princes and noblemen from various cities and lands all came to hear him proclaim the word of God and to receive his blessing. This greatly troubled the saint, for it did away with his silence, and he wept when he remembered the solitude he had enjoyed in times past when he lived alone. As the brethren saw him thus, always grieving and weeping, they asked him, "Why do you sorrow and weep, Father?"
He replied, "I shed tears and lament, for it is as if I have returned to the world and received my reward in this life. All the inhabitants of Palestine and of the cities roundabout praise me, and you also revere me as your master. Moreover, all who live in this monastery call me their lord."
When the brethren heard him say this, they understood that he wished to depart from them secretly, and so they watched him carefully, lest he slip away. The elder thus remained in his grief for two years.
Once Aristenete, the wife of the Eparch Elpidius, whose three sons had been healed on their deathbed, came to the saint to ask his prayers and to have him bless her journey, for she wished to go to Egypt to do reverence to the godly Anthony. When the saint heard Anthony’s name, he sighed and said, "Would that I could go there and see my holy and beloved father Anthony! But I am kept here by the brethren and cannot go to him."
After this he was silent for a moment and then began to weep bitterly, saying, "This is now the second day since the world has been deprived of its great luminary, for the venerable Anthony has departed from the body."
When the woman and all those present heard this, they understood that God had revealed to him that the venerable Anthony had reposed. Aristenete returned to her home, and within a few days word was received of Anthony’s death.
When Saint Hilarion could no longer bear the esteem of men and the tumult of life in the monastery, he received a revelation from God that he was to depart from that place. He summoned certain of his disciples and commanded them to come with him. They brought an ass and put the godly one on it, for because of old age he could no longer travel by foot. They supported him as he sat upon the ass, and they walked alongside him. When the other brethren and the inhabitants of the villages nearby learned that the venerable one had forsaken them, about ten thousand people gathered together and went out to pursue him. When they overtook him, they fell down before him in tears and pleaded, "After God, you are the father of all Palestine! It is you who confirmed us in the faith and always help us; therefore, do not leave us like sheep without a shepherd!"
Hilarion answered them thus: "Why, 0 my children, do you seek to break my heart? You must know that I have not done this contrary to the will of the Lord. I prayed to the Lord, and He commanded me to depart, that I not behold the sorrows which are to come upon the Church of God, nor see the desolation which is to befall the temples of the saints, nor the destruction of altars, nor the shedding of my children’s blood. Therefore, do not prevent me from departing, my children."
When they heard the saint speak openly of the misfortunes which were to come upon them, the people began to entreat him yet more fervently not to forsake them but rather to remain and to help them by his prayers. Then he became very angry and struck the ground, saying, "I will neither eat nor drink until you let me go. If you wish to see me dead, then keep me here."
For seven days they would not permit Hilarion to depart and persisted with their entreaties, but when they saw that he would not do as they wished, they let him continue on his way in peace. The whole multitude of the people accompanied him further, weeping, and when he reached the city of Betilium, he prostrated himself and prayed with them. He then committed them unto the Lord and bade them depart to their homes. After this he chose forty of the brethren whom he knew were able to travel on foot while fasting, eating but a little food after the setting of the sun, and these he took with him.
When he had travelled for five days, Hilarion reached Pelusium where he visited the brethren who lived in the desert near the place called Lychnos. Three days later, he arrived in the city of Theubatus, where he visited Dracontius, a bishop who was a confessor and had been exiled to that place for the faith. Both saint and Bishop received consolation from the divinely inspired words of the other. Then he travelled again for several days and with great difficulty reached Babylon [Cairo, Egypt], where he visited Philo, another bishop who was a confessor. Both these men had been sent into exile by the Emperor Constantius, who gave every sort of assistance to the impious Arians. After the godly one had seen the blessed Philo and conversed with him, he continued on his way. He came to the city of Aphroditus, and then journeyed through a terrible and wild desert for three days until he reached the high mountain where the venerable Anthony had lived. There Saint Hilarion found two of Anthony’s disciples, Isaac and Pelusianus, who greatly rejoiced to see him. That place was very beautiful, and Saint Hilarion walked about it most joyfully. Isaac and Pelusianus showed Hilarion the places which Anthony frequented, saying, "In this place our holy father Anthony loved to chant, there he kept silence, there he prayed, while there he used to sit and plait rope. Here he would often rest from his labors, and here he slept. This is the vineyard and there the trees which he planted. This threshing-floor he prepared with his own hands, and he dug out this watering pond for the garden with great labor. He used to draw water from it himself. The saint used this shovel to dig the earth for many years."
The two monks showed the blessed one all these things, and when they reached the place where Saint Anthony usually laid down to rest, they kissed it with fear and joy and themselves laid down there.
At the summit of that mountain, there were two cells made of stone where the venerable Anthony would resort to find silence and to escape the crowds of people who came to see him. As Anthony’s disciples led Hilarion up the steps to that place, they showed him a vineyard and various fruit trees laden with fruit, and they said, "Saint Anthony planted these trees only three years ago."
The venerable Hilarion rested there with his monks for a long time and then commanded them to return to their monastery in Palestine. He kept only two brothers with him. He went with these into the desert nearby and made his dwelling there. They lived in silence and prayer, enduring such hunger and labors that they were left as exhausted as if they had just begun to struggle in the monastic life for Christ.
After the death of Saint Anthony, there was a drought in that region which lasted for three years. Great famine came upon the land, and the earth was burned by the rays of the sun as though by fire. The people said, "Not only do men lament, but the earth itself grieves over the death of the venerable Anthony, and the heavens refuse to give rain."
Because of the drought and the famine which it caused, both men and beasts began to perish. When the people heard that Saint Hilarion, Anthony’s disciple, lived nearby, a great throng of men, with their wives and children, gathered and went out into the desert to the godly one. They fervently besought his assistance, saying, "God has sent you to us in place of Anthony; therefore, have compassion on us and pray to the Lord, that in His mercy He might send rain to our land, which is parched by drought."
Since Saint Hilarion saw that the people were terribly afflicted by hunger and thirst, he lifted up his eyes and hands unto heaven and prayed with tears. Immediately, torrents of rain began to fall, thoroughly soaking the earth. From that time forth the people came to him, bearing their sick.
When the saint saw how the people thronged him and destroyed his silence, he resolved to go to the desert called Oasim. He arose and departed with his two disciples, and as he was passing through the vicinity of Alexandria, he came to Bruchium. There he was met by certain brethren who were known to him and who received him with joy. He remained with them for several days and then wished to depart. But the brethren did not want to let him go and besought him to stay with them, so Hilarion determined to depart secretly by night. However, as his disciples were saddling the ass, the brethren discovered that they were about to leave, and they came and fell down before the monastery gates. They said, "It would be better for us to die lying at your feet than to be deprived of you so quickly."
"Rise up, my children," the saint entreated them. "It is more profitable both for you and for me that you permit me to depart now, for God has revealed to me that I must leave. It is because I do not wish to bring sorrow upon you that I hasten to leave you. Truly, soon you will understand that it is for a good reason I have departed so quickly from this place."
When they heard this, the brethren arose, and after the saint had prayed, he kissed them and went on his way. He journeyed through trackless deserts, but the grace of God guarded him always.
The day after he departed from Bruchium, pagans from Gaza arrived in that city with executioners, asking where Hilarion was. When they learned that he had departed, they said to one another, "That wizard learned what was to befall him at our hands, and so he fled!"
The pagans of Gaza had hated the saint for a long time, for the people had forsaken their god Mamas and had begun to visit Hilarion instead. The priests of Mamas were especially furious with Hilarion, and they sought to destroy him by every means. They were unable to do this, however, because all who lived in the cities and villages nearby revered the saint greatly. But when the Emperor Constantius died and was succeeded by the impious apostate Julian, the servant of the demons, the iniquitous heathen found an opportunity to accomplish the evil intention they had conceived long before. At that time the idolaters of Gaza went to the wicked Emperor and slandered the venerable Hilarion and his disciples. They asked that a decree be issued ordering that his monastery in Palestine near Gaza be destroyed, that his disciples be flogged and expelled from the country, and that Hilarion be put to death, together with his disciple Hesychius. Thus, the monastery was demolished by the impious and Christ’s flock scattered, and Hesychius, whom the blessed Hilarion loved greatly (for he was the most obedient of all the monks), hid in the desert to escape the hands of the iniquitous.
During this time the venerable Hilarion dwelt in the desert of Oasim where he was preserved by God unharmed. When he had lived in that wilderness for about a year, his disciple Adrian came to tell him that the Emperor Julian had been killed. He asked the godly one to return to Palestine where he had begun his monastic labors, since peace had returned to the church. Loving silence as he did, the saint did not wish to return, but he knew also that he could not remain hidden from men by staying in the desert of Oasim. Therefore, he travelled to the country of Libya with a single disciple, Zeno, and Adrian returned to Palestine with the other disciple.
Arriving in the port of Paratonium, Hilarion took ship and sailed to Sicily, hoping to flee human glory. The captain of that ship had a son who was afflicted by an unclean spirit, and the demon which was within him cried out, "0 Hilarion, servant of God! Why do you not leave us in peace, at least on the sea? Suffer us to remain here until we reach shore, that we be not plunged into the deep!"
The saint replied, "If God commands you to remain in His creature, remain, but if He casts you out, what is it to me? I am but a sinful man."
When the father of the suffering child heard this, he and all who were on the ship fell at the saint’s feet and besought him to have compassion on the boy and to cast the demon out of him. But the saint did not wish to consent, saying that he was a sinner. Finally, however, he said, "If you promise me that you will tell no one about me in the land to which we sail, I shall entreat my Master to drive out the evil spirit." They swore with an oath to tell no one of him. After the venerable one had prayed, the demon was cast out of the youth, and all gave glory to God.
When the ship reached the cape of Sicily called Pachynum, the saint gave the captain the book of the Gospels which he had copied with his own hand while he was still young, for he had nothing else to give him in exchange for his passage, being poor both in spirit and in goods. But the captain would not accept it even though the saint pressed him to take it. He said, "How can I take anything from one so poor?"
Hearing this, the saint began to reflect upon his poverty and rejoiced in spirit.
When he landed, Hilarion went inland about twelve miles and took up his dwelling there. Every day his disciple would gather a load of firewood, carry it to the nearest village, and buy a loaf of bread with the money he received from the sale of the wood. This bread, for which they gave thanks to God, served to feed them both.
But a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. A man who was possessed by a demon began to cry out in the Church of Saint Peter in Rome, "Christ’s servant Hilarion came not long ago to Sicily. No one there knows him, and he imagines that he can hide himself in that place. But I shall go there and make his presence known."
The man was taken to Sicily, and he found Hilarion in Pachynum. He prostrated himself before the saint’s cell and received healing through the prayers of the godly one. After this the inhabitants of that country learned of Hilarion, and a multitude of people began to come to him, desiring that he heal their infirmities, and they all received what they sought. The man who had come from Rome seeking to be cured sent the saint rich gifts to thank him for his healing, but the saint would not accept them, "For it is written," he said, "Freely ye have received, freely give."
While Saint Hilarion was living in Sicily, his beloved disciple Hesychius was searching for him, since he dearly loved his venerable father. For three years he sought for him diligently in many lands, in mountains and deserts, but did not find him. When he was in the city of Modon, a port in the Peloponnesus, he heard from a Jewish merchant that a Christian prophet had appeared in Sicily, working many miracles. Hesychius asked the merchant what was the prophet’s name and questioned him concerning his appearance, but the Jew replied, "I have not seen him and do not know his name but have only heard of him."
Hesychius understood that the man of whom the Jew spoke could only be Saint Hilarion, so he took ship and sailed to Sicily. As soon as he arrived there, he began to hear of the saint from the people, all of whom said, "He works numerous miracles and has never taken a crust of bread from any of us."
When Hesychius found the venerable one in Pachynum, he fell down at the saint’s feet, kissing them and washing them with tears. He wept much from joy, and the elder was scarcely able to raise him up from the ground. Then the saint began to speak to him of things profitable to the soul, thereby consoling him.
A short time thereafter, seeing that many people came to him, always praising him, the elder said to his disciples Hesychius and Zeno, "Children, we cannot live here. Let us depart to another country where no one will know us."
So, Hilarion with his disciples went to Epidaurus in Dalmatia. The Lord led him to that place so that he might profit many. Several days after he arrived in the region of Epidaurus and had taken up his dwelling there, the inhabitants of that land learned that the servant of God had come from Sicily to their country, for God revealed the presence of His servant, in order that Hilarion be glorified. Now there lived in that region a very great and fearsome serpent which devoured oxen and men and had destroyed an innumerable multitude of both men and beasts. This serpent terrified the people; therefore, after they learned of the saint, they gathered together and came to him, fell down before him, and began to entreat him to help them. The saint listened to their story and ordered that much firewood be gathered and a great fire lit. Then he fell prostrate and besought the Lord to have compassion upon His people, to deliver them from the deadly serpent, and thereby to glorify His holy name. After this he began to call the serpent, and lo, it was compelled to appear, slithering forth quickly as if it were in a hurry to be sacrificed. All who beheld this were filled with fear. The saint then ordered it to enter the fire, and without delay it obeyed his words, plunged into the flames, and was burned. The people gave glory to God, and they thanked Saint Hilarion.
After this many began to come to visit the godly one; therefore the elder was grieved and began to consider how he might find a place where he could conceal himself from men and remain in silence. At that time there was a great earthquake which caused enormous tidal waves. They rose so far beyond the shore that hills were covered with the sea’s waters and boats cast upon high places by the waves. When the inhabitants of the city of Epidaurus, which lay near the sea, saw this, they supposed that a second Flood had begun. In their great fear they thought that the whole world would be destroyed, and they wept and wailed loudly, awaiting death. Then they remembered Saint Hilarion; and all of them, great and lowly, men, women, and children, went forth weeping to entreat him to pray God to turn away His righteous anger. The saint arose, went with them to their city, and stood between it and the sea. The water rose up high into the sky so that it seemed to touch the clouds, and it was about to flood the city. Then the saint drew three crosses on the ground, lifted up his hands, and prayed God, Who loves mankind, to have mercy upon that which He created. And when the saint had prayed, God showed His compassion for men: by the command of the Lord, the sea little by little grew quiet. It returned to its place, the quaking of the earth ceased, and the winds died down. The story of this great miracle worked by the Lord through Saint Hilarion’s prayers was passed on from father to son for generations in the city of Epidaurus.
But the saint, unable to endure the praise of men, departed from that place by night. He found a ship sailing for Cyprus which he took with his disciples. While sailing, they were overtaken by pirates, and all who were in the ship were stricken with fear. But the saint sought to calm them, saying, "Are not these pirates fewer in number than Pharaoh’s soldiers, whom the Lord drowned in the sea?"
When the pirates had come within a stone’s throw of the ship, the saint shook his fist at them and said, "You have come close enough!"
The pirates’ boat stopped, and they could sail no closer to the ship in which the saint sat. They continued to row until they had wearied themselves and could go no farther. Then, by the power of God, their boat began to move backwards. Thus put to shame, they departed.
When Saint Hilarion reached the island of Cyprus, he took up his abode in a solitary place a little more than a mile from the city of Paphos. However, he was unable to hide himself there, for the demons proclaimed his coming to the people through the mouths of those in whom they dwelt. By the command of God, about two hundred men and women who were possessed gathered together and went to the saint, and by his prayers the demons were driven out of them. After remaining there for two years, Hilarion wished to depart and to find a place in the wilderness where he could end his life in silence. He went inland about seven miles from the sea and found a remote and awe-inspiring place situated amid lofty mountains. There were many fruit trees nearby, but the saint never ate of their fruit. Good water flowed down from the heights; there was a garden there and a deserted temple of the idols, in which lived numerous demons. The saint loved this place, for it was hidden deep in the wilderness, and he remained there five years. Day and night the demons cried out, threatening the saint and hoping to frighten him and to drive him away, but he withstood them by means of unceasing prayer. No one dared to come to that place on account of the multitude of demons which dwelt there and because it was so difficult to reach.
One day, the elder came out of his cell and saw a man who was a paralytic lying on the ground. He asked his disciple Hesychius, "Who is this man?"
Hesychius replied, "He is the owner of this place where we live."
The saint wept, and stretching forth his hand over the man, he said, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise and walk!"
The paralytic immediately arose. All of his members were healed, and he was made altogether whole. He began to walk and gave praise unto God. After the saint had worked this miracle, all the people who lived nearby began to come to him, and they no longer feared either the evil spirits or the difficult journey.
The godly one did not forget the brethren in Palestine and sent the blessed Hesychius to visit them and to greet them on his behalf. When Hilarion saw that the people who lived near the place where he now dwelt had begun to revere him, he wished to flee, but he remained for a time to await Hesychius’ return. It was about that time that his disciple, the blessed Zeno, reposed. Moreover, the saint himself was drawing near the end of his life of labors, for he was already eighty years old.
Since he knew that he was soon to depart unto God, Hilarion wrote out his testament to the brethren with his own hand. He left the Gospel which he had copied out, his hair shirt, and his cowl to Hesychius. Soon thereafter, he began to grow feeble. When the pious men of Paphos learned that Saint Hilarion was ill, they began to come to visit him. With them there came a woman named Constantia, who lived in a God-pleasing manner. Saint Hilarion anointed her ailing daughter with oil and healed her.
When he saw that the Lord was calling him to Himself, the saint besought his visitors to bury his body immediately after his repose amid the fruit trees where he lived. As the blessed one’s conscience was altogether pure, he said as he was about to die, "Depart, 0 my soul! What do you fear? Depart! Why are you troubled? Of what are you afraid? Begone! You have served Christ for eighty years, and yet you fear death?"
When he had said this, Hilarion surrendered his spirit to God. Those present wept for their father and teacher, and in accordance with his instructions, they buried him in that place.
Soon the blessed Hesychius returned from Palestine, and as he did not find his guide among the living, he mourned for many days. He wished to take the saint’s body to Palestine to the brethren there, but he could not, for all the people living nearby watched carefully lest someone remove the treasure of Hilarion’s relics from their land. Therefore, Hesychius pretended that he wished to live in that place, and he declared, "May I die and be buried here with my father!"
The people believed him and permitted him to take up his dwelling where Saint Hilarion had lived. Ten months later, Hesychius opened the tomb of the venerable one. He saw that Hilarion’s holy body remained as though he had just reposed. The saint’s countenance was radiant, and a fragrance came forth from his remains. Hesychius took the relics and secretly departed to Palestine. All the monks and the laity of Palestine heard that Hesychius was bringing the relics of Saint Hilarion to their land, so they gathered together from every city and monastery with candles and censers, and reverently escorting the godly one’s remains through Maiouma, placed them in the first monastery which the saint founded.
It is not fitting that we should keep silence concerning what occurred to Constantia, the woman mentioned earlier. Since she was virtuous and pious, she had great devotion to Saint Hilarion. After his death she frequented his tomb and would pray there through the night. She spoke with him as though he were alive and besought him to pray for her. So great was her sorrow when she heard that his body had been stolen that she immediately fell down dead. Thus, she showed by her very death what great love she had for the godly one and how great was her faith in him.
The inhabitants of Cyprus and of Palestine alike made their boast in Saint Hilarion. There was much contention between them, for the Palestinians said, "We possess the body of Saint Hilarion," while the Cypriotes said, "His spirit remains with us."
In both places, Cyprus where he was first buried and Palestine where he was taken, numerous miracles were worked through the saints prayers. Countless healings were bestowed upon the people by his intercession, unto the glory of God, Who is one in Trinity. May we also render the Lord honor, thanksgiving, and worship unto the ages. Amen.