St. Hilarion, Abbot
(by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876)
(Feast Day: October 21st)
The Roman Martyrology mentions to-day, St. Hilarion, whose life was written by St. Jerome. He was born, in the year 288, at Tabatha, near Gaza in Palestine, of heathen parents. While still a boy, he was sent to Alexandria to study. Making the acquaintance of some Christians, he became converted, and from that hour, he was no more seen at the theatres of the heathens, but only in the assemblies of the faithful. His conduct was so blameless and edifying, that it put many, though born in Christianity, to shame. At that time, the austere and holy life led by St. Antony in the deserts of Egypt, was much spoken of. Hilarion was filled with the desire to see this holy man, and to learn from him how to become a Saint. Hence he went to him, observed carefully all his actions, and endeavored to follow in his footsteps. Having passed two months under so famous a teacher, he acquainted him with his wish to lead a solitary life and to serve God in a desert. Antony, praising his desire, gave him some wholesome instructions in regard to it, and then dismissed him. Hilarion returned to his native place, and as his parents had meanwhile died, he gave to the poor the large fortune which he had inherited, and went to a desert in Egypt, a mile and a half from Majuma.
Here he began, though only 15 years of age, the austere life which he continued until his death. He was clothed in a coarse tunic and a poor cloak, which St. Antony had given him, and his sustenance was some figs, a handful of lentils, or some roots, of which, however, he partook not until after sun-down. His bed was the ground covered with matting. He divided the day between work and prayer, and the hut in which he lived was more like a tomb than the dwelling of a living being. It is indescribable how much he had to suffer from the temptations and persecutions of evil spirits. They appeared to him in the most terrible forms, and disturbed him in all possible ways. Hilarion, however, was not to be frightened, but armed himself against these enemies, by calling upon the most holy name of Jesus, by praying and by fasting. Fighting valiantly, he always conquered. He addressed his body, which seemed to have evil desires, thus: “Wait awhile, you fool! I will cure you of your mischief. I will take care that every thought of pleasure shall leave you.” After which he began to mortify himself so long by severe fasting, scourging and watching, that every disorderly wish expired.
At the instigation of Satan, some murderers one day attacked him, and endeavored to drive him away. They asked him what he would do in case robbers should come to him. He answered: “They who possess nothing, do not fear them.” “But they may take your life,” said they. Hilarion replied: “Of course they can do so; but for that very reason I do not fear them, because I am daily prepared to die.” After the holy man had already passed 22 years of his life in this desert, God desired to make him known to the world by miracles. A noble lady of Gaza having heard of the holy hermit, came to him and begged him, with tears in her eyes, to go to her house and visit her three sons who were mortally sick. The Saint refused to comply with her request; but the mother ceased not to weep and entreat him until he had promised to come during the night, which accordingly he did. Saying a short prayer, he laid his hand upon the children, and all three rose from their beds in perfect health. Hardly had this become known in the city, when several sick were carried to him that he might cure them. The Saint, by healing all of them, converted a great many heathens to the true faith. Many also came to him who desired to live piously, and to lead, under his guidance, a solitary life.
At that time, there was no cloister of hermits to be found in all Palestine, and it was Hilarion who there became the first father of the hermits, as Saint Antony had been in Egypt. The number of those who lived in obedience to Hilarion increased in a few years to 3000. He prescribed certain rules to them, and kept them all under his care. Meanwhile he continued, through the power of God, to perform many miracles on the blind, the lame and other infirm, but especially on the possessed, of whom he delivered a great number. Among others, a girl was brought to him, whom a youth, who loved her, had, by magic, thrown under the power of the devil. When the holy man began the exorcism, the evil spirit howled and roared in a horrible way, and was heard to say: “It was not my fault. I was forced into her.” The Saint said: “Why didst thou not rather take possession of the youth?” “What should I do there?” replied the devil; “he already carries the devil of love in his bosom.” Hilarion commanded him to depart, and he was forced to obey. The maiden, however, received a sharp rebuke from the Saint, because she had not guarded herself sufficiently against danger.
At another time, a furious camel, that had killed a great number of people, was brought to him. The Saint commanded them to let the camel loose, and going fearlessly towards it, he stretched forth his hand and said: “Thou wicked spirit of damnation, thou canst not frighten me; whether thou appearest in the form of a small fox, or a huge camel, thou art always only a little devil.” The animal ran towards the Saint, full of rage, as if it would tear him in pieces; but when quite near him, it fell dead upon the ground. All present were greatly astonished, but the Saint taught them to meet the Evil One fearlessly, because he is weak in himself, and can harm no one who opposes him with courage. These and other similar miracles caused a great concourse of people constantly to stream to the dwelling ot the Saint, who was greatly saddened by it and wept bitterly. Being asked the cause of his grief, he answered: “Ah! my solitude is lost; I am again in the world; I fear that it will be said to me, one day: Thou hast already received thy reward.” He then determined to seek another place, where he might serve God more quietly. He believed he had found it in a desert of Upper Egypt, whither he had gone accompanied by a few of his disciples. That district had suffered greatly for 30 years from drought, which had been followed by a dreadful famine; and the inhabitants all came flocking around him, entreating him to pray that God would have mercy on them. Hardly had the Saint commenced to pray, when the Almighty sent down the long-wished for and fruitful rain. The people all came to thank the Saint, bringing with them their sick, that God might restore their health by Hilarion’s intercession.
This induced him again to flee. Having arrived at the sea-shore, he went on board of a ship, which carried him to Sicily, where he concealed himself in a dark forest. But here also he soon became known, by means of persons possessed by the devil. As the people again flocked to him, asking for help, he went to Dalmatia, and concealed himself for a time at Epidaurus. But when an earthquake rent the ground, and the sea began to encroach upon the land, as if God were about to punish the world with another flood, the inhabitants came to the Saint, led him to the sea-shore, and begged him to prevent the evil which was threatening their lives. The Saint made the sign of the cross three times in the sand, and behold! the waves, though mountain-high, overstepped not the place which he had marked. When the Saint perceived that this miracle had become known, he hastened away and came to the island of Cyprus, where he served the Almighty with as much zeal as though he had just begun his pious career. He was in his eightieth year when God called him to his eternal home by a happy death.
Memorable are the words which he spoke to his soul, shortly before his end, when he was assailed by a slight fear: “Go forth my soul,” said he, “go forth. Why art thou afraid? Thou hast served the Lord nearly three score and ten years, and fearest thou death?”
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.