Saint of the Day – 21 October – St Hilarion of Gaza (c 291-371) Hermit and Miracle-Worker.
St Hilarion spent most of his life in the desert according to the example of Anthony the Great.
Shortly after St Hilarion’s death, St Jerome wrote about the life of this hermit who had introduced monasticism into Palestine. Jerome told of Hilarion’s lifelong pursuit of solitude, where he could encounter God in prayer.
Hilarion was born in Thabatha, south of Gaza in Syria Palaestina of pagan parents. He successfully studied rhetoric with a Grammarian in Alexandria. It seems that he was converted to Christianity in Alexandria. After that, he shunned the pleasures of his day—theatre, circus and arena—and spent his time attending church. According to St Jerome, he was a thin and delicate youth of fragile health.
After hearing of Saint Anthony, whose name (according to St.erome), “was in the mouth of all the races of Egypt” Hilarion, at the age of fifteen, went to live with him in the desert for two months. As Anthony’s hermitage was busy with visitors seeking cures for diseases or demonic affliction, Hilarion returned home along with some monks. At Thabatha, his parents having died in the meantime, he gave his inheritance to his brothers and the poor and left for the wilderness.
St Jerome wrote about the divine irony of the fame that denied it to him because his miracles attracted so many people. In this brief excerpt, Jerome describes Hilarion’s faith and a typical miracle:
Once . . . when he was eighteen years old, brigands tried to find him at night. Either they believed that he had something to steal or they thought he would scorn them if they didn’t intimidate him. . . . From evening till dawn, they hunted in every direction but couldn’t find him. In the broad daylight, however, they came upon him and apparently as a joke asked him: “What would you do if robbers attacked you?” He answered: “A naked person does not fear robbers.” “You could be killed.” “I could,” he said. “But I am not afraid of robbers because I am ready to die.” Admiring his faith, they confessed their folly of the night before and their blindness and promised to reform their lives…
A woman of Eleutheropolis, despised by her husband of fifteen years because of her sterility, . . . was the first who dared to intrude upon blessed Hilarion’s solitude. While he was still unaware of her approach, she suddenly threw herself at his knees saying: “Forgive my boldness. . . ., he asked her why she had come and why she was weeping. When he learned the cause of her grief, raising his eyes to heaven, he commanded her to have faith and to believe. He followed her departure with tears. When a year had gone by, he saw her with her son.
Like Anthony, Hilarion took only a little food once a day at sunset. When tempted sexually, he ate even less. “I’ll see to it, you jackass,” he said, “that you shall not kick.” He never bathed nor changed his tunic until it wore out. He said, “It is idle to expect cleanliness in a hair shirt.” Jerome relates that even though Hilarion suffered extreme dryness of spirit, he persevered in prayer and cured many people of sickness and demon possession. The parade of petitioners and would-be disciples drove Hilarion to retire to more remote locations. But they followed him everywhere. First he visited Anthony’s retreat in Egypt. Then he withdrew to Sicily, later to Dalmatia and finally to Cyprus. He died there in 371.