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October 21, 2015

Saint Hilarion the Great (+ 372)

St. Hilarion the Great (Feast Day - October 21)


Sowing with tears and pain below,
Hilarion reaps rejoicing above.
On the twenty-first Hilarion entered his final sleep.

Saint Hilarion the Great was born in 292 AD at Thabatha, a town near Gaza in Palestine. His family were wealthy pagans. They sent him to be educated in Alexandria, where he converted to Christianity and was baptized. While he was in Egypt he heard much talk about the desert-dweller Saint Anthony the Great, so he visited him in the desert and became his disciple, which inspired him to devote himself entirely to the ascetic life. But as crowds flocked to the desert for the blessing of Anthony, he was prevented from attending to silence and prayer, so he departed to the inner desert, giving Hilarion his tunic of horse-hair and his coat of skin and sending him with companions to Maiuma in the region of Gaza.

When his parents died, he returned to Gaza and sold all of his inheritance, distributing all of his wealth to the poor. After this he departed for the desert of Palestine at the age of fifteen, devoting himself entirely to unceasing prayer and strict fasting while living in a hut made of reeds. Fifteen figs after sunset was all his daily food, and while he toiled during the day he constantly repeated the Psalms (he memorized all of Holy Scripture). He also endured the assaults of the devil, who tried to frighten him away by appearing to him in the form of wild animals and making terrifying noises. Hilarion warded off these attacks by mocking the impotence of the wicked spirit with the sign of the Cross. He lived in this manner from the age of sixteen until the age of twenty.

After this he built a little, low cell that looked more like a tomb than a hut. He lay on the hard ground, and only washed and cut his hair on Easter day. He never washed the coat of skin Saint Anthony gave him, and wore the same tunic until it fell to pieces. From his twenty-first to his twenty-seventh year, his food was a few lentils soaked in cold water daily for three years, and for the next three years he ate nothing but bread, sprinkled with salt. From his twenty-seventh to his thirtieth year, he lived on wild plants; and from the age of thirty to thirty-five he lived on six ounces of barley bread and a few vegetables, cooked without oil. Then, falling ill and with failing eyesight, he added a little oil to his food but did not increase his allowance of bread, even though he saw his body growing weaker, and believed his death was near. He lived in this way until he died, never eating until after sunset, nor ceasing his fast even for feasts and the gravest illnesses.

God rewarded Hilarion's physical and spiritual efforts and bestowed upon him the grace to contemplate heavenly mysteries and to perform miracles as a consolation to the faithful. His fame spread throughout Palestine and into Egypt and Syria by the age of twenty-two, and crowds of faithful flocked to him the more he increased his labors and God's grace overshadowed him. Saint Anthony would even send sick people to him to be healed, especially those who came to him from the area of Palestine, telling them that they had someone with the same grace near where they lived. There were soon two thousand monks who gathered to live around Hilarion in their own cells, having him as their spiritual guide.

He once encountered certain bandits, with whom he had the following didactic conversation: "If you encounter thieves," they asked, "what would you do?" He responded: "What does a naked man have to fear?" Then they asked: "But if they killed you?" Hilarion answered: "So much the better. Physical death closes the night of this present life and introduces us to the rising of the future life." These responses of Hilarion led to the repentance of the bandits.

At the age of sixty-three, Hilarion began to long for the solitude of his youth, before he gathered thousands of disciples around him and the faithful would flock to him. When he decided to find a place of solitude, six thousand wanted to follow him wherever he went, so as not to lose the grace that was with him. He succeeded in persuading them to go back, but he took forty disciples with him, who were able to endure long journeys on foot and fast until sunset. When he heard of the death of Anthony the Great, he went to venerate his relics and every place associated with him with tears in his eyes. Still, wherever he went, crowds of faithful came running after him.

During the three year reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363), Saint Hilarion's Monastery in Gaza was destroyed and his monks scattered. Hilarion himself found refuge in Libya, then went on to find solitude in Sicily. But even there he drew crowds. Then he went to barbarous Dalmatia, where he killed off a monstrous beast and converted them to Christianity. To escape honors he embarked on a merchant vessel for Cyprus. He spent the last five years of his life in a difficult to reach cave in Paphos, where he was visited only by one disciple named Hesychios from Palestine, and at the age of eighty departed from this world in 372 AD. His final words were: "Go forth, O my soul. What do you fear? Go forth! Why are you disquieted within me? You have served Jesus Christ for almost seventy years and do you fear death?" With these words he gave up his soul to God.

The sacred relic of our Venerable Father did not remain long in Cyprus. When Christians in Palestine heard of the repose of the Saint, they sent his disciple Hesychios who transferred the sacred relic to Palestine. He was buried in the Monastery of Maiouma with the appropriate honors. Today portions of his relics can be found in Proussos Monastery in Evrytania, Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus, the Church of Saint Menas in Heraklion, the Church of Saint Nicholas Kaltezon in Arcadia, Kechrovouniou Monastery in Tinos, and Kipouraion Monastery in Kefallonia.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Illumined in mind by the light of abstinence, thou wast radiant with miracles, O Father Hilarion. Thou didst become a shining pillar of godliness and enlighten the faithful who came to thee. Glory to Him Who has strengthened thee; glory to Him Who has crowned thee; glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
We gather today and praise thee with hymns as a light of the spiritual sun. For thou didst illumine those in the darkness of ignorance and raise all to divine heights. And so we cry to thee: Rejoice, Hilarion, summit of ascetics.

HYMN OF PRAISE: The Venerable Hilarion the Great

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Holy Hilarion, like a brilliant comet,
Fleeing from men, traveled half the world.
But such a star hides in vain:
Its own light reveals it to the world.

Hilarion wished to escape earthly glory,
But from glory the saint could not flee.
Where God did not proclaim him, the demons did,
Being terrified by the saint, who cast them out.

Wherever he settled, Hilarion the Wonderful
Worked miracles and healed the sick,
Conquered his weakness and passions.

A conqueror of the world, he subdued the demons.
He hid in caves, yet was proclaimed by all.
He shunned all, but was glorified by all.

The Lord glorifies His glorifiers,
And crowns victorious runners with wreaths.
When the race of earthly life passes,
The wreaths of everlasting life are given.

The aged Hilarion, ever young in spirit,
Now takes delight in the Lord face to face.
Even now his prayers wage war for us,
That in His compassion the Lord would have mercy on us.