St Hilarion the Great
Abbot Confessor (c.291 - c.371)
Saint of the day October 21
Born of pagan parents, near Gaza in Palestine, St Hilarion attended the schools at Alexandria, Egypt, and there converted to Christianity. At 15, having heard the reports about the saintly “Father of Anchorites”, St Anthony the Great, he spent two months in the desert under his personal guidance imbibing the life of penance and contemplation. On his return to Palestine, noting that both his parents had died, he divided his fortune among the poor before retiring to a little hut in the desert of Majuma near Gaza, where, living in abject poverty, he devoted himself to the austere life of an anchorite, thus becoming the first known hermit of Palestine. For his upkeep, he wove baskets and grew his own vegetables. The one frugal meal that he permitted himself each evening after sunset consisted of a small piece of bread and some herbs or vegetables. Religious exercises filled most of his waking hours.
In time, God granted Hilarion the gift of miracles the ability to perform supernatural cures and to exorcise possessed persons. His guidance came to be so much in demand, with curious pilgrims arriving by the thousands, that he found it more and more difficult to make time for his personal devotions. Many heathens were converted to the faith and the group of disciples that had settled near him grew considerably. His attempts to flee from it all proved futile, and only when he went on a hunger strike was he finally permitted to depart.
By now 69, Hilarion first returned to Egypt and revisited the places which were associated with the memory of St Anthony who had died there five years before, and during the Julian persecution he managed to escape his pursuers by retiring into the Lybian desert. When this danger had passed, he crossed over to Sicily and lived there as a hermit until he was discovered by one of his former disciples. Then, in a renewed search for solitude and to avoid the adulation of would-be followers, he journeyed to Dalmatia (Yugoslavia) and then to the island of Cyprus, where he died in a lonely cave at the age of 80. His body was returned to Majuma.
St Hilarion, whose biography was written by St Jerome, was the first non-martyr to be officially honoured in the Eastern Church as “Confessor”, just as St Martin of Tours was the first in the West.