(291 - 371 AD)
Feast Day: October 21
On October 21st, we remember a saint who began life possessing many of the delights the world can offer, and willingly gave them all up. He is Saint Hilarion, who became one of the foremost ascetics of Palestine.
Alexandria offered many forms of entertainment. A person could go to the theater, attend the circus, or shout with the crowds at violent, bloody contests in the arena. But Hilarion was unimpressed and even repelled by these.
He found himself drawn instead to the assemblies of Christians, who met often to worship. These people became his friends and his guides in the spiritual life.
There at the age of 15, he was baptized. His conversion started him out on a glorious journey leading him closer to God.
Like everyone in Alexandria, Hilarion had heard about the famous monk, who made his home in the forbidding Egyptian desert and lived a wonderfully simple, prayerful life there.
After listening to an account of the angelic life of St. Anthony the Great (January 17), Egypt's illustrious hermit, Hilarion went to visit him in the desert, desiring to study with him and learn what is pleasing to God. Upon meeting that truly great man, the Father of monks, Saint Hilarion determined to devote himself also to the ascetical life.
The visit changed young Hilarion's life forever. He stayed with Anthony for two months, and carefully observed everything the older man did — his constant prayer, his extremely austere diet, the gentle way he dealt with other people while being so strict in his own habits. Hilarion decided to begin a life modeled on Anthony's.
When he did so, he found that his parents had died. He quickly settled his affairs by distributing his family's inheritance to the poor. Afterwards, he set out into the desert surrounding the city of Maium to live alone as a hermit. Though only fifteen years old (306), he built a little hut, scarcely large enough to accommodate himself, and slept on the bare ground.
The monk struggled intensely with impure, lustful thoughts, vexations of the mind and the burning temptations and passions of his flesh. But he defeated them with heavy labor, fasting and fervent prayer. The devil sought to frighten the saint with phantoms and apparitions.
During prayer, St. Hilarion heard children crying, women wailing, the roaring of lions and other wild beasts. The monk perceived that it was the demons causing these terrors in order to drive him away from the wilderness. He overcame his fear with the help of fervent prayer.
Once, robbers fell upon St. Hilarion, and he persuaded them to forsake their life of crime through the power of his words.
After twenty years in the desert, the holy man worked his first miracle. Soon, all of Palestine learned about the holy ascetic. Many people began coming to his hut to beg his help. He became a healer, a counselor, and a worker of miracles.
The Lord granted to St. Hilarion the power to cast out unclean spirits. With this gift of grace, he loosed the bonds of many of the afflicted.
Such was the grace that he received from God that he could tell by the smell of someone's body or clothing which passion afflicted his soul. The sick came for healing, and the monk cured them free of charge, saying that the grace of God is not for sale (MT 10:8).
Several men asked him to let them stay with him to learn from him how to pray and do penance. They came to St. Hilarion, wanting to save their soul under his guidance. In his great love for God and people, the saint invited them to stay.
With the blessing of St. Hilarion, monasteries began to spring up throughout Palestine. Going from one monastery to another, he instituted a strict ascetic manner of life.
He began to travel, when he was sixty-five. He moved frequently so as not to attract adoring followers. He passed through Egypt and Libya, and sailed to Sicily in search of peace and quiet.
As we gather on this day, we sing your praise and acclaim, you as a never-setting light of the bright spiritual Daystar. Those whom ignorance benighted, you illumined with your beams; and you raised to the divine heights, O St. Hilarion, all who cry out: Height of ascetics, Rejoice! [Source]