Feast Day :October 21
Most of what is known about Hilarion comes from a biography written by St. Jerome in 390 and containing much legend. Hilarion desired the life of a hermit, but his fame and public adoration kept him moving from one place to another. Hilarion was born in Palestine, in Tabatha, south of Gaza, to pagan parents. He was sent to Alexandria to be educated. He was a quick student and an excellent speaker. While in Alexandria he sought out St. Anthony and desired to follow his example and retire to the desert. He stayed with Anthony for two months, greatly admiring the anchorite’s discipline and mortifications. Thus inspired, the 16-year-old Hilarion returned home, gave away his money and possessions to the poor, and built a tiny hut of reeds and sedge for himself in the desert of Majuma near Gaza. It was a dangerous area, full of robbers, but Hilarion was unconcerned. He spent most of his time in prayer and meditation, and wove baskets to support himself. He wore a hair shirt that he never washed, and wore it to rags before he acquired a new one. He restricted himself to one meal a day, 15 dried figs eaten after sunset. He slept on a bed of rushes and shaved his hair once a year on Easter Day. He endured all the temptations of devils. After two years, he built himself a cell—Jerome described it as more like a tomb—that was five feet in height and about five feet long. Hilarion was 18 when he was assaulted by robbers, according to Jerome. He showed no fear, and they went away pledging to reform themselves to a better life. Jerome described in detail Hilarion’s eating habits, which imitated those of Anthony. At age 20, Hilarion began to alter his strict diet somewhat. For three years he ate a half-pint of moistened lentils each day, and for the next three years he ate dry bread with salt and water. From age 27 to 30 he ate wild herbs and raw roots, and from 31 to 35 ate six ounces of barley bread and vegetables cooked without oil. By then he was suffering severely from malnutrition. His body shriveled, his eyesight grew dim, and his skin erupted in scabs and mange. He added only oil to his diet. At age 64, he thought he was going to die, so he cut bread out of his diet. But at age 80, he modified his diet once again, making a daily six-ounce broth from meal and bruised herbs. During his early desert life, Hilarion became famous for his miracles. He was known for curing the sick and the dying, and for expelling demons. He brought needed rain. By 329 he had attracted a band of disciples, and people sought out his counsel, and converted because of him. Desiring solitude, Hilarion left and journeyed to Egypt, visiting the places where Anthony had lived and died. He then went to Bruchium near Alexandria. When news reached him that Emperor Julian the Apostate had ordered his arrest, he withdrew to an oasis in the Libyan desert. After a time he went to Sicily, and took up the hermit’s life near the promontory of Pachinum. But his devoted disciple, Hesychius, who had been searching around the ancient world for him, discovered him there, and soon Hilarion once again was surrounded by disciples and admirers. He left Sicily and went to Epidaurus to seek solitude, but his fame went before him, and he was besieged by people. He was there when the great earthquake of 366 struck. Fearful of a tidal wave, the people begged him for help. He knelt in the sand and made three crosses, and the turbulent sea calmed itself. He also aided the injured and destitute. Hilarion left Epidaurus and went to Cyprus. He found the most remote place possible—a cave 12 miles inland amidst rugged mountains—and there he remained for the rest of his life. While there, he met St. Epiphanius, the archbishop of Salamis. Hilarion died at age 80. He bequeathed to Hesychius his sole possessions of his hair shirt, cowl and cloak, and a copy of the Gospels; he was buried immediately in the same clothes near the town of Paphos. Hesychius arrived, ostensibly to take up residence there, but after a few month’s stay secretly stole the body. He found Hilarion’s corpse incorrupt and sweetsmelling, and his clothing intact. Hesychius took the body back to Majuma.