Para. 29-47: Hilarion's Wanderings
His sixty-third year found the old man at the head of a grand monastery and a multitude of resident brethren. There were such crowds of persons constantly bringing those who suffered from various kinds of sickness or were possessed of unclean spirits, that the whole circuit of the wilderness was full of all sorts of people.
And as the saint saw all this he wept daily and called to mind with incredible regret his former mode of life. When one of the brethren asked him why he was so dejected he replied, "I have returned again to the world and have received my reward in my lifetime. The people of Palestine and the adjoining province think me of some importance, and under pretence of a monastery for the well-ordering of the brethren I have all the apparatus of a paltry life about me."
The brethren, however, kept watch over him and in particular Hesychius, who had a marvellously devoted affection and veneration for the old man.
After he had spent two years in these lamentations Aristæneté, the lady of whom we made mention before, as being then the wife of a prefect though without any of a prefect's ostentation, came to him intending to pay a visit to Antony also. He said to her, "I should like to go myself too if I were not kept a prisoner in this monastery, and if my going could be fruitful. For it is now two days since mankind was bereaved of him who was so truly a father to them all."
She believed his word and stayed where she was: and after a few days the news came that Antony had fallen asleep.
Some may wonder at the miracles he worked, or his incredible fasting, knowledge, and humility. Nothing so astonishes me as his power to tread under foot honour and glory. Bishops, presbyters, crowds of clergymen and monks, of Christian matrons even (a great temptation), and a rabble from all quarters in town and country were congregating about him, and even judges and others holding high positions, that they might receive at his hands the bread or oil which he had blessed. But he thought of nothing but solitude, so much so that one day he determined to be gone, and having procured an ass (he was almost exhausted with fasting and could scarcely walk) endeavoured to steal away.
The news spread far and wide, and, just as if a public mourning for the desolation of Palestine were decreed, ten thousand people of various ages and both sexes came together to prevent his departure. He was unmoved by entreaties, and striking the sand with his stick kept saying: "I will not make my Lord a deceiver; I cannot look upon churches overthrown, Christ's altars trodden down, the blood of my sons poured out."
All who were present began to understand that some secret had been revealed to him which he was unwilling to confess, but they none the less kept guard over him that he might not go. He therefore determined, and publicly called all to witness, that he would take neither food nor drink unless he were released. Only after seven days was he relieved from his fasting; when having bidden farewell to numerous friends, he came to Betilium attended by a countless multitude. There he prevailed upon the crowd to return and chose as his companions forty monks who had resources for the journey and were capable of travelling during fasting-time, that is, after sunset.
[The location of Betilium, (like that of its near-namesake Bethulia in the Book of Judith, with which it was sometimes identified), is a subject of dispute. See the web-page "Betylium - (Shaykh Zuwayd ?)" at the Franciscan Cyberspot for a discussion.]
He then visited the brethren who were in the neighbouring desert and sojourning at a place called Lychnos, and after three days came to the castle of Theubatus [Thaubastum] to see Dracontius [of Hermupolis Parva], bishop and confessor, who was in exile there. The bishop was beyond measure cheered by the presence of so distinguished a man. At the end of another three days he set out for Babylon [i.e. Babylon in Egypt, later renamed Cairo] and arrived there after a hard journey. Then he visited Philo the bishop, who was also a confessor; for the Emperor Constantius who favoured the Arian heresy had transported both of them to those parts. [See S. Athanasius, Hist. Arian. VIII, 64.]
Departing thence he came in three days to the town Aphroditon [now Atfih]. There he met with a deacon Baisanes who kept dromedaries which were hired, on account of the scarcity of water in the desert, to carry travellers who wished to visit Antony. He then made known to the brethren that the anniversary of the blessed Antony's decease was at hand, and that he must spend a whole night in vigil in the very place where the saint had died.
So then after three days journey through the waste and terrible desert they at length came to a very high mountain, and there found two monks, Isaac and Pelusianus, the former of whom had been one of Antony's attendants.
The occasion seems a fitting one, since we are on the spot itself, to describe the abode of this great man. There is a high and rocky mountain extending for about a mile, with gushing springs amongst its spurs, the waters of which are partly absorbed by the sand, partly flow towards the plain and gradually form a stream shaded on either side by countless palms which lend much pleasantness and charm to the place. Here the old man might be seen pacing to and fro with the disciples of blessed Antony. Here, so they said, Antony himself used to sing, pray, work, and rest when weary. Those vines and shrubs were planted by his own hand: that garden bed was his own design. This pool for watering the garden was made by him after much toil. That hoe was handled by him for many years.
Hilarion would lie upon the saint's bed and as though it were still warm would affectionately kiss it. The cell was square, its sides measuring no more than the length of a sleeping man. Moreover on the lofty mountaintop, the ascent of which was by a zig-zag path very difficult, were to be seen two cells of the same dimensions, in which he stayed when he escaped from the crowds of visitors or the company of his disciples. These were cut out of the live rock and were only furnished with doors.
When they came to the garden, "You see," said Isaac, "this garden with its shrubs and green vegetables; about three years ago it was ravaged by a troop of wild asses. One of their leaders was hidden by Antony to stand still while he thrashed the animal's sides with a stick and wanted to know why they devoured what they had not sown. And ever afterwards, excepting the water which they were accustomed to come and drink, they never touched anything, not a bush or a vegetable."
The old man further asked to be shown his burial place, and they thereupon took him aside; but whether they showed him the tomb or not is unknown. It is related that the motive for secrecy was compliance with Antony's orders and to prevent Pergamius, a very wealthy man of the district, from removing the saint's body to his house and erecting a shrine to his memory.
Having returned to Aphroditon and keeping with him only two of the brethren, he stayed in the neighbouring desert, and practised such rigid abstinence and silence that he felt that then for the first time he had begun to serve Christ. Three years had now elapsed since the heavens had been closed and the land had suffered from drought, and it was commonly said that even the elements were lamenting the death of Antony. Hilarion did not remain unknown to the inhabitants of that place any more than to others, but men and women with ghastly faces and wasted by hunger earnestly entreated the servant of Christ, as being the blessed Antony's successor, to give them rain. Hilarion when he saw them was strangely affected with compassion and, raising his eyes to heaven and lifting up both his hands, he at once obtained their petition.
But, strange to say, that parched and sandy district, after the rain had fallen, unexpectedly produced such vast numbers of serpents and poisonous animals that many who were bitten would have died at once if they had not run to Hilarion. He therefore blessed some oil with which all the husbandmen and shepherds touched their wounds, and found an infallible cure.
Seeing that even there surprising respect was paid to him, he went to Alexandria, intending to cross from thence to the farther oasis of the desert. And because he had never stayed in cities since he entered on the monk.s life, he turned aside to some brethren at Bruchium, not far from Alexandria, whom he knew, and who welcomed the old man with the greatest pleasure. It was now night when all at once they heard his disciples saddling the ass and making ready for the journey. They therefore threw themselves at his feet and besought him not to leave them; they fell prostrate before the door, and declared they would rather die than lose such a guest.
He answered: "My reason for hastening away is that I may not give you trouble. You will no doubt afterwards discover that I have not suddenly left without good cause."
Next day the authorities of Gaza with the lictors of the prefect having heard of his arrival on the previous day, entered the monastery, and when they failed to find him anywhere they began to say to one another: "What we heard is true. He is a magician and knows the future." The fact was that the city of Gaza on Julian's accession to the throne, after the departure of Hilarion from Palestine and the destruction of his monastery, had presented a petition to the Emperor requesting that both Hilarion and Hesychius might be put to death, and a proclamation had been published everywhere that search should be made for them.
Having then left Bruchium, he entered the oasis through the trackless desert, and there abode for a year, more or less. But, inasmuch as his fame had travelled thither also, he felt that he could not be hidden in the East, where he was known to many by report and by sight, and began to think of taking ship for some solitary island, so that having been exposed to public view by the land, he might at least find concealment in the sea.
Just about that time Hadrian, his disciple, arrived from Palestine with information that Julian was slain and that a Christian emperor had commenced his reign; he ought therefore, it was said, to return to the relics of his monastery. But he, when he heard this, solemnly refused to return; and hiring a camel crossed the desert waste and reached Paretonium, a city on the coast of Libya [now Marsa Matrouh, northwest Egypt]. There the ill-starred Hadrian wishing to return to Palestine and unwilling to part with the renown so long attaching to his master's name, heaped reproaches upon him, and at last having packed up the presents which he had brought him from the brethren, set out without the knowledge of Hilarion. As I shall have no further opportunity of referring to this man, I would only record, for the terror of those who despise their masters, that after a little while he was attacked by the king's-evil [morbo regio] and turned to a mass of corruption.
[A Christian emperor, Jovian, indeed assumed the purple when Julian the Apostate died on campaign, and the obvious interpretation of this paragraph would seem to be that S. Hilarion refused to go back to Gaza and fame even though the danger to his life had passed. However, some later (synaxarion) versions of the life paint Fr. Hadrian in darker colours, saying he falsely claimed that Julian was dead before this had taken place.]
The old man accompanied by Gazanus went on board a ship which was sailing to Sicily. Half way across the Adriatic he was preparing to pay his fare by selling a copy of the Gospels which he had written with his own hand in his youth, when the son of the master of the ship seized by a demon began to cry out and say: "Hilarion, servant of God, why is it that through you we cannot be safe even on the sea? Spare me a little until I reach land. Let me not be cast out here and thrown into the deep."
The saint replied: "If my God permit you to remain, remain; but if He casts you out, why bring odium upon me a sinner and a beggar?" This he said that the sailors and merchants on board might not betray him on reaching shore. Not long after, the boy was cleansed, his father and the rest who were present having given their word that they would not reveal the name of the saint to any one.
On approaching Pachynus [Cape Passero], a promontory of Sicily, he offered the master the Gospel for the passage of himself and Gazanus. The man was unwilling to take it, all the more because he saw that excepting that volume and the clothes they wore they had nothing, and at last he swore he would not take it. But the aged saint, ardent and confident in the consciousness of his poverty, rejoiced exceedingly that he had no worldly possessions and was accounted a beggar by the people of the place.
Once more, on thinking the matter over and fearing that merchants coming from the East might make him known, he fled to the interior, some twenty miles from the sea, and there on an abandoned piece of ground, every day tied up a bundle of firewood which he laid upon the back of his disciple, and sold at some neighbouring mansion. They thus supported themselves and were able to purchase a morsel of bread for any chance visitors.
But that came exactly to pass which is written: [Matt. v. 14] "a city set on a hill cannot be hid." It happened that one of the Scutarii ["Squires", soldiers of the Shields-men's Corps] who was vexed by a demon was in the basilica of the blessed Peter at Rome, when the unclean spirit within him cried out, "A few days ago Christ's servant Hilarion entered Sicily and no one knew him, and he thinks he is hidden. I will go and betray him." Immediately he embarked with his attendants in a ship lying in harbour, sailed to Pachynus and, led by the demon to the old man.s hut, there prostrated himself and was cured on the spot.
This, his first miracle in Sicily, brought the sick to him in countless numbers (but it brought also a multitude of religious persons); insomuch that one of the leading men who was swollen with the dropsy was cured the same day that he came. He afterwards offered the saint gifts without end, but the saint replied to him in the words of the Saviour to his disciples: [Matt. x. 8] "Freely ye received, freely give."
While this was going on in Sicily Hesychius his disciple was searching the world over for the old man, traversing the coast, penetrating deserts, clinging all the while to the belief that wherever he was he could not long be hidden. At the end of three years he heard at Methona from a certain Jew, who dealt in old-clothes, that a Christian prophet had appeared in Sicily, and was working such miracles and signs, one might think him one of the ancient saints. So he asked about his dress, gait, and speech, and in particular his age, but could learn nothing. His informant merely declared that he had heard of the man by report.
He therefore crossed the Adriatic and after a prosperous voyage came to Pachynus, where he took up his abode in a cottage on the shore of the bay, and, on inquiring for tidings of the old man, discovered by the tale which every one told him where he was, and what he was doing. Nothing about him surprised them all so much as the fact that after such great signs and wonders he had not accepted even a crust of bread from any one in the district. And, to cut my story short, the holy man Hesychius fell down at his master's knees and bedewed his feet with tears; at length he was gently raised by him, and when two or three days had been spent in talking over matters, he learned from Gazanus that Hilarion no longer felt himself able to live in those parts, but wanted to go to certain barbarous races where his name and fame were unknown.
He therefore brought him to Epidaurus, a town in Dalmatia, where he stayed for a few days in the country near, but could not be hid. [Epidaurus in Dalmatia (now Cavtat, Croatia, near Dubrovnik) claimed, like the more famous Epidaurus in Greece, to be the birthplace of the god Æsculapius, who was worshipped under the form of a serpent, and one of whose priests has already appeared as an antagonist of S. Hilarion in paragraph 21. S. Jerome himself came from Illyria, and must have viewed this portion of Hilarion's life with particular interest.]
An enormous serpent, of the sort which the people of those parts call "boas" because they are so large that they often swallow oxen [boves], was ravaging the whole province far and wide, and was devouring not only flocks and herds, but husbandmen and shepherds who were drawn in by the force of its breathing. He [Hilarion] ordered a pyre to be prepared for it, then sent up a prayer to Christ, called forth the reptile, bade it climb the pile of wood, and then applied the fire. And so before all the people he burnt the savage beast to ashes. But now he began anxiously to ask what he was to do, whither to betake himself. Once more he prepared for flight, and in thought ranged through solitary lands, grieving that his miracles could speak of him though his tongue was silent.
[It is perhaps worth mentioning that a short way down the coast from Epidaurus was the town of Bouthoé, (now Budva, Montenegro), famous in legend as the place to which the dragon-slaying hero Cadmus and his wife Harmonia had retired in old age, and where by some accounts they had themselves assumed reptilian forms. The town was supposedly named for the oxen (boés) which had drawn their cart from Greece to Illyria.]
At that time there was an earthquake over the whole world, following on the death of Julian, which caused the sea to burst its bounds, and left ships hanging on the edge of mountain steeps. It seemed as though God were threatening a second deluge, or all things were returning to original chaos. When the people of Epidaurus saw this, I mean the roaring waves and heaving waters and the swirling billows mountain-high dashing on the shore, fearing that what they saw had happened elsewhere might befall them and their town be utterly destroyed, they made their way to the old man, and as if preparing for a battle placed him on the shore.
After making the sign of the cross three times on the sand, he faced the sea, stretched out his hands, and no one would believe to what a height the swelling sea stood like a wall before him. It roared for a long time as if indignant at the barrier, then little by little sank to its level. Epidaurus and all the region roundabout tell the story to this day, and mothers teach their children to hand down the remembrance of it to posterity.
Verily, what was said to the Apostles, [Matt. xvii. 20ff.] "If ye have faith, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove into the sea, and it shall be done," may be even literally fulfilled, provided one has such faith as the Lord commanded the Apostles to have. For what difference does it make whether a mountain descends into the sea, or huge mountains of waters everywhere else fluid suddenly become hard as rock at the old man's feet?
[Julian died in June, 363. The years from 350 until 400 or 450 were marked by a series of extraordinarily violent earthquakes in the eastern Mediterranean, the "Early Byzantine Paroxysm". One of these catastrophes took place about a month before Julian's death; another, probably the worst, in July of 365. See K. Russell, "The Earthquake of May 19, A.D. 363", Bull. Am. Sch. Orient. Res. 238, 47, (1980); S. C. Stathis, "The AD 365 Crete Earthquake", J. Struct. Geol. 23, 545, (2001); G. Kelly, "Ammianus and the Great Tsunami", J. Roman Studies 94, 141, (2004); and the Wikipedia article 365 Crete Earthquake.]
The whole country marvelled and the fame of the great miracle was in everyone's mouth, even at Salonæ [the provincial capital, now Solin, Croatia]. When the old man knew this was the case he escaped secretly by night in a small cutter, and finding a merchant ship after two days came to Cyprus.
Between Malea [the southern promontory of Greece] and Cythera, the pirates, who had left on the shore that part of their fleet which is worked by poles instead of sails, bore down on them with two light vessels of considerable size; and besides this they were buffeted by the waves on every side.
All the rowers began to be alarmed, to weep, to leave their places, to get out their poles, and, as though one message was not enough, again and again told the old man that pirates were at hand. Looking at them in the distance he gently smiled, then turned to his disciples and said, [Matt. xiv. 32] "O ye of little faith, wherefore do ye doubt? Are these more than the army of Pharaoh? Yet they were all drowned by the will of God."
Thus he spake, but none the less the enemy with foaming prows kept drawing nearer and were now only a stone's throw distant. He stood upon the prow of the vessel facing them with out-stretched hand, and said, "Thus far and no farther."
Marvellous to relate, the boats at once bounded back, and though urged forward by the oars fell farther and farther astern. The pirates were astonished to find themselves going back, and laboured with all their strength to reach the vessel, but were carried to the shore faster by far than they came.
I pass by the rest for fear I should seem in my history to be publishing a volume of miracles. I will only say this, that when sailing with a fair wind among the Cyclades he heard the voices of unclean spirits shouting in all directions from towns and villages, and running in crowds to the shore.
Having then entered Paphos, the city of Cyprus renowned in the songs of the poets, the ruins of whose temples after frequent earthquakes are the only evidences at the present day of its former grandeur, he began to live in obscurity about two miles from the city, and rejoiced in having a few days rest. But not quite twenty days passed before throughout the whole island whoever had unclean spirits began to cry out that Hilarion Christ's servant had come, and that they must go to him with all speed. Salamis, Curium, Lapetha, and the other cities joined in the cry, while many declared that they knew Hilarion and that he was indeed the servant of Christ, but where he was they could not tell.
So within a trifle more than thirty days, about two hundred people, both men and women, came together to him. When he saw them he lamented that they would not suffer him to be quiet, and thirsting in a kind of manner to avenge himself, he lashed them with such urgency of prayer that some immediately, others after two or three days, all within a week, were cured.
Here he stayed two years, always thinking of flight, and in the meantime sent Hesychius, who was to return in the spring, to Palestine to salute the brethren and visit the ashes of his monastery. When the latter returned he found Hilarion longing to sail again to Egypt, that is to the locality called Bucolia; but he persuaded him that, since there were no Christians there, but only a fierce and barbarous people, he should rather go to a spot in Cyprus itself which was higher up and more retired.
After long and diligent search he found such a place twelve miles from the sea far off among the recesses of rugged mountains, the ascent to which could hardly be accomplished by creeping on hands and knees. Thither he conducted him. The old man entered and gazed around.
It was indeed a lonely and terrible place; for though surrounded by trees on every side, with water streaming from the brow of the hill, a delightful bit of garden, and fruit-trees in abundance (of which, however, he never ate), yet it had close by the ruins of an ancient temple from which, as he himself was wont to relate and his disciples testify, the voices of such countless demons re-echoed night and day, that you might have thought there was an army of them. He was highly pleased at the idea of having his opponents in the neighbourhood, and abode there five years, cheered in these his last days by the frequent visits of Hesychius, for owing to the steep and rugged ascent, and the numerous ghosts (so the story ran), nobody or scarcely anybody either could or dared to go up to him.
One day, however, as he was leaving his garden, he saw a man completely paralysed lying in front of the gates. He asked Hesychius who he was, or how he had been brought. Hesychius replied that he was the agent at the country-house to which the garden belonged in which they were located. Weeping much and stretching out his hand to the prostrate man he said, "I bid you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ arise and walk." The words were still on the lips of the speaker, when, with miraculous speed, the limbs were strengthened and the man arose and stood firm.
Once this was noised abroad the need of many overcame even the pathless journey and the dangers of the place. The occupants of all the houses round about had nothing so much in their thoughts as to prevent the possibility of his escape, a rumour having spread concerning him to the effect that he could not stay long in the same place. This habit of his was not due to levity or childishness, but to the fact that he shunned the worry of publicity and praise, and always longed for silence and a life of obscurity.
[The location of S. Hilarion's hermitage in Cyprus is unknown, but it is assumed to have been in the western part of the island, near Paphos. The claim that it was on the site of the famous Castle of S. Hilarion on the north coast is not accepted by scholars; evidence suggests that the castle was named for a later ascetic of the same name who is mentioned by the chroniclers.]
In his eightieth year, during the absence of Hesychius, he wrote by way of a will a short letter with his own hand, and left him all his riches (that is to say, a copy of the gospels, and his sack-cloth tunic, cowl and cloak), for his servant had died a few days before. Many devout men therefore came to the invalid from Paphos, and specially because they had heard of his saying that he must soon migrate to the Lord and must be liberated from the bonds of the body. There came also Constantia, a holy woman whose son-in-law and daughter he had anointed with oil and saved from death.
He earnestly entreated them all not to let him be kept even a moment of time after death, but to bury him immediately in the same garden, just as he was, clad in his goat-hair tunic, cowl, and his peasant's cloak.
His body was now all but cold, and nought was left of life but reason. Yet with eyes wide open he kept repeating, "Go forth, what do you fear? Go forth, my soul, why do you hesitate? You have served Christ nearly seventy years, and do you fear death?" Thus saying he breathed his last. He was immediately buried before the city heard of his death.
When the holy man Hesychius heard of his decease, he went to Cyprus and, to lull the suspicions of the natives who were keeping strict guard, pretended that he wished to live in the same garden, and then in the course of about ten months, though at great peril to his life, stole the saint's body. He carried it to Majuma; and there all the monks and crowds of towns-folk going in procession laid it to rest in the ancient monastery. His tunic, cowl and cloak, were uninjured; the whole body as perfect as if alive, and so fragrant with sweet odours that one might suppose it to have been embalmed.
In bringing my book to an end I think I ought not to omit to mention the devotion of the holy woman Constantia who, when a message was brought her that Hilarion's body was in Palestine, immediately died, proving even by death the sincerity of her love for the servant of God. For she was accustomed to spend whole nights in vigil at his tomb, and to converse with him as if he were present in order to stimulate her prayers.
Even at the present day one may see a strange dispute between the people of Palestine and the Cypriotes, the one contending that they have the body, the other the spirit of Hilarion. And yet in both places great miracles are wrought daily, but to a greater extent in the garden of Cyprus, perhaps because that spot was dearest to him.
FINIS VITÆ HILARIONIS.