HILARION, SAINT, fourth-century monk of Palestine (feast day: 24 Baramhat). Almost our only source of information about Saint Hilarion is the Vita Hilarionis written in Latin by Saint JEROME shortly after 390, in Bethlehem. This is a narrative of a fairly romantic character, the historical value of which has often been contested. He was born about 293 at Thavatha in the neighborhood of Gaza, and at the age of fifteen was sent by his pagan parents to study at Alexandria. Hilarion became converted to Christianity and, having heard talk of Saint ANTONY, went to stay with him and was clothed by him in the monastic habit. At the end of two months, he returned to Palestine.
His parents being dead, he distributed his goods to the poor and went off to live in solitude in a hut, which he built for himself in the marshy region on the edge of the sea in the neighborhood of Majuma, the port of Gaza. According to his biographer, he there had to undergo violent assaults by demons, similar to those related in the Life of Saint Antony. Soon disciples came to join him. Harassed by the crowds attracted by his miracles, he resolved to leave his homeland. Accompanied by a few disciples, he arrived in Egypt and went to visit the places where Saint Antony had lived (he had died a year earlier, in 356). But even in Egypt the crowds flocked to him as to a new Antony. Then follows, in Jerome's narrative, a most imaginative series of journeys around the Mediterranean, Hilarion being unable to find any place where he could live secluded and unknown. He went first to Libya, shortly after the death of Julian (363), then to Sicily, where he was rejoined by his disciple Hesychius, but everywhere his miracles and his renown for sanctity led to his detection. Later he went to Epirus, and finally to Cyprus, where he died at the age of eighty, hence about 373. His disciple Hesychius secretly conveyed his body to Majuma. At this period Saint EPIPHANIUS was bishop of Cyprus, and it is probably from him that Saint Jerome heard of Hilarion.
In writing the Vita Hilarionis Jerome has the clear intention of presenting his hero as a disciple and emulator of Saint Antony, as the founder of the monastic life in Palestine, just as Antony had been in Egypt. He says expressly (§14) that before Hilarion there had not yet been any monks in the whole of Syria. But that is incorrect. We know now that the anchorite life had already been practiced, independently it appears of any Egyptian influence, in the desert of Judah, to the east of Jerusalem, as is attested notably by the Life of Saint Chariton (Chitty, 1966, pp. 13-14).
There is a Coptic version of the Life of Hilarion, which has been published with an Italian translation by F. Rossi. This was probably made from a Greek version, which has also been preserved. The SYNAXARION devotes a notice to Saint Hilarion on 24 Babah. The author has manifestly used the Life written by Saint Jerome but, a remarkable thing, he makes no mention of the relations Hilarion is supposed to have had with Saint Antony.
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