Chapter XIII (continued), Life of St Hilarion, Book 1a
We must also tell the story of Orion, the wealthy chief citizen of the town of Haila near the Red Sea. Possessed by demons he was brought to Hilarion with chains around his hands, neck, sides and feet, his staring eyes threatening savage violence. The Saint was walking with the Brothers discussing some portion of Scripture, when Orion burst free from the hands of those holding him, ran to the holy Hilarion, grasped him from behind, and lifted him off the ground. Everyone cried out in alarm; they were frightened that he would break Hilarion's bones, weakened as they were by fasting. But the Saint just smiled, lifted his hands above his shoulders, found the man's head, grasped his hair, and pulled him down in front of him, causing both his hands to lose their grasp. He planted the soles of his feet on each side of the man's feet and cried out
"Twist yourselves out, you crowd of demons!" he shouted. "Twist yourselves out!"
Orion howled, bent his neck and touched the ground with the top of his head.
"Lord Jesus!" he cried. "Release me from my misery! You are Lord of one and all!"
I tell you now something unheard of: from out of the mouth of this one man issued a multitude of voices, as of a confused crowd of people. And he was cured.
Not long after this he came to the monastery with his wife and children to give thanks, bringing a number of gifts.
"Haven't you read what happened to Gehazi and Simon?" asked the Saint. "One of them accepted payment for the sake of base reward (2 Kings 5.22-27), the other offered payment to buy the grace of the holy Spirit (Acts 8.18)."
"Well, take it and give it to the poor," said Orion, weeping.
"You would have done better to distribute your own goods," he replied. "You are familiar with your town. You know who are the poor. As for myself, I have renounced everything. Why should I seek what belongs to someone else? In the eyes of many people the poor are people to be exploited without pity. But you can't do better than to be generous without seeking any benefit for yourself."
Orion lay prostrate on the sand, weeping..
"Don't be sad," Hilarion continued. "What I have done was for my own benefit as well as yours. And if I were to accept these gifts, not only would I be offending God, but the legion of devils would return to torment you."
And who could remain silent about Maiumites of Gaza? He was gathering stones for building from the seashore not very far away from the monastery, when he suddenly became completely paralysed. His working companions carried him to the Saint and he was then able to return to work immediately! Remember also the beach along the border between Palestine and Egypt. Although naturally soft, it had become hardened by the grains of sand solidifying into small stones. But little by little, although it still looked like gravel it no longer felt like gravel.
Thjere was an Italian citizen of Haila, a Christian, who kept horses and chariots to race against those of the two chief citizens of Gaza, a town given to the veneration of the image of Marnas. Marnas (or Consus, the god of secret plans) [Consus was also the god of agricultural fertility. The festival of the Consuelia, supposed to have been instituted by Romulus, was on August 31] .had been venerated in Roman towns since the time of Romulus, who won victory over the Sabines and seized their women, by means of his chariots racing round them seven times and overcoming the horses of the enemy. This Italian's rival used an evil magician, who by demonic incantations slowed down the Italian's horses, while improving the performance of his own. The Italian came to the blessed Hilarion, begging for help, not to cause injury to his opponent but to seek a defence against his spells.
"Wouldn't it be better to sell your horses," said Hilarion with a smile, "and give the money to the poor for the sake of your own salvation?"
"But the horses are state property," he replied. "I can't deal with them as I want, but only as I am told. And as a Christian man I can't make use of magic arts. I prefer to seek help from a servant of Christ, especially against the people of Gaza who are the enemies of God, not for my own sake so much as for the sake of the Church of Christ which they revile."
Hilarion asked the Brothers present for the clay beaker which he usually drank from, filled it with water and gave it to the Italian, who took it away and sprinkled it over the stable, the horses, the charioteers, the chariots, and the bars of the starting gates. His rival made a great joke out of this, much to the excited interest of the people, for he publicly promised victory for himself and failure for the Italian.
The signal was given, the Italian's horses flew like the wind and the wheels of their chariots were just a blur, the other horses struggled to keep up and were left far behind. The crowd gave vent to a great shout, with even the opponents joining in: MARNAS HAS BEEN BEATEN BY CHRIST! The losing team were furious and demanded that Hilarion, the Christian magician, should be punished. But it could not be denied that the victory here, and in many Circuses thereafter, brought many people to the faith.
In the market town of Gaza a young man was madly in love with his neighbour, a virgin of God. He tried various tactics, jokes, nods and whistles, and other such things by which it is hoped to make a conquest of someone's virginity, but to no avail. So he went to Memphis, where he hoped to be able to tell someone of his problem and go back to the virgin armed by magic arts. He spent a year under the tutelage of the priests of Aesculapius, which rather sent him further towards perdition than made him into a better person. Glorying in the disgraceful course upon which he had embarked, he pushed lascivious letters and suggestive images inscribed on sheets of Cyprian copper under the virgin's door, which inflamed her on the spot, so that she stripped off her head covering, cried piteously and gnashed her teeth while calling out the young man's name. The strength of her passion had turned her raving mad. Her parents brought her to the old man at the monastery, where the demon in her immediately howled and gave himself away.
"I can't put up with this," it shouted. "I have been carried off here against my will, just when I was beautifully deceiving humans with the dreams of Memphis. O the pains, the tortures I am suffering! You are trying to drive me out, but I am beholden to none except those very spells and charms which were put under the door. I cannot go out unless commanded by the one who put me in here."
"How exceedingly bold you are!" said Hilarion. "And yet you admit you are controlled by those spells and charms. Tell me, why did you dare to enter this child of God?"
"To be a servant to that virgin."
"You, a servant? Protector of chastity, are you? Why not rather enter the one who sent you?"
"How could I enter him, when he already had my colleague the love-demon in him?"
Now the Saint had set his face against curing the virgin or the young man by attempting to order the demons out by dramatic actions, lest it should appear that he was using incantations himself and accommodating his faith to suit the words of the demons. The demons were masters of deceit, he said, and extremely skilled in dissimulation. Instead he restored the virgin to sanity by scolding her, and making her see what it was in her that had enabled the demon to gain entry.
His fame began to spread further, not only in Palestine and the neighbouring cities of Egypt and Syria, but also into distant provinces. For the Emperor Constantine had among his staff a tutor, with the red hair and fair complexion that showed where he came from (for he was one of the Saxons or Alamanni, called Germanics in the past, but now Franks). From an early age he had been possessed by a demon which at night compelled him to howl and groan and gnash his teeth. He quite frankly told the Emperor about this and asked for leave of absence, which was granted to him. He was given letters of introduction to the Consul in Palestine, from where he was conducted with great honour and a large retinue to Gaza. There he asked the local senators how to find Hilarion. They were absolutely terrified, thinking he had been specially sent by the Emperor, but took him to the monastery, showing him every respect in the hope that if the Emperor had taken offence at any past insults to Hilarion, they might be able to atone for them by their new-found attentiveness.
Hilarion was walking about on the sand, saying some psalms. Seeing this large crowd coming towards him he stood still. They all greeted each other and he blessed them. After an hour he told everyone to go away except the tutor, his personal servants, and clerical staff. He could tell by looking at his eyes and face why he had come. He asked him why nevertheless, and the tutor sprang up on tiptoe and answered with a great roar in the Syrian language - and you would have heard someone who knew only Frankish and Latin speaking pure Syrian, with not an accent, not an aspirate, not a Palestinian idiom out of place in his speech! The unclean spirit then confessed in that language the means by which he had gained entry, but so that the interpreters who knew both Greek and Latin would understand, Hilarion asked him to speak in Greek.
"Many spells and incantations were needed," confessed the spirit, "and I needed the services of many magic arts."
"I don't much care how you got in," replied Hilarion, "but I command that you now go, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
He was cured, and with a kind of rustic simplicity he offered Hilarion ten pounds of gold. Hilarion immediately offered him some barley bread.
"Anyone content with barley bread," said Hilarion, "has no more use for gold than for mud."
So much for talking about humans, it was unmanageable brute beasts also who were brought to him daily. One such animal was an enormous Bactrian camel who had injured many people. It took thirty men or more to restrain it with strong ropes and bring it to Hilarion. Its eyes were bloodshot, it frothed at the mouth, its swollen tongue rolled about, and its ear-splitting roar struck terror into all around. The old man ordered it to be untied. To a man, they all fled, those who had brought it as well as those who were with Hilarion, till there was only Hilarion standing in front of it.
"You devil in such a great shapeless mass," said Hilarion, "you don't frighten me! Camels and little foxes (Song of Songs 2.15) are, after all, exactly the same."
And he just stood there, with his hand stretched out. The raging beast rushed towards him, as if about to devour him, then suddenly stopped and lowered its head to the ground, to the astonishment of all the onlookers that such a fierce beast could be reduced to such gentleness.
"It is because of human beings that the devil can corrupt even the beasts of burden," Hilarion told them. "The devils are filled with such hatred of human beings that they long to destroy not only them but also everything that belongs to them. As evidence of this, note that before the devil was allowed to put Job to the test he destroyed everything he possessed (Job 1.12). And let no one object that it was by order of the Lord himself that two thousand swine were sent to their death by the devils (Mark 5.13). For those who witnessed the event would not have been convinced that so many demons could have been expelled out of one man unless an equal number of swine had all perished together as if each one were being individually driven."
Time does not allow me to narrate all the signs done by this man. God gave him so much glory that when the blessed Antony heard about him he wrote to him, and was delighted to receive letters from him in return. And if anyone from the Syrian regions brought their troubles to Antony he would say to them, "Why have you taken the trouble to make such a long journey, when you have got my son Hilarion so close to you?"
Following Hilarion's example monasteries were springing up everywhere throughout the whole of Palestine, and zealous monks were flocking to them. When Hilarion recognised this he praised the grace of God and urged that each soul should make progress, reminding them that this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7.31), but that the true life could only be purchased by doing violence to our lives in this world. He set an example of humility and service by visiting the cells of all the brothers on certain set days before the grape harvest. When his own Brothers realised what he was doing they joined in with him, and they visited all the monasteries, each one taking with him food for the journey. Sometimes there would be as many as two thousand men gathered together. And as time went on each little hamlet would offer food to the monks, glad to cast in their lot with the Saints.
He was so conscientious that no brother, however humble, however poor, was overlooked. So it happened that as he was on his way to visit a brother living in the desert of Kadesh, he and a great company of monks entered the town of Eleusa on a day when by chance the whole population were gathered together in the temple of Venus for an annual feast in honour of Lucifer, whom the whole Saracen nation worshipped. (This town was generally regarded as being semibarbarous, because of its isolated locality.) Now many of the Saracens there had been delivered from demons by Hilarion, and when they heard that he was there they all rushed to see him, along with their wives and children. They bent their heads before him crying 'Barech', that is, 'Bless', He received them all gently and humbly, and urged them to worship the true God rather than stone idols. Weeping freely, he gazed up to heaven and assured them that if they believed in Christ he would surely come to them. And by the marvellous grace of God, before he was permitted to continue on his way they had marked out a site for a future church, and their Priest was signed with the cross as though he was being crowned.
In another year, when about to go out to visit the monasteries, they were drawing up a list of whom they could stay with and whom they would simply visit in passing, when some of the monks suggested that they stay with a certain brother whom they knew to be rather niggardly, hoping thereby to cure him of his fault.
"Why are you showing yourselves up in such a bad light," asked Hilarion, "in your desire to irritate your brother?"
The brother in question understood what was being said, blushed furiously and somewhat unwillingly was overcome by the force of public opinion and asked for his name to be put on the list of places where the visitors might stay. When they arrived at his place on the tenth day, they found that there were guards on his vineyard armed with slings and stones and clods of earth to keep off intruders, as if it belonged to somebody else. Without picking any grapes they departed the next day, but Hilarion had a slight smile on his lips, pretending not to know what was going on. And when they went to the next monk whose name was Sabas (we don't mind naming him as he was generous, though we would not dream of naming the niggardly one), they were all invited into the vineyard to refresh themselves with some grapes after the trials of their journey. Now it was Sunday and long before the usual hour for taking food.
"We can't approve of refreshing the body before seeing to the needs of the soul," said Hilarion. "Let us pray, let us sing psalms, let us offer God service, and then let us enjoy your hospitality."
When the service was over, he stood by the vineyard and blessed it and dismissed his flock to their pasture. There must have been at least three thousand of them. The usual estimate for this vineyard was that it would produce a hundred bottles, but on the twentieth day after this it was found to have produced three hundred! The niggardly brother was accustomed to producing much less, but he was distressed to find that even what he had produced had turned to vinegar. And this is what Hilarion had predicted to many of the brothers beforehand.
What he detested above all was the way some monks lacked faith in their future, and saved up their possessions, worrying too much about how much their clothing was going to cost, or any other such transitory worldly item. So he ceased to look kindly upon one of the monks, who lived about five miles away, because he knew that this monk had acted far too timidly and cautiously in the management of his little garden, through which he had saved up a little bit of money. This monk wanted to be restored to the old man's favour. He often visited the brothers, especially Hesychius, of whom he was very fond, so one day he brought with him a packet of green chickpeas which Hesychius put on the table as part of the evening meal.
"This stuff smells absolutely rotten," exclaimed the old man. "Where did it come from?"
"A brother brought it as a gift of first fruits for the monastery," replied Hesychius.
"Can't you smell how terribly rotten it is?" he asked. "And what these chickpeas stink of is avarice! Give it to the oxen, give it to the brute beasts, and see whether they will eat it."
He did as he was told and put it in the manger. The oxen were terrified, lowed unusually loudly, broke their tethers and fled.
The old man had this gift of being able to tell from the smell of anyone's body or clothing or anything that he had touched what sort of demon or vice was lurking underneath.
In the sixty-third year of his life he looked about him and saw this great monastery and the large number of brothers living with him, and saw how many of them had attracted to themselves various degenerate and unclean spirits. The desert round about was filled with all kinds of people, so that he wept daily and was filled with an overwhelming nostalgia for his earliest way of life. The brothers asked him what was the matter, what was troubling him.
"I have returned to the world," he said, " and I have received my reward in this life. All Palestine and the neighbouring provinces think I am somebody important, and I, under the excuse of building a monastery for the use of the brothers, possess a large mansion and everything that goes with it."
The brothers tended him with extra care, especially Hesychius, whose veneration and love for him knew no bounds.
After he had mourned like that for two years Aristaeneta came to visit him. She was the wife of the Prefect whom we have already mentioned, [See Chapter IX, above] though without the Prefect's vaunting ambition. She told Hilarion that she was intending to visit Antony.
"That is where I would like to go, too," he said, weeping, "if I weren't held prisoner shut up in this monastery, and if it were any use to do so. For in two days' time the world will be deprived of this great father."
She believed him and went no further. In a few days someone brought the news that Antony had indeed fallen asleep.
Marvellous were the signs and portents which he did, marvellous his incredible abstinence, his knowledge, his humility. I am never so overcome with amazement as when I think how he was completely unaffected by all the glory and honour paid to him. For bishops flocked to him, presbyters, crowds of clerics and monks, Christian matrons (a great source of temptation!), crowds of ordinary people from the towns and countryside, judges and people in high places, all wanting to receive from him a portion of blessed bread or oil. But he thought continually of nothing else but solitude.
One day he suddenly made up his mind to set out. He saddled an ass and set out on his journey (for he was so wasted by fasting that he could hardly walk). When it was rumoured about that he was leaving Palestine for the desert vastness, more than ten thousand people of all ages and sexes gathered together in an attempt to stop him. He was unmoved by their prayers as he talked with them, stirring up the sand with his staff.
"I will not make God a liar," (1 John 1.10) he said, "but I shall not see the overthrow of the Churches, the altars broken, or the blood of my sons."
Those who heard him say this understood that some secret message had been revealed to him which he did not want to reveal in total, but nevertheless they surrounded him to prevent him going on any further. In a loud voice he argued with them, saying that he would take no food or drink until they let him pass. After seven days, growing weaker because of his fasting he was allowed to say farewell to most of them and move on to the town of Bethelia, still accompanied by quite a crowd. There he succeeded in persuading the crowds to turn back, but chose forty monks to stay with him who carried with them food for the journey and who were practised in fasting, that is, refraining from food till after sunset.
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