The robbers thought they could have their way with St. Hilarion, but were not prepared for what he said next.
St. Hilarion was among the earliest Christians to devote himself entirely to a life of prayer and fasting. He lived with St. Anthony of the Desert during the 4th century, and after Anthony’s death spent the remainder of his life with few possessions besides the ragged cloak that he wore.
Early on, St. Hilarion built for himself a small hut where he prayed night and day, observing some of the most severe penances imaginable. It was at this time that a band of robbers can roaming through the desert in hopes of finding him, thinking that he was hiding something of value.
St. Jerome writes in his Life of St. Hilarion about this episode, and how the robbers were immediately stunned by what they discovered.
While still living in the hut, at the age of eighteen, robbers came to him by night, either supposing that he had something which they might carry off, or considering that they would be brought into contempt if a solitary boy felt no dread of their attacks. They searched up and down between the sea and the marsh from evening until daybreak without being able to find his resting place. Then, having discovered the boy by the light of day they asked him, half in jest, What would you do if robbers came to you? He replied, He that has nothing does not fear robbers. Said they, At all events, you might be killed. I might, said he, I might; and therefore I do not fear robbers because I am prepared to die. Then they marveled at his firmness and faith, confessed how they had wandered about in the night, and how their eyes had been blinded, and promised to lead a stricter life in the future.
This response was entirely unexpected and jolted them from their sinful ways.
Often robbers thrive on creating fear in others and it fuels their pride. St. Hilarion took the wind out of their sails and revealed to them that there is more to this life than possessions. He pointed to an alternative way of looking at the world, with an unwavering confidence in God and the promise of Heaven.
This episode can help us examine our lives, as we imagine a similar situation. Are we afraid of losing our possessions? Does death frighten us? How much do we trust God?
May St. Hilarion intercede for us and help us value what truly matters in this world.
Who was the first Christian hermit?