15 January 2011

Saint Paul the First Hermit

15 JANUARY 2011. Although not found on the General Roman Calendar, today is the feast day of Saint Paul of Thebes, also known as Saint Paul the First Hermit.

According to Saint Jerome's description of Saint Paul (written in the Syrian Desert in A.D. 374 or 375) Saint Paul was born in the area of Thebes, Egypt in about A.D. 227. He was the son of wealthy family, but his parents died while he was still a teenager. Saint Jerome describes Saint Paul as a young man "gifted with a gentle disposition and a deep love for God."

During the persecution of Decius and Valerianus (about A.D. 250) Saint Paul fled to the Theban Desert where he took refuge in a cave near a clear spring and a palm tree. For the rest of his life, Saint Paul would remain in that cave, taking his only food from the nearby spring and palm tree until, at about the age of 43, a raven began daily bringing Saint Paul about a half a loaf of bread. Saint Paul lived in the cave for nearly 100 years. He died in A.D. 341 at an age of about 114.

Saint Paul of Thebes is regarded as the first Christian hermit. He certainly existed, as history has kept these few scant details of his life, but much of what is know of Saint Paul now is legend. Apparently Saint Anthony the Great met Saint Paul very late in his life. The story is that they two spoke at length for one day and one night. When Saint Anthony the Great later returned to visit Saint Paul he found that he had died in the position of prayer. Clothing Saint Paul's body in a tunic that was a gift of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Saint Anthony buried the body with the assistance of two lions, who helped dig the grave.

The fame of Saint Paul spread quickly in the ancient Christian world and the hermetic life became popular, especially in the Balkan countries of Hungary and Croatia. The Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit (the Pauline Fathers) was founded in Hungary in honor of Saint Paul in the thirteenth century.


Gracious God,
you led Saint Paul of Thebes into the desert
that he might put aside all worldly cares
and focus on a life of holiness.
Through the example of his life
of solitude, prayer and penance,
grant that we, who are striving to develop in ourselves
the spirit of prayer and service,
may come ever closer to you in love.
We make our prayer through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 

one God, for ever and ever.


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