FEAST OF SAINT PAUL OF THEBES (PAUL THE HERMIT)
FEAST DAY – 15th JANUARY
Paul of Thebes, commonly known as Paul, the First Hermit or Paul the Anchorite, c. 227 – c. 341, was an Egyptian saint regarded as the first Christian hermit, who was claimed to have lived alone in the desert of Egypt from the age of sixteen to the age of one hundred and thirteen years old. He is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Paul the Hermit should not be confused with St Paul the Apostle. St Paul the Hermit is traditionally considered as the first saint living the solitary life.
He was born around the year 228 in Alexandria, Egypt, of wealthy and noble parents.The Life of Saint Paul the First Hermit was composed in Latin by Saint Jerome, probably in 375–376. Paul of Thebes was born around 227 in the Thebaid of Egypt. Paul and his married sister lost their parents. In order to obtain Paul’s inheritance, his brother-in-law sought to betray him to the persecutors. According to Jerome’s Vitae Patrum, Paul fled to the Theban desert as a young man during the persecution of Decius and Valerianus around AD 250.
He lived in the mountains of this desert in a cave near a clear spring and a palm tree, the leaves of which provided him with clothing and the fruit of which provided him with his only source of food until he was 43 years old, when a raven started bringing him half a loaf of bread daily. He would remain in that cave for the rest of his life. Paul of Thebes is known to posterity because around the year 342, Anthony the Great was told in a dream about the older hermit, and went to find him.
Jerome related that Anthony the Great and Paul met when the latter was aged 113. They conversed with each other for one day and one night. The Synaxarium shows each saint inviting the other to bless and break the bread, as a token of honor. Paul held one side, putting the other side into the hands of Father Anthony, and soon the bread broke through the middle and each took his part. When Anthony next visited him, Paul was dead. Anthony clothed him in a tunic which was a present from Athanasius of Alexandria and buried him, with two lions helping to dig the grave.
Father Anthony returned to his monastery taking with him the robe woven with palm leaf. He honored the robe so much that he only wore it twice a year: at the Feast of Easter, and at the Pentecost. His feast day is celebrated on 15 January in the West, on 5 January or 15 January in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and on 9 February in the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Anthony described him as “the first monk”.
The Monastery of Saint Paul the Anchorite is traditionally believed to be on the site of the cave where Paul lived and where his remains are kept. The monastery is located in the eastern desert mountains of Egypt near the Red Sea. The Cave Church of St. Paul marks the spot where Anthony, “the Father of Monasticism”, and Paul, “the First Hermit”, are believed to have met.
He is also the patron saint of the Diocese of San Pablo (Philippines) and is the titular of the Cathedral of the said Diocese in San Pablo, Laguna, Philippines. The Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit was founded in Hungary in his honour in the 13th century. He is usually represented with a palm tree, two lions and a raven.
O God, who willed that St. Paul achieve a high degree of sanctity through a life of solitude, prayer and penance in the desert, grant that through his intercession, we, who are striving to develop in ourselves the spirit of prayer and service, may come ever closer to you in love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
Saint Paul, pray for us.