St Paul the Hermit

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Saint Paul the Hermit is regarded as the first Christian hermit. He was born in 228 AD. The Life of Saint Paul the First Hermit, was composed in Latin by Saint Jerome, around 376. According to Jerome, Paul fled to the Theban desert as a boy during the persecution of Decius and Valerianus around AD 250.

At that time Paul and his married sister, both of whom lived in the Thebaid, lost their parents. In order to obtain Paul's inheritance, his brother-in-law sought to betray him to the persecutors. He lived in the desert mountains 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 remained in that cave for the rest of his life, - almost a hundred years.

We know about Paul because around the year 342, a St Anthony was told in a dream about the older hermit's existence, and went to find him.

Familiar stories from Jerome's Life include: the meeting of St Paul and St Anthony, the raven who brought them bread, St Anthony being sent to fetch the cloak given him by Athanasius the bishop, St Paul's death before he returned, and the grave dug by lions.

Jerome writes that when Anthony and Paul met, they talked with each other for one day and one night. Each saint inviting the other to bless and break the bread. St 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. Two lions helped to dig the grave. Father Anthony returned to his monastery taking with him the robe woven with palm leaf. He honoured the robe so much that he only wore it twice a year: at the Feast of Easter, and at the Pentecost.

St Paul the Hermit's feast day is celebrated on January 15 in the West, on January 5 or January 15 in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and on 2 Meshir (February 9) in the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Saint Anthony described him as "the first monk".

St. Paul's Monastery (Deir Mar Boulos) is traditionally believed to be on the site of the cave where the saint 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 St Anthony, the Father of Monasticism, and St Paul, the First Hermit, are believed to have met.

He is the patron saint of the Diocese of San Pablo in the 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.

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