Science of the Saints, 28-I-2019 (15 Jan.), Ss. Paul of Thebes and John the Hut-Dweller

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The Monk Paul of Thebes was born in Egypt, in the Thebaid city. Left orphaned, he suffered many things from a greedy kinsman over a parental inheritance. During the time of the persecution against Christians under the emperor Decius (249-251), Saint Paul learned of the insidious plan to deliver him into the hands of the persecutors, and so he fled the city and set out into the wilderness.

Settling into a cave at the bottom of a hill, and known there to no one, the Monk Paul dwelt in it for 91 years, praying incessantly to God both day and night. He sustained himself on dates and bread, which a raven brought him, and he sheltered himself from cold and frost with a garb made of palm leaves. Through the foresight of God, shortly before the end of the Monk Paul, the Lord revealed about him to the Monk Anthony the Great, who also asceticised in the Thebaid wilderness. One time a thought came to Saint Anthony, that scarcely was there another so great a wilderness dweller as he, and then he heard a voice: “Anthony, there is a servant of God more accomplished than thee, and he hath settled here in this wilderness before thee. Go further into the remote area and there find him.” Anthony went and came to the cave of Saint Paul. A lesson in humility having been taught Anthony, the Monk Paul came out towards him. The elders greeted each other by name, and having hugged they entered into lengthy discussion. During the time of the conversation the raven flew by and brought them both bread. The Monk Paul disclosed to Saint Anthony that his end time was approaching and gave him instruction to bury him. The Monk Paul then expired during the time of prayer, upright on his knees. The Monk Anthony then beheld how his soul, amidst Angels and prophets and apostles, ascended up to God. Two lions ran out from the wilderness and with their claws dug out the grave. The Monk Anthony buried the holy elder, and having taken his garb of palm leaves, he set out to his own monastery. The Monk Anthony kept this garb as a great holy reminder and put it out only twice a year – on Pascha and Pentecost. The Monk Paul of Thebes died in the year 341, when he was 113 years old. He did not establish a single monastery, but soon after his end there appeared many imitators of his life and they filled the wilderness with monasteries. The Monk Paul is considered a father of Orthodox monasticism.

In the twelfth century, the body of Saint Paul, on orders of the emperor Manuel (1143-1180), was transferred to Constantinople and placed in the Peribleptoi monastery of the Mother of God. Afterwards it was taken to Venice, and finally to Hungary, at Ofa. Part of his head is situated in Rome.

The Monk John the Hut-Dweller was the son of rich and illustrious parents living in Constantinople during the fifth century, and he received a fine education. He loved to read spiritual books, and having perceived the vanity of secular life, he preferred “rather than the broad path one that was narrow and infirm and extremely rigorous.” Having persuaded his parents to give him a Gospel, he set out secretly to Bithynia. At the monastery “Unceasing Vigilance” he received monastic tonsure. The young monk began to asceticise with zeal, astonishing his brethren with unceasing prayer, humble obedience, strict abstinence and perseverance at work.

After six years he began to undergo temptations: thoughts about his parents, about their love and fondness, about their sorrow – all this began to overtake the young ascetic.

Saint John disclosed his situation to the hegumen and he asked to be released from the monastery, and he besought the brethren not to forget him in their prayers, hoping that by their prayers he would with the help of God, both see his parents and overcome the snares of the devil. The hegumen gave him his blessing.

Saint John returned to Constantinople in the clothes of a beggar, and known to no one. He settled at the gates of his parental home. The parents sent him food from their table, for the sake of Christ. For three years, oppressed and insulted, he lived in a tent (hut), enduring cold and frost, unceasingly conversing with the Lord and the holy Angels. Always with him was the Gospel, given him by his parents, and from which he unceasingly gathered out sayings of life eternal. Before his death the Lord appeared in a vision to the monk, revealing that the end of his sorrows was approaching and that after three days he would be taken up into the Heavenly Kingdom.

Only then did the saint show his parents the Gospel, which they had given him shortly before he had left his parental home. The parents recognised their son. With tears of joy they hugged him simultaneously with tears of sorrow, in that he had endured privation for so long at the very gates of his parental home. Saint John gave final instructions to his parents to bury him on the spot where stood his tent, and to put in the grave the beggar’s rags that he wore during life.

The saint died in the mid fifth century, when he was not yet 25 years of age. On the place of his burial the parents built a church to God and alongside it a house of hospitality for strangers. In the twelfth century the head of the saint was taken by Crusaders to Besacon (in France), and the other relics of the saint were taken to Rome.

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