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The Legend of Hilaria (1913) pp. 17-29. The story of Hilaria: Long Arabic version



(Forget I, p. [] et sequ.)

The 21th day of the month of Tubih.

On this day Hilaria the daughter of king Zeno, departed this life. He had no male child, but only two virgin daughters. He gave them a careful education; in the first place he let them learn writing, as was becoming to the royal rank, and let them learn by heart the psalms so that they could read them throughout 1).

The name of the oldest daughter was Hilaria. She desired to remain a virgin; especially she felt inclined towards monastic life. But she shrank back from going to the monasteries of Byzantium because she knew that they would not receive her from fear before her father.

Then she took a manly resolution and determined what to do in order to enter the pure career of monastic life. One day the king went with his daughter to the cathedral at the time of the ministration of the holy sacrifice and the blessed Hilaria raised her eyes to heaven and said in her heart: "O Lord, if Thou esteemest me worthy of the pure calling and Thou wilt make my way to succeed, let me hear words from the scripture-lessons pointing to my aim and wish." When she entered the church she listened and heard firstly the great word of the apostle: "By faith Moses refused to be called the, son of Pharao's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the |20 pleasures of sin for a season" 2). And also from the catholic epistle: "The wealth of this world is like grass and hay" 3); and from the Acts of the Apostles: "I have coveted no silver or gold or apparel. Yea, you yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities" 4); and also from the Psalter: "His joy is sweeter than gold and precious stones and honey and honey-comb" 5); and also from the Gospel: "Whosoever forsaketh not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple" 6); and from the sermon of the bishop after the Gospel: "Wherefore, O man, desirest thou what passeth away and what thou must leave behind. Know that the lusts of this world pass away. Therefore confide not in riches, for riches remain here and our sins precede us to the judgment-seat of the Lord." Then she praised God saying: "God hath given success to my course and smoothed my way." When they had received the blessing, she prepared herself for fleeing and God, the beneficent, showed her how to act. On the next morning she clad herself in the dress of a spatharios, girded herself with a girdle of Taif-leather, took a stick in her hand and went in the direction of the sea, where no one would notice her. She found a ship sailing to a town called Safîrâ. She said to the sailor: "I desire to be brought to the shore of Alexandria, for I have to transmit orders of the king." The sailor said: "We go not towards that place, o spatharios; but if the king wanteth it, we cannot thwart him." So they brought her to Alexandria; at that time she was twelve years old and a beautiful girl. |21 She entered the church of Anba Petros, the last of the martyrs, prayed and beseeched him to help her and went "to the church of the holy Mar Marcus and asked him to smooth her way. There she found a deacon, named Theodorus, and said to him: "Peace to thee, brother. I desire that thou travellest with me to the mountain of Shihat, for I wish to visit that place and will give thee thy wages; for I have left my country in order to pay this visit." The deacon said to her: "O spatharios, for a long time I have wished to go to that place, and perhaps it is God's will. But let us eat bread and depart to morrow morning." The blessed said to him: "Good." She took a dinar and gave it him, saying: "Buy for this dinar what we need." The deacon took the dinar and spent of it what they wanted.

The next morning they saddled beasts to ride on and went to the church of Abu Menas 7) where they passed the night. On the next morning they went to Shihât. When they had arrived, the holy Man Bamfu was consulted about them: "There is a spatharios who hath brought with him a deacon." He gave order to bring them to him. When they had entered, he clapped his hands, as is the custom of monks, and prayed. When they sat down he told them many profitable stories.

Then the blessed Hilaria addressed herself to the pure old man, saying: "I wish to be invested by thee with the monastic habit and to remain here." Father Bamfu answered and said: "My son, it is impossible for thee to remain here, for thou art accustomed to comfort and |22 bodily rest. But if thou desirest to become a monk, go to Anvatun because it is hidden 8) and in that place is a congregation of rich people who have embraced monastic life but live there without trouble, finding consolation. But we are far from Misr, at a distance of forty 9) days from the plain and the towns ; nay, we are even in need of clothes. And thou canst not endure our meagre food and our hard life." The blessed Hilaria answered him saying: "Know, my father, that I have 10) come to this holy mountain with my whole heart and now thou repellest me, but the Lord shall call thee to account for my sake."

When the pure old Anba Bamfu heard this he wondered at the acuteness of the boy's answer. At once he cleared a place for her and the deacon where they could be lodged. But the deacon took the prayer 11) [of the prior] and returned to the town. Hilaria, the daughter of the king, said to the prior: "My Father, take this little sum from me and distribute it among the poor." He answered: "We need nothing of it, for the labour of our hands is sufficient for us. But if thou possessest something, I will give it the deacon in order to transmit it to the patriarch." Hilaria gave him all that she possessed and the golden stick and her girdle.

The deacon took leave of them and departed. Then Hilaria turned towards the holy Anba Bamfu and said: "My Father, I desire that thou investest me with the monastic habit." He explained [the precepts] to her, |23 examined her and taught her the ascetic practices, gave her a repaired mitre and a coat of hair. At once she would put them on; he prayed over them and invested her with them, without knowing her to be the daughter of the king. He gave her a cell near his own and visited her at all times. The Lord showed her his grace, so that she learned to speak the language of the Egyptian people. She was extremely ascetic and zealously fasting and praying. The monks wondered how the softness of her body suffered those harsh clothes. When she had stayed there nine years without getting a beard they called her Hilari the eunuch. On account of her frequent fasting and praying and ascetic practices her breasts withered and it ceased to be with her after the manner of women. After the lapse of so long a period her parents had despaired of seeing her again, but the Lord (blessed be His name) would show her and make her known to them. Her younger sister became possessed by a mean villainous demon. So her father the king sent her, escorted by soldiers and two masters, to many monasteries and dwellingplaces of ascetic old men, but the Lord gave her no healing at their hands because God planned Hilaria's glorification. So the courtiers gave advice to the king, saying: "May our Lord the king live for ever 12); know that in Wadi Habib there are pure holy monks. Send thy daughter to them and we believe that God will heal thy daughter on account of their pure prayers." When the king heard this he rejoiced greatly. He ordered two masters and two slave-girls and soldiers from his armies to accompany the girl and |24 wrote to the governor of Alexandria ordering him to send his daughter to the mountain of Shihât. He wrote also to the old men: "Thus writeth Zeno, the unworthy of the kingdom, whom God hath given this gift which he meriteth not, to the holy, pious, beloved Fathers, who strive to liberate themselves from the whole world, the ascetic, selfdenying monks in the holy mountain of Shïhât, called balance of hearts, Hail. In the first place I prostrate myself with my face before your holiness. Then I will inform you, my Fathers, of what the Lord hath done me on account of my many sins and trespasses. God had given me two daughters. One left me and I know nothing about her; so I was in great sorrow on her account. And while I had to suffer this great sorrow, there struck me another sorrow greater than the first one: the other daughter, whom I had expected to be my consolation and a compensation for her sister, a demon took possession of her and tormented her day and night so that I am near to saying that death is preferable for her to life. My courtiers have given me advice to send her to your holiness. And now my whole hope is upon you, that God will not reject your request and that she will be saved by your prayers."

When this message reached Alexandria, the emir with many soldiers went to accompany her. They reached the monastery, brought the letter of the king and gave it the holy Anba Bamfu. He assembled the brethren and read the letter before them. When they began to pray, the demon threw her down and continued to beat her among them, so that the emir and all who were with him wondered and said: "How can a demon do so among holy persons?" |25 

When the holy Hilaria saw her younger sister, she recognised her and her heart was troubled on her account, her limbs ached and she wept over her. When the brethren saw her sick at heart for her sake, they were sorry. When prayer was finished Anba Bamfu called one of the brethren and said to him: "Take this girl with thee in thy cell and cease not to pray over her till God shall have restored her health." He said humbly: "I have not reached that degree of perfection, and I cannot be entrusted with this girl." Then Anbä Martyrios said: "Trust her to Hilari the eunuch 13)." So they trusted the girl to her sister. She began to pray, over her and to weep till she had soaked the earth, to embrace her and to kiss her face, to lie with her on one bench, while she held her to her bosom. After seven days the Lord healed her. The emir and the ka'id and the soldiers received with them the holy eucharist on Sunday and returned to Alexandria. As to the girl, God had given her grace and the villainous demon had left her; so the servants and slave-girls and soldiers took her and returned with her, rejoicing because the Lord had given success to their journey. The old men wrote a letter of explanation to king Zeno in the following terms: "The unworthy inhabitants of the mountain of Natrun write to their victorious lord Zeno, the pious. Above all we prostrate ourselves before thy venerable noble majesty. May the Lord preserve thy throne and confirm thy kingdom like that of David and Solomon and Hezekiah 14) and Uzziah and rule thy kingdom without trouble. Be safe in the Lord because of thy care for |26 the church of the Lord Christ, our God." When this letter reached the king he rejoiced greatly on account of his daughter's recovery. He arranged meals for the poor and spent much money. He said: "My daughter, what hath happened to thee at Shihât?" She answered: "My father, they entrusted me to a holy, ascetic monk, called Hilari the eunuch. It was he who prayed over me; then I was healed and the Lord gave me health; he was very benignant to me and many times he lay with me on the mat on the bench. But, my father, I hear that monks hate women and therefore inhabit the desert, because they will absolutely not speak with them. And how is this? I know it not."

When the king heard this from his daughter he wondered greatly and said: "This is not the custom of monks who expel demons; this is an innovation among the monks''. He wrote a second letter to Shihât in the following terms: "The victorious king Zeno ventureth to write to the pure, pious Fathers on the mount of Shihât. I am indebted to you on account of your bounty and benignity and your prayers and I cannot pay . . . 15) so I beg you to show me the favour of sending brother Hilarion, for I am sick at heart and I cannot undertake a sea voyage and accomplish this great distance because of the heavy . . . . 16). The fame of his holiness hath reached us and our confidence is in him; if he cometh to us we shall profit by his prayers."

When this royal letter had arrived and had been read before the rest of the holy monks, the pure presbyter Bamfu called the blessed Hilaria and said: "Prepare |27 thyself, brother, for the king hath summoned thee." When the blessed Hilaria heard this, she felt a great sorrow. The monks consoled her saying: "Go in the peace of the Lord who will be with thee and restore thee to us safely." They sent with her two brothers and two old brothers and they went to Constantinople. When they arrived the king rejoiced and gave orders to introduce them joyfully; he received them personally. He said to them: "Pray for me, that the Lord may keep me in the loyalty of my orthodox fathers." When they went out he retained his daughter Hilaria and remained alone with her saying: "Holy Father Hilarion, we need thy prayers and wish to speak to thee; but be not offended and be not sorry. The little girl hath told me how she was in thy blessed presence: that thou used to kiss her, mouth on mouth, and to lie with her on the mat on the same bench. So I desire that thou teilest me the reason of thy kindness towards her, whether it sprang from spiritual or from bodily love. Tell me the truth and be not ashamed or disturbed by shame, that I may be pure from this trangression." The virgin Hilaria thought: "I should like to conceal this matter, but I fear that the king would cast an eye of contempt on all monks." She said: "The king may live for ever. Let the four holy Gospels be brought before me." When this had been done she said to him: "Swear to me that thou wilt not reveal this secret nor restrain me from going to my monastery." The king swore by the holy Gospel. Hilarion said: "I am Hilaria thy daughter." When the king heard this he wondered and became stupefied so that he could not speak during a long time. When his spirits returned he went up to his daughter |28 and embraced her like Joseph when he embraced Benjamin his brother, and wept vehemently. When her mother and sister heard the news they came running, embraced her and wept and cried, kissed her hands and her face and would restrain her from returning to her monastery. But the king checked them saying: "I have submitted myself to her will and sworn not to restrain her." Then her mother said: "We will retain her with us, in order to crown her with the royal crown." But the king said: "I will not do so, but we will give glory to the Lord, now that we have seen her alive." The king concealed her secret and retained the monks for three months in order to be able to see his daughter every day. He questioned her about her flight from the castle. She told him the details, how she had disguised herself as a spatharios, how she had reached Alexandria and how she had gone to Shihat. When the king heard this he wondered, and gave an official order to send to the monks on the mountain of Shihat every year three thousand measures of corn for the eucharist of his daughter, and three hundred measures of oil. This hath been continued every year until to day.

The king bade them farewell and they departed towards their monastery. After her arrival Hilari lived twelve years. At the end there befell her an illness, the pains of which she bore with great courage. Then the holy virgin called Anba Bamfu and conjured him thus: "When I shall have accomplished my life, make known, my Father, the whole story of my life and allow not that this repaired cowl be taken from me, but if you shroud me, let me keep it." When she had departed this life in glory and honour, the holy Anba Bamfu told them what |29 she had ordered him. When they had buried her the holy Anba Bamfu sat down and told the brethren in an address all about the holiness of this pure virgin, saying: "I am feeble, the unworthiest of all the brethren on the mountain of Shihat. Who is there that like her possesseth the endurance to live continually among so many men? Who possesseth such selfrestraint and is able to neglect all bodily comfort and finery and pleasure?" When the brethren heard this they praised God. And behold, the Lord gave her good fortune and grace for she departed this life on the day of the departure of the mother of Light, the virgin Mary, because she had loved her (Mary's) life; so the Lord gave her this sign of grace.

They wrote to her father the king that she was dead and he began to mourn over her. But her mother consoled him saying: "He hath been called happy who hath posterity in Sion and kindred in Jerusalem, according to what is written in Isaiah the prophet: "Blessed who hath posterity in Sion."17) For she can be beseeched to intercede for us with our Lord Jesus Christ so that He forgive us our sins and trespasses."

These words have been written by the holy Anba Bamfu. He hath written and deposited them in the church of Shihat for the sake of glory and profit. May the Lord have mercy upon us by his prayers. Amen. |30 

[Footnotes renumbered and moved to the end]

1. 1) [Arabic], ad aperturam.

2. 1) Hebrews XI, 24 et sequ. 

3. 2) James 1, 10.

4. 3) Acts XX, 33 et sequ.

5. 4) Psalm XIX, 10.

6. 5) Luke XIV, 33.

7. 1) Cf. K. M. Kaufmann, Die Menasstadt und das Nationalheiligtum der altchristlichen Aegypter, I (Leipzig, 1910).

8. 1) I am not sure of the meaning of the text.

9. 2) Amélineau proposes to read: four. 

10. 3) The text adds: not. 

11.  4) i.e. blessing.

12. 1) Cf. p. 10, note 1.

13. 1) Text: [Arabic]

14. 2) Text: Ezekiel.

15. 1) The text is corrupt. 

16. 2) The text has: hunger.

17. 1) Is. XXXI, 9b according to LXX.

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