January 29, 2021 - Toba 21, 1737
Departure of St. Hilaria, the Daughter of Emperor Zeno
On this day also, St. Hilaria, daughter of Emperor Zeno, departed. Emperor Zeno was an Orthodox believer, who loved the church. He had only two daughters, Hilaria and her sister, Thaopesta. Their father brought them up and taught them the fundamentals of the Orthodox faith. Hilaria, since her young age, loved to live a solitary life, and she thought about the monastic life. When she was 18 years old, she left the court of her father and travelled to Egypt, disguised in men's clothing. She went to the wilderness of St. Macarius, where she met a holy man by the name of Anba Pemwah. She told him about her desire to become a monk and she was ordained a monk under the name of Hilary. Three years later, Anba Pemwah found out that she was Hilaria, the daughter of Emperor Zeno. He kept her secret, and placed her in a cave, and visited her from time to time. She stayed there for fifteen years. When she did not grow a beard, the monks thought that she was an eunuch, and they called her Hilary, the eunuch.
Meanwhile, her sister Thaopesta became possessed with an unclean spirit, and her father spent on her a great deal of money in vain. The men of his court advised the Emperor to send her to the elders of Sheheat (Scetis), for the fame of their holiness had spread to all the Roman districts. The Emperor sent her with one of the noble men in the empire, accompanied by many soldiers and several servants. He sent a letter with the nobleman to the elders of the wilderness telling them about his pain and grief. The Emperor told them that God had given him two daughters: one departed and did not return and he did not know where she was, and the other became possessed with an evil spirit who tormented her often. He asked them to pray for her, so that the Lord might heal her from what was ailing her, so that she would be a comfort to him in place of his disappeared daughter. When the princess arrived at the wilderness of Sheheat (Scetis) with her entourage, and the elders read the emperor's letter, they prayed for her for many days, but she was not healed. At the end, the fathers decided that St. Hilary the eunuch (Hilaria, her sister) should take her and pray for her healing. St. Hilary refused, but the elders obliged her to take her. St. Hilary knew that she was her sister but her sister did not recognize her. St. Hilaria embraced and kissed her sister often then left to weep outside. A few days later, Thaopesta, her sister, was healed from her illness, and St.Hilaria took her to the elders and said to them, Through your prayers, God has granted her healing. The elders sent Thaopesta back to her father in peace.
When Thaopesta arrived to her father, he and all those who were in the palace rejoiced for her safe return, and offered many thanks to the Lord Christ. Her father asked her about her stay in Sheheat (Scetis), and she said that St. Hilary, the eunuch who healed her by his prayers, embraced her and kissed her often. When the Emperor heard this, he had some doubts about this monk. He sent to the elders asking them to send St. Hilary, who healed his daughter, in order to receive his blessings. When the elders ordered him to go to the Emperor, he wept bitterly before the elders, pleading with them to spare him from the trip. They told him that the emperor was a righteous man who loved the holy church and that it was only proper not to disobey him according to the Holy Scriptures. After a great effort, St. Hilaria went to the Emperor, who saluted him and all those who were with him. Then, he had a private meeting with Hilaria together with the Empress. They asked him, How did you the holy man embrace and kiss the princess? Then Hilaria asked them to bring the Bible and to pledge to him not to prevent him from going back to the wilderness after answering their inquiry. They brought the Bible and pledged to him as he wished. Then he made himself known to them saying, I am your daughter Hilaria, and she told them all that had happened to her. Her parents wept with a loud voice and all the people in the palace were in confusion. She remained three months, then she wanted to return, and when her parents refused, she reminded them of their oath. Then the Emperor wrote to the Governor of Egypt, demanding him to send a hundred bushels of wheat every year and six hundred measures of oil and all that the monks needed in the wilderness, on a yearly basis. The Emperor saw to it also that many cells were built for the monks. He also built a beautiful palace in the monastery of St. Macarius. From that time on, the number of monks increased in the wilderness. St. Hilaria stayed five years after her return to the wilderness, then departed in peace. No one knew that she was a woman until after her death. May Her prayers be with us. Amen.