Who was Paul of Thebes?
Saint Paul of Thebes, commonly known as Saint Paul the First Hermit or St Paul the Anchorite (died 341 A.D.) is regarded as the first Christian hermit. The legend according to Jerome's Vitae Patrum (Vita Pauli primi eremitae) is that, as a young man, Paul fled to the Theban desert during the persecution of Decius and Valerianus around 250 AD. 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 raiment 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, almost a hundred years. Jerome further related the meeting of Anthony the Great and Paul, 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.
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, 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 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".
The Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit was founded in Hungary his honor in the 13th century. He is usually represented with a palm tree, two lions and a raven.
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