Saint Paul of Thebes

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paul of thebes 2Paul was born of wealthy parents in Lower Thebes in Egypt during the reign of Emperor Decius. Paul, along with his sister, inherited all the property of their parents. But his brother-in-law, an idolater, wanted to confiscate Paul’s share of the property and threatened to betray Paul before the judge as a Christian if he did not cede his property to him. On one hand, that misfortune and on the other hand those heroic examples of self-sacrifices of Christian martyrs which Paul saw with his own eyes motivated him to give his share of the property to his sister and he, as a pauper, withdrew into the desert where he lived an ascetical life until his death. To what spiritual heights this ascetical giant reached is witnessed by no less a person than St. Anthony the Great who, at one time, visited Paul and saw how the wild beasts and birds of heaven ministered to him. Returning from this visit, Anthony said to his monks, “Woe is me, my children! A sinful and false monk that I am, a monk only in name. I saw Elijah, I saw John in the wilderness and, in truth, I saw Paul in Paradise!” St. Paul lived one-hundred thirteen years and peacefully died in the Lord in the year 342 A.D.

Feast Day: January 15

by Saint Nikolai Velimirovich

The Life of Saint Paul of Thebes

In the third century, when St. Anthony the Great was living in the deserts of Egypt, one day the thought came to him that he was the most holy man of the desert, having given his life to prayer longer than any other. It was then that he had a vision, and it was revealed by the Holy Spirit that there was another who had dedicated his life to prayer in the desert many years before Anthony. With nothing but the guidance of the Holy Spirit, St. Anthony began to walk out into the desert, searching for this man. For three days he walked, and on the third day, a small cave appeared ahead of him. Upon reaching the cave, St. Paul, wearing a garment woven of palm leaves, greeted him by name, and asked him to come and sit talk with him. While the two talked, a raven appeared, bearing a loaf of bread. St. Paul marvelled, saying, “for 70 years a raven has provided me with half a loaf of bread each day, today the Lord has provided for both me and my guest.” St. Paul, orphaned at the age of 16, had fled the persecutions of the Roman Emperor and come to the desert to pray. He and Anthony talked all day, and as the day drew to a close, Paul asked Anthony to go and retrieve the tunic that had been presented to Bishop Athanasius, that Paul’s body might be wrapped in it and laid to rest, for he knew his time was near. Anthony, saddened at the thought of losing this man he had only just met, dared not argue at Paul’s request, recognizing the impossible knowledge of this man to be from God. Anthony journeyed back to his monastery without rest, retrieved the cloak, and without stopping to explain to his fellow monastic brothers, made the journey back to St. Paul. As he travelled, he witnessed the soul of Paul arising to heaven. When he arrived, he found his beloved friend kneeling. Thinking he was in prayer, St. Anthony joined him, until many hours later when he realized his soul had indeed departed yet his body remained a servant of God. Anthony, hoping to fulfill St. Paul’s wish for burial, looked around, and realized the ground was far to hard for him to dig a grave. He knelt by the body of St. Paul and resigned himself to remaining there until someone came, or Anthony himself perished from the vigil. It was then that two lions approached. The lions began to claw at the earth, digging a grave for the saint. When the hole was dug, Anthony reverently wrapped the body of Paul in the cloak, and buried him.