The Church celebrates the memory of St. Honoratus of Arles (†429) on January 16/29. This saint made a huge contribution to the development of Western monasticism. Many cities of once Orthodox Gaul and later France had holy bishops thanks to St. Honoratus. Let us get acquainted with the main milestones and exciting facts from the life of this great ascetic.
The future monk was born in Belgian Gaul around the year 350 in a noble Gallo-Roman family. His father was an honorary consul. The child received an excellent education and was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps, but in his youth he came to believe in Christ and was baptized at the age of 15, which was strongly opposed by all his relatives. Having converted to Christ his elder brother Venantius and seeking to get acquainted with the Palestinian and Egyptian monasticism, he and his brother left their hometown for good and went on a pilgrimage to the East in 368. However, their dreams were not destined to come true. On their way to Corinth, the brothers fell ill with a disease that killed Venantius. Honoratus survived the illness and decided to return to Gaul. He settled in a cave in Provence, with the intention of pursuing an ascetic lifestyle.
The ascetic feats of the saint caught the attention of the locals, and the monk took the advice of his spiritual mentor, St. Leontius of Fréjus, who advised him to go to the remote Lérins Island for a secluded monastic life. He spent most of his life on the island, and a group of disciples gradually gathered around him to settle the island and create a vibrant monastic community. At the end of the saint’s life, the Lord called Honoratus to take up the Bishop’s See of Arles, which he occupied for 3 years until his repose in 429.
1) The future saint was born in Treves (now Trier, Germany) around 350. It was roughly at the same time that a boy named Ambrose, the future great saint of Milano, was growing up in the same city. Both young men hailed from noble Roman families: Ambrose’s father, according to some sources, was the prefect of Gaul with residence in Treves, while Honoratus’s father was a consul there. These facts, especially the high position of both families, suggest that the families could have known each other, and the fathers of the families could even have communicated at work.
2) Before receiving Holy Baptism, Honoratus was strongly tempted by his own father, a convinced Pagan, to succumb to the earthly joys and pleasures of this world, which a young man from a wealthy and noble family could enjoy in abundance. However, he was able to resist these temptations, knowing that “the life in the world is pleasant but deceptive. There are other exhortations taught in the churches and echoing in my ears… for me, Christ is the treasure, and He will reimburse me for the transient joy with a better one, and will enable me in this life to enjoy and adorn myself with diligence to His teachings and thereby become worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven” (St. Hilary of Arles. The Story of Honoratus).
3) The location of the cave, in which St. Honoratus pursued asceticism for some time, is very popular with pilgrims, more and more of whom are Orthodox. In the cell chapel, opened in this cave, the Orthodox Christians of France hold molebens, read the akathist to Saint Honoratus, composed in Geneva in two languages. There are numerous testimonies of veneration of the deeds of the saint and gratitude for the help he provided.
4) Before St. Honoratus arrived in the Lérins Islands, they were teeming with venomous snakes. The saint was not afraid of them, and bearing in mind the words of the Psalm “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.” (Psalm 91:13), as well as the promise of the Savior “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19), he courageously stepped upon this land. The serpents did not touch the man of God, and soon disappeared from the island forever.
5) In place of the abode of venomous vipers, Lérins, through the efforts of Honoratus, soon became known as West Thebes. The island, turned by the monastic community into a blossoming garden, became a great center of Western asceticism, which gave Orthodox Gaul a whole pleiad of holy bishops: St. Hilary of Arles (†449), St. Lupus of Troyes (†478), St. Eucherius of Lyon (†449) and others. The great theologian, St. Vincent of Lérins (†450) lived here, and perhaps the great Irish enlightener, St. Patrick, was also preparing for his mission in this area.
6) The Statutes of the Lérins monastic fraternity have not been preserved, but it is known that Honoratus based its monastic life on the rules of St. Pachomius (†348), the great Eastern saint who was the founder of the coenobitic monasticism. This fact, as well as the fact that Saint John Cassian (†435) founded two monasteries in the nearby Marseille based on the model of Egyptian monasteries, enriched the Western Church with the Eastern monastic tradition and brought together the Christians of the West and the East.
7) When Honoratus became bishop of the ancient Arles, he found chests of gold in the curia, which he ordered to give away immediately, leaving only the essentials for existence. Even as a bishop, Honoratus continued to live very modestly and strictly followed his monastic rule.
8) The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, in its decision on March 9, 2017, included the memory of St. Honoratus of Arles in the menologion of the Russian Orthodox Church for universal veneration.