The two sons in a Roman senatorial family living in northern Gaul led a typical life, receiving a good education and enjoying the privileges of society to which they were entitled by their class. But when, at age 18, Honoratus converted to Christianity, followed soon by his brother, Venantius, the ‘good life’ no longer had the same appeal.
The brothers decided to embark on a pilgrimage to Palestine to visit the holy places associated with events in the life of our Lord. Their doting father, who had not become a Christian, did everything he could to discourage such a dangerous and foolish journey, but his sons were determined. Taking with them an older Christian named Caprasius, who was to act as their guide, they soon left home for the Holy Land.
The planned itinerary also included places in Egypt, perhaps associated with St. Anthony, who 100 years earlier had begun the movement known as monasticism. Leading a life of silence and 3 prayer in a desert or wilderness was very appealing to the brothers and they determined to find a place where they might do the same.
But all their plans were abandoned when the young men became ill in the province of Achaia (in Greece) and Venantius died. Honoratus and Caprasius returned home, stopping briefly in Rome. Honoratus was now more determined than ever to pursue the solitary life. With the encouragement of a bishop in Provence, he went to the island of Lerins, which was very much a wilderness, to begin this life of prayer and spiritual struggle.
As so often happened in the early days of monasticism, word soon spread that a hermit was living a life of prayer on the island and Honoratus was joined by others seeking the same sort of life. Thus, the Monastery of Lerins – which would become one of the most famous in the Western world – was founded. Many of those whose names fill the lists of saints of the Church (including St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Caesarius of Arles, and perhaps St. Patrick) received their spiritual formation in this monastery. The Rule of Life in the monastery was patterned after that of St. Pachomius.
In 426, the bishop of Arles was assassinated and Abbot Honoratus was elected to take his place. The abbot reluctantly accepted this responsibility while managing to continue oversight of the monastery. The Arian and Manichaean heresies had become a threat to the Church in Arles, but Bishop Honoratus was able to re-establish Orthodoxy.
St. Honoratus fell asleep in the Lord in the year 429, having devoted his life to prayer, to the spiritual nourishing of his monks and the protection of the true faith in his diocese. His writings, which are attested to by others of his time, have not survived but the monastery which he founded continued to thrive and produce saints through centuries.
However, in 732, a Saracen attack resulted in the massacre of the abbot and many of the monks. Attacks in later centuries by the Spanish and Genoese who were fighting for ownership of the island resulted in the expulsion of the monks until the French retook the island. The French Revolution, which saw the dissolution of the monastery and the sale of the property to a famous actress, might have been the end of St. Honoratus’ legacy, but the property was bought in 1859, by the Bishop of Frejus who founded a community of Cistercian monks which remains there today.
May we, like St. Honoratus, seek God in silence and prayer; may we answer God’s call to service; and may we persevere in our concern for preserving Orthodox Christianity against the influences of the world. Holy Honoratus, pray for us.