Saint Hilarion was from Heraklion in Crete and his secular name was John. He had five other siblings, John, Polyzoes, George, and two sisters, whose names are unknown. His parents, Francis and Katherine, had raised him with diligence, and he had learned to read and write. When he was a young man, his uncle took him to Constantinople, promising to train him for some occupation.
Although John stayed with him for ten years, his uncle neglected to train him and did little else for him. That is why John was forced to leave his uncle’s house and get a job as the clerk of a merchant from the island of Chios, who came to trust John. One day, the merchant was obliged to leave his shop and travel back to Chios, placing John and another Orthodox Christian employee in charge of the business.
When he returned, the two employees gave their boss an accounting for the time that he was away. The merchant said that he had been cheated, because the money they collected did not correspond to the value of the goods that were sold. Although the merchant did not make an inventory before going to Chios, he estimated that the two clerks were short by thirty grosia. The other employee had been with the merchant for many years, and so all suspicion fell on John. He was told that there would be severe consequences if he did not return the money at once.
Knowing that he was innocent, John asked his uncle to help him, but his uncle refused to see him. In his despair he went to the palace, hoping to see the valide sultana, the Sultan’s mother. First, however, he met the Ethiopian eunuch, Mertzan Aga. It appears that John knew him and told him what had happened. The evil Aga seized this opportunity and told him that if he converted to Islam, he would not be liable to any punishment; moreover, he would receive many riches and honors.
In his fear and anxiety, John accepted. Then he was presented to the Sultan’s mother, who introduced him to the Sultan. Right away, John was circumcised, and was given Muslim clothing and other gifts. In addition, a certain hodja was appointed to instruct him in Islamic teachings.
Three days later, the young man came to himself and repented from his heart when he realized the gravity of his sin. He waited for an opportunity to escape, and after twelve days he managed to board a ship for the Crimea, where he remained for ten months. He knew no peace there because his conscience tormented him for his betrayal of Christ. Therefore, he decided that the only way he could atone for his sin was by the path of martyrdom. Returning to Constantinople, he consulted the renowned Spiritual Fathers, Elder Symeon and Elder Jeremiah. He told them of his intention to confess Christ in the place where he had denied Him. Instead, the Elders advised him to go to Mount Athos for a time.
John did exactly as he was told, and entered Ivḗron Monastery. The Fathers there sent him to the Skete of St. Anna to place himself under the guidance of Hieromonk Bessarion, who had prepared the New Martyr Luke (March 23) for his martyrdom the previous year. The Elder accepted him and gave him a Rule of strict asceticism and fasting. Soon he received the monastic tonsure with the name Hilarion.
One morning, Father Hilarion told his Elder that he was ready to confess Christ, Whom he had denied. The Elder blessed his good intention, and the Saint received the Holy Mysteries. They left for Constantinople together, and then Father Hilarion presented himself to the Aga at the palace.
“Three days after becoming a Muslim,” he said, “I repented of what I had done, and I abandoned the darkness of error and returned to the light of truth, so I curse your religion. I was a Christian, and now I am once more.”
Throwing his turban on the ground, he put on the black monastic skoufia he had concealed under his coat. Seeing the Saint’s resolve, the Aga ordered that he be tortured without mercy. His torments were so severe that all his bones were broken.
Saint Hilarion was beheaded on September 20, 1804, and received two incorruptible crowns from Christ: that of asceticism, and that of martyrdom.
Elder Bessarion was once invited to a Christian home and the children were brought to receive his blessing. One child, a little girl about eight years old, had been possessed by a demon. She turned black, made some erratic movements, and eventually she fell down as if she were dead.The Elder had some of the Saint’s blood with him, but before he could even anoint the girl with it, the demon came out of her, and the child stood up.