Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Abba Macarius' life story on his memorial day from Kathy R's For All the Saints website:

Born in Upper Egypt c. 300; died 390.

"Receive from the hand of God poverty as cheerfully as riches, hunger and want as plenty, and you will conquer the devil and subdue all your passions." --Saint Macarius.

Saint Macarius was a cattle herder in his youth but early became a hermit who was known for his great austerities. In his childhood he stole a few figs and ate one of them, and from his conversion to his death he never ceased to weep bitterly for this sin. He retired to a solitary hut, where he combined assiduous prayer with the tending of sheep and the plaiting of baskets.
He was accused of assaulting a woman but proved his innocence and became somewhat of a hero for his patience and humility during the ordeal. He even provided for her with his paltry earnings. She went into labor and could not be delivered until she named the true father of her child. To escape the adulation of those whose rage was turned to admiration, he retired to the desert of Skete (Scetis) when he was 30.

Macarius knew and followed the teachings of Saint Antony. Like Antony, Macarius attracted many others, because of his spiritual wisdom, who became anchorites under his rule. The bishop compelled him to receive ordination to the priesthood about 340, so that he could say daily Mass for the several thousand members of the monastic colony.

Macarius's austerities, like those of so many of the desert fathers, were excessive. He generally ate but once a week. To deny his own will, he did not refuse a little wine when others desired him to drink, but then he would punish himself by abstaining several days from drinking anything, even under the intense sun of the desert.

During his lifetime, he was highly esteemed in monastic circles, and his counsel was sought out by such as Saint Evagrius. He delivered his instructions in few words and generally stressed silence, humility, mortification, retirement, and continual prayer. He taught, "In prayer you need not use many or lofty words. You can often repeat with a sincere heart, Lord, show me mercy as You know best! or, Assist me, O God!"

The devil told him once, "I can surpass you in watching, fasting, and many other things, but humility conquers and disarms me!"

Like so many who practice extreme austerity, God humbled Macarius by showing him that he had not attained the perfection of two married women in the nearby town. In visiting them he learned that they sanctified themselves by carefully guarding their tongues and living in the constant practice of humility, patience, meekness, charity, resignation, mortification of their own will, and conformity to the moods of the husbands and family, where God's law didn't contradict. In a spirit of recollection, they sanctified all their actions by ardent ejaculations praising God, and most fervently consecrating their entire beings to the divine glory.

A young man seeking spiritual direction from Macarius was told to go to the cemetery and upbraid the dead. Then to return and flatter them. Of course, he reported to Macarius that they were unmoved by either injuries or praise. Macarius then told him, "The go, and learn neither to be moved with injuries or flatteries. If you die to the world and to yourself, you will begin to live in Christ."

In order to counter the Hieracite heresy denying the Resurrection, Macarius raised a dead man to life.

He was exiled for a time on a small island in the Nile with Macarius the Younger, Isidore, and other monks when the Arian Lucius of Alexandria tried to drive out the desert monks. Later, Macarius was allowed to return. During their exile, they converted all the inhabitants of the island. He died after living in Skete for 60 years and is believed to have been the first hermit to live there.

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