His weeping mother lamented this strange calamity that had befallen her son, and begged and pleaded with the holy man, until that victorious athlete of God humbly prayed to God for him. After one or two days the holy Macarius drove the demon out, and he said to the youth's mother, "How much would you like your son to be able to eat?"
"Oh, please ask for him to be given ten measures of bread," she replied. And he was angry with her for asking too much.
"Why ask that, woman?" he said. And when he had fasted and prayed for seven days, and expelled the dangerous demon of gluttony, he ordered that he be given three measures of bread to eat, which is what he would have had normally anyway. In this way, by the grace of God, he cured the boy and gave him back to his mother.
Wonderful, unbelievable things God did through the holy Macarius, whose immortal soul is now with the angels. I never met him myself, for he died the year before I went into the desert. But I met the one who had been the companion of his faithful deeds, whose name also was held in deep respect.
I will turn now to the holy Macarius of Alexandria, who was the priest of that place known as the Cells. I lived there myself for nine years, three of which were near this same Macarius, who lived in quiet solitude. I saw quite a lot of his wonderful way of life, and the work and the signs that he performed. Other things I have learned from those who lived with him.
"My strength and praise is in the Lord," he replied. "Do not tempt the servant of God."
On another occasion Macarius of Alexandria went to visit the great Macarius in Scete. In order to cross the Nile they both got into a large ferry along with two tribunes accompanied by great pomp and circumstance. They had their own private four-wheeled carriage made of bronze, horses with golden harness, soldiers crowding around them, servants, and boys adorned with golden neckbands and girdles. When the tribunes noticed those two dressed in old and tattered clothing, sitting in a corner, they thought how blessed it must be to have such a lowly and simple life style, and one of them said, "Blessed are people like you who make a mockery of the world."
Macarius of Alexandria replied, "We may well make a mockery of the world, and it is the world which makes a mockery out of you. But you should know that what you have said came not of your own free will but by a spirit of prophecy, for we are both called Macarius, that is 'blessed'."
Cut to the quick by these words, when the tribune got home he discarded his fine clothes and decided to live as a solitary, giving away much of his wealth in alms.
Once Macarius was given a truly appetising bunch of fresh grapes which he was really looking forward to eating, but instead he gave proof of his great self-discipline by giving it to another brother who had expressed a great desire for it. On being given these grapes the brother appeared absolutely delighted - but this was really in order to hide his self-discipline, for he gave them to another brother who had expressed a desire for them. He too accepted the gift and made out how delighted he would be to eat them. And so it went on, the grapes passed through the hands of many of the brothers, none of them having ventured to eat them. In the end the last person to receive them gave them back in a magnificent gesture of generosity to Macarius himself. Macarius investigated and marvelled, giving thanks to God that so many of them could be so disciplined as to forbear eating those grapes.
There is something else about the way of life of the great Macarius that I and many others accurately learned about him, and that is that if he heard of any great feat that someone else had carried out he would eagerly do it himself, without fail.
So when he heard that the monks of Tabennisi ate nothing cooked during Lent this holy man decided to eat nothing cooked for a period of seven years. For the whole seven-year period he ate nothing but raw olives, except that sometimes he would soak in water some herbs which he might have happened to find. He carried out this programme faithfully and then abandoned it, for this best of monks heard of another monk who restricted himself to one pound of bread. In order to go one better Macarius broke up his loaves and put the pieces into a narrow-necked jar, deciding to eat only what he would be able to get by putting his hand in. He treated his body with great austerity! He told us that on a feast day he was wanting to get several pieces out but was unable to do so because of the narrowness of the opening.
"My own personal rationing officer prevented me from eating any more," he said.
Here is another thing this athlete did. He made up his mind that he was determined to conquer sleep. He told us how he went about it in order that we might profit from it. For twenty days and nights he stayed outside, so that by day he was restless because of the heat and by night he shivered with cold. "By not going inside any sooner," he said, "my brain became so inactive that I was able to enter into ecstasy. I was able to do this only by conquering sleep. When I returned to my normal way of living I ceased from it."
Once he was greatly troubled by the spirit of fornication, so he condemned himself to expose his flesh for six months in the empty desert of the marshlands of Scete, where there were midges as big as wasps, capable of penetrating even the hides of wild boars. He became so covered in bites that you would have thought he had leprosy. When he returned to his cell after six months it was only by the sound of his voice that he could be recognised as being indeed Macarius, the master.
He told us once that he wanted to visit the garden where there was the monument known as the kepotaphion ('memorial garden') of Jannes and Mambres, the magi of the time of Pharaoh. He did not just want to see it, but also he wanted to confront the demons which came from there, for it was said that Jannes and Mambres had gathered together by means of the power of their most infamous arts a great number of demons in that place of the most ferocious kind. This monument had been built by the brothers Jannes and Mambres who because of the force of their magic arts were at that time the most powerful in the land after Pharoah. Because they had more power at that time of their life than anyone else in Egypt they were able to build this great work out of squared stone in order to make a monument for themselves. They spent a great deal of money, and planted all kinds of trees, and dug a very large well, for there was plenty of water in the ground there. But they did all these things in the hope that after their death they would enjoy the delights of paradise.
Seeing that Macarius the holy servant of God did not really know the way to this garden he set a course by the stars and journeyed across the desert like a ship sailing over the sea, and having gathered together some rods he planted one after every thousand steps so that by these signs he would be able to find his way back again. He travelled the desert for nine days, and was not far from the garden when that night as he was taking a little sleep an enormous demon appeared, the eternal enemy of the athletes of Christ. He had collected all those rods while Macarius slept, placed a stone from the monument near his head and scattered the rods all around it before disappearing from sight. When Macarius awoke he found all those rods gathered together which he had put out as signposts. Perhaps God allowed this to happen in order to increase his ability to put his trust not in signposts but in the grace of God which guided the Israelites by means of a cloudy pillar through the fearful wilderness for forty years.
"What do you want, Macarius?" they said. "What are you monks trying to do? Why do you come here? Have we attacked any of your monks like this? You and those like you enjoy the same thing in your place as we do here, that is, solitude, and you have driven our brothers out of your place. You and we have nothing in common. Why are you invading our territory? If you are an anchorite why can't you be content with your solitude? Those who built this place gave it to us. You can't stay here. Why should you seek to enter our possessions into which no living person has ever entered, where we ourselves are entrusted with commemorating those who built it?"
As this crowd of demons rudely rushed about, the holy Macarius said, "I only want to go in, have a look and go away again."
"Give us your solemn promise on that," the demons said.
"I do," the servant of Christ said. And the demons vanished. But when he went into the garden the devil rushed threateningly at him with drawn sword.
"You come at me with drawn sword", said the holy Macarius, "but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel ready for battle. I have come in, however, and all I have found is a bronze jar hanging over a well on an iron chain rusty with age, pomegranates with nothing inside them because of being dried up by the sun, and several golden altars."
The holy man departed from the tumult and clamour and for the next twenty days went back towards his cell, suffering a great deal when he ran out of bread and water. For a further twenty days he went on through the desert, eating nothing as I understand it. Perhaps he was being tested to see how much he could stand. When he was almost ready to collapse, he saw something which looked like a young woman dressed in a clean linen garment, so he told us, carrying a jar dripping with water. Macarius said that it went before him about a furlong away for three days. He could see her standing there with the jar, taunting him, but not letting him get near, and this he bravely endured for three days in the hope of having something to drink. But then a herd of oxen appeared, one of them with a calf turning round towards him. (It was a place where there were many oxen). According to what Macarius told us, the udder of this cow was full of milk, and he heard a voice from above saying, "Macarius, go up to this cow and milk it."
"I did so, and was satisfied," he said. "And the Lord, to show me even greater favour in my littleness, ordered the cow to follow me to my cell. That mother cow obeyed the order, feeding me, while not allowing her calf to come near."
On another occasion this man of exemplary virtue was digging a well for the monks near some leafy branches out of which an asp came and bit him. (They are vicious and poisonous beasts.) The holy man took both jaws of the asp in both hands and tore it apart, saying, "My God did not send you. How can you dare to come near?"
When the great Macarius heard that at Tabennisi there was an institution famous for its way of life he changed his clothes, putting on a working man's clothing, and went off into the desert for fifteen days till he arrived at Tabennisi, where he asked for the Archimandrite, Pachomius by name. He was an excellent man who also had the gift of prophecy, although it was not revealed to him that this was the great Macarius. When he came out Macarius asked to be allowed to become a monk in his monastery.
"You are too old now to become a monk" said the great Pachomius. "You would not be able to manage it. Our brothers have been here since they were young and have got used to hard work. At your age you would not be able to put up with the trials of our life, you would get disillusioned, and go away and slander us." And he would not accept him, neither on that day or the next day nor on the seventh day afterwards. But he persisted, staying there, fasting. At last Macarius said to him, "Take me in, abba, and if I can't fast and carry out all the other duties then order me to be thrown out of the monastery." So the great Pachomius persuaded the brothers that he should be allowed in, and in he went. (Forty thousand men have been gathered together in that one monastery up to the present time.)
A short time afterwards the season of Lent arrived, and the old man Macarius noticed that each of them undertook various disciplines. One did not eat till evening, another after two days, another after five. There was one who remained standing all night except for sitting down from time to time in order to work. Macarius soaked some palm leaves and stood in a corner for the whole of Lent up till Easter, eating no bread, drinking no water, neither kneeling, sitting or lying down, and taking nothing except a few cabbage leaves on Sundays, so that he could be seen to eat and save himself from appearing arrogant in what he was doing. If he had to go out for the necessities of nature he quickly went back in again to his work still standing up, saying nothing, standing in silence, doing nothing except sustaining silence in his heart, and praying, and working with the palm branches in his hands. When the others in the monastery saw what he was doing they complained to his director that they were being undermined.
"Where did you get this unearthly man from who is showing us all up?" they asked. "Either you get rid of him, you know, or else we shall all leave."'
When Pachomius heard this from the brothers he asked what it was all about. They told him what Macarius was doing, and he prayed to God, asking who this man really was. It was then revealed to him that it was the monk Macarius. The great Pachomius took him by the hand and led him out into the oratory before the altar, embraced him and said, "You are welcome, an old man worthy of respect. You are Macarius, and it was hidden from me. For many years, ever since I first heard about you, I have wanted to meet you. And I thank you that you have given my brothers an object lesson, to prevent them getting conceited and proud of what they are doing themselves. But now, I beg you, return to your own place, and pray for us. You have taught us quite enough."
Obedient to this request and the prayers of all the brothers, he departed.
"After having lived without faltering through all the paths of monastic life I began to have even deeper spiritual desires. I decided that for a period of five days I would try to keep my mind totally centred on God without any distraction, refusing to think about anything else. The moment I decided this I shut the cell door and closed off the outer room, so that I would not have to open up to any visitors. And standing up, I immediately began to say to my thoughts, 'Don't come down out of heaven. You have the angels and archangels and all the heavenly powers, cherubim and seraphim and God the power behind them all. Turn thither. Don't sink lower than the heavens lest you fall into worldly thoughts.'
I persevered in this for two days and two nights, which so annoyed the demon that he became a flame of fire, and set light to everything I had in the cell, including the rush mat I was standing on, so that I was afraid that I too was about to go up in flames. At last, on the third day, I was so frightened that I gave up the whole idea. I could not keep my mind concentrated any longer, so I came down to earth. I suppose God allowed this lest I be carried away by pride."
I once went to visit him and found outside his cell the priest of a neighbouring village whose head was so eaten away by the disease known as cancer that his mouth appeared to be almost at the top of his head. He had come hoping to be cured, but Macarius would not even speak to him.
"Have pity on this poor wretch," I said, "and at least say something to him."
"He does not deserve to be cured," he replied. "This has been sent to him by God to teach him a lesson. If he wants to be cured urge him to give up administering the holy sacraments."
"He carries out his ministry even though he is a fornicator," he replied, "and that is why he is being punished. Now then, if he gives up in fear what he has dared to do without shame, the Lord will cure him."
So I went and spoke to this afflicted person, and he swore an oath that he would no longer exercise his priesthood. Macarius then let him in and said to him, "Do you believe in God from whom nothing is hidden?"
"Completely," he replied.
"You know you cannot deceive God?" Macarius asked.
"Indeed, sir, I can't," he said.
"Well, if you acknowledge your sin and accept that God has punished you for it the result will be a cure."
So he confessed his sin, and promised to sin no more, to give up ministering at the altar and embrace the lay state. Then the holy man laid hands on him, and after a few days he was cured, his hair grew back and he went back home giving glory to God and thanks to the great Macarius.
This holy man had several cells, one in Scete, which is the inner part of the desert, one in Libya, one in the Cells, and one in Nitria. Some of them had no openings, and during Lent he stayed in them in complete darkness. Another was rather narrow, so that he was unable to stretch his legs in them, but he did have a bigger one in which it was convenient to meet those who came to visit him.
He cured so many who were vexed with demons that it would be impossible to number them. A rich and noble woman was carried to him while I was there. She had come from Thessalonica, the furthest part of Greece, and had been paralysed for many years. He took pity on her where she had been put outside his cell, and for twenty days he prayed and anointed her with oil with his own hands, until he was able to send her away, cured, to her own country. She went back on her own two feet, and sent a generous offering to the holy brothers.
I saw a boy vexed with a spirit brought to him. Macarius put one hand on his head and his left hand on his breast, and prayed over him for quite some time until he made him float up in the air. And the boy swelled up, getting so big as to be completely distorted. Suddenly he cried out, and expelled water from all his bodily openings, after which he returned to his normal shape. Macarius anointed him with oil and poured water over him, after which he gave him back to his father, ordering him not to eat meat nor drink any wine for the next forty days. And so he cured him.
He was once troubled by vainglorious thoughts which suggested to him that it would be a good plan and in a good cause to go to Rome for the sake of all those who were sick there. But grace strongly counteracted such inclinations. He fought against them for a long time and was greatly disturbed by them. He flung himself down on the threshold of his cell, thrust his feet outside and said, "Cut them off and drag them away, you demons, if you can, but I shan't go with my feet." He vowed he would stay there till evening if they would not let him go, and in any case would not listen to them. After he had lain there a long time night came on, and the argument intensified. He filled a large basket with sand, shouldered it, and walked off into the desert. Here he met Theosobius Cosmetor of Antioch who said to him, "Whatever is that you are carrying, abba? Let me ease your burden by carrying it for you"
"I am simply putting a burden on him who is a burden to me," he replied. "For I am so remiss and unstable that he is making me want to go off wandering about." Having gone about like this for quite some time he returned to his cell with his body suitably chastened.
The servant of God Paphnutius, who was a disciple of this famous holy man, told us that once when Macarius was sitting in his outer room praying to God, a hyena brought to him its calf who was blind. She pushed upon the door with her head, went in to where he was sitting and laid the calf down at his feet. Macarius took the calf, spat in its eyes and prayed. Immediately the calf could see. The hyena fed it, picked it up and departed. The next day she brought a large sheepskin to Macarius. When Macarius saw it he said, "How did you get hold of this if it wasn't through killing somebody's sheep? I can't accept this, as it is the outcome of crime." But the hyena gently lowered its head, bent her knees and placed the skin at the holy man's feet.
"I said I can't accept this" he said "- unless you promise never to hurt poor people any more by eating their sheep." She nodded her head as if consenting, and then Macarius picked up the sheepskin. That blessed handmaid of Christ, Melania, told me that she had accepted that same skin from Macarius, known as the hyena's skin. Is it anything to be wondered at that a hyena should sense that here was a man crucified to the world, and should bring a gift in return for the kindness it had received, to the glory of God and the honour of his servant? He who in the prophet Daniel tamed the lions also enlarged the intelligence of the hyena.
In stature he was like this. (It behoves me to tell you this, O servant of Christ, as one who knows what I am talking about, since my poor life was contemporary with his.) He was small and thin and somewhat bent in stature, with hair growing only on his upper lip, and very little on his head. Because of the intensity of his physical discipline no hair grew on his chin.
"Say to your thoughts," said the holy father Macarius,"' For Christ's sake I will maintain the defences.'"
So, O loving and diligent servant of Christ, I have now told you about some of the many signs and struggles of the famous Macarius, who excelled in virtue.
Macarius told us (he was a priest) that at the time of the Communion of the Sacraments of Christ he never gave Communion to Mark, for an angel took it to him from the altar, but he saw only the finger of the hand that brought it.
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