This is the mark of Christianity--however much a man toils, and however many righteousnesses he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, "This is not fasting," and in praying, "This is not prayer," and in perseverance at prayer, "I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains"; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, "I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day."
St. Macarius the Great
Friday, 7 March 2014
Macarius was born in Upper Egypt. A late tradition places his birthplace in the village of Shabsheer (Shanshour), in Al Minufiyah Governorate, Egypt around 300 A.D. At some point before his pursuit of asceticism, Macarius made his living smuggling niter (saltpetre) in the vicinity of Nitria, a vocation which taught him how to survive in and travel across the wastes in that area.
One of St. Macarius’ great features was “wisdom”. His friends and close kin used to call him “Pidar Yougiron” which meant the “old young man” or “the young man with the elders’ wisdom.” At the wish of his parents he entered into marriage, but was soon widowed. Shortly after, his parents died as well. Macarius subsequently distributed all his money among the poor and needy.
He found a teacher in an experienced Elder, who lived in the desert not far from the village. The Elder accepted the youth, guided him in the spiritual science of watchfulness, fasting and prayer, and taught him the handicraft of weaving baskets. Seeing his virtues, the people of his village brought him to the bishop of Ashmoun who ordained him priest.
A while later, a pregnant woman accused him of having defiled her. Macarius did not attempt to defend himself, and accepted the accusation in silence. However, when the woman's delivery drew near, her labour became exceedingly difficult. She did not manage to give birth until she confessed Macarius's innocence. A multitude of people then came asking for his forgiveness, but he fled to the Nitrian Desert,
While at the desert, he visited Anthony the Great and learned from him the laws and rules of monasticism. When he returned to the Scetic Desert at the age of forty, he presided over its monastic community for the rest of his life. Ten years after going into the desert, he became a priest.
For a brief period of time, Macarius was banished to an island in the Nile by the Emperor Valens, along with Saint Macarius of Alexandria, during a dispute over the doctrine of the Nicene Creed. At their return they were met by a multitude of monks of the Nitrian Desert, numbered fifty thousand, among whom were Saint Pishoy and Saint John the Dwarf.
Macarius died in the year 391. After his death, the natives of his village of Shabsheer stole the body and built a great church for him in their village. Pope Michael V of Alexandria brought the relics of Saint Macarius back to the Nitrian Desert. Today, the body of Saint Macarius is found in his monastery, the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt.
Fifty Spiritual Homilies were ascribed to Macarius a few generations after his death, and these texts had a widespread and considerable influence on Eastern monasticism and Protestant pietism. This was particularly in the context of the debate concerning the 'extraordinary giftings' of the Holy Spirit in the post-apostolic age, since the Macarian Homilies could serve as evidence in favour of a post-apostolic attestation of 'miraculous' Pneumatic giftings to include healings, visions, exorcisms, etc. The Macarian Homilies have thus influenced Pietist groups ranging from the Spiritual Franciscans (West) to Eastern Orthodox monastic practice to John Wesley to modern charismatic Christianity.
However, modern patristic scholars have established that it is not likely that Macarius the Egyptian was their author. Exactly who the author of these fifty Spiritual Homilies was has not been definitively established, although it is evident from statements in them that the author was from Upper Mesopotamia, where the Roman Empire bordered the Persian Empire, and that they were not written later than 534.
In addition to the homilies, a number of letters have been ascribed to Macarius, although Gennadius (De viris illustribus 10) recognizes only one genuine letter of Macarius, which is addressed to younger monks.
Macarius is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches and Roman Catholic Church.
Macarius of Egypt founded a monastery that bears his name, the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great, which has been continuously inhabited by monks since its foundation in the fourth century. St. Macarius’ face used to be enlightened with grace in an amazing way to the extent that many fathers testified that his face used to glow in the dark; and thus appeared his name as “the glowing lantern.” This description was transferred to his monastery, and thus it was called “the glowing lantern of the wilderness” or “the glowing monastery,” which meant the place of high wisdom and constant prayer. Today it belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The entirety of the Nitrian Desert is sometimes called the Desert of Macarius, for he was the pioneer monk in the region. The ruins of numerous monasteries in this region almost confirm the local tradition that the cloisters of Macarius were equal in number to the days of the year.
Macarius was born about the year 300 in Alexandria. He was a merchant until the age of 40, when he was baptised and went off into the desert. After several years of ascetic life he was ordained a presbyter and appointed prior of a monastery known as the “Kellii,” or “cells” in the Egyptian desert, between the Nitria mountain and a skete in which monastic hermits lived in silence, each in his own cell.
About the year 335 he retired to live alone as a recluse in el-Natroun desert. Many miracles were ascribed to him. He presided over five thousand Nitric monks.
At the age of 73 Macarius of Alexandria was exiled by Emperor Valens, along with Macarius of Egypt to an island, which they subsequently evangelised.
According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, Macarius of Alexandria died on 2 January 395. According to the Coptic Orthodox tradition, he departed on 1 May 395 A.D.
In addition to a monastic rule and three brief apothegms, a homily "On the End of the Souls of the Righteous and of Sinners" is ascribed to him.