Orthodox America


   St. Macarius the Great of Egypt


When, by decree of Emperor Constantine in 325, the persecution of Christians largely ceased, there was cause for rejoicing.   Official sanction, however, brought its own temptations-laxity and worldliness-inspiring a great exodus into the desert which provided fertile soil for the ascetic exploits of those who thirsted, like the martyrs, to lose their life for Christ. Among the most renowned of these early desert-dwellers was St. Macarius the Great.  So lofty was his spiritual attainment that in recording his Life one of his biographers feared it would be regarded as a fabrication.

St. Macarius was born in Egypt in 300, of Christian parents. Even as a child he had a sensitive conscience: once he ate a fig which a playmate had stolen and he mourned this sin the rest of his life.  Withdrawing to the desert at the age of thirty, he sought out and was discipled by St. Anthony the Great until he reached sufficient maturity for solitary life, whereupon his abba sent him to the remote desert of Scetis. There Macarius' labors incited the fury of the demons, who attacked him physically and mentally in a variety of guises-as monsters, brigands, angels. The Saint was not deceived.  Like the Prophet King, he called upon the name of the Lord and warded them off. The demons themselves admitted defeat.  Once, when gathering palm branches in the desert, he encountered a demon who said to him: "I suffer great sorrow in being unable to conquer you.  Everything that you do I do also: you fast-I eat nothing at all; you keep vigil-I never sleep. In one thing only do you surpass me-in humility."

Wrapping his mind in God and sternly disciplining his body with vigils and fasting, Macarius rapidly ascended the ladder of perfection, garnering in the process a wealth of spiritual gifts: of healing, discernment, interpretation of Scriptures, prophecy, exorcism of demons, even the power to raise the dead.

  There soon gathered around him a group of monks, and Macarius was ordained to the priesthood.

The community was besieged by people seeking to be cured of various afflictions.  The Saint purposely delayed applying his power of healing in order that these people would benefit the more by being detained for a few days in the monastery.  To find relief from his numerous visitors he dug a subterranean passageway to a cave where he would retire for solitude.

His gift of wonder-working was truly extraordinary. When one of his disciples was in town selling baskets, the Saint saw with his spiritual eyes that the monk was in danger of succumbing to the attraction of a harlot, and had him instantly transported back to his cell.  Once a certain heretic by the name of Hierax came to the desert, sowing confusion by mocking the Christian faith in the resurrection of the dead.  To prove the power of God, St. Macarius took the heretic to the cemetery and called forth a dead monk from his grave.

Saint Macarius taught a wonderful simplicity. "Christians," he said, "should judge no one, neither an open harlot, nor sinners, nor dissolute people, but should look upon all with simplicity of soul and a pure eye. Purity of heart, indeed, consists in seeing sinful and weak men and having compassion for them and being merciful."  On the subject of prayer he counselled, "It is enough if you will often repeat from your whole heart, 'Lord, as it pleases Thee and as Thou knowest, have mercy on me.' And if temptation comes upon you: 'Lord, help me!' The Lord knows what is profitable for us and has mercy on us."

Saint Macarius reposed at the age of ninety.  He is commemorated by the Church on January 19.

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