(cf.II.xxviii &xxix) I am almost afraid of committing to writing the story of these holy
and immortal fathers, those famous and unbeaten athletes, Macarius of Egypt and
Macarius of Alexandria, lest I be labelled a liar. Their integrity of life and their many
great battles would be unbelievable to anyone without faith. But just as God
destroys liars (Psalms 5.6), so it is plain to be seen when the Holy Spirit speaks.
Since then by the grace of God, Lausus, I do not lie, let your deep faith prevent you
being sceptical about the struggles of the fathers, but rather help you to glory in
emulating the labours of those who indeed were Macarius, i.e., 'blessed'.
The first of these athletes of Christ called Macarius was born in Egypt. The other
with the name of Macarius was born in Alexandria where he had been a dealer in
precious objects. Although junior in years he was an outstanding monk, excelling all
I will deal first of all with the virtues of Macarius of Egypt, who lived for ninety full
years, for sixty of which he was a solitary. From being still a young man of thirty he
spent the next ten years bearing the rigours of the life with such grace that he
gained a reputation for having great discernment and was spoken of as being in
puerili aetate senex, that is, 'old head on young shoulders', since his virtues grew
much more quickly than you would have thought possible for his age. By the time he
was forty he had developed ascendancy over the spirits, the grace of healing, and
the ability to see the future, and so was judged worthy of being ordained priest. Two
disciples lived with him in the inner desert known as Scete, one of whom was his
helper, always with him when people came to him for healing. The other remained
always by himself in the cell.
This first helper was called John and later was ordained presbyter in Macarius' place
(for the great Macarius had been an ornament to the presbyterate). As Macarius
developed the gift of second sight in the course of time he said to John, "Listen to
me, brother John. Accept a warning from me without getting upset but draw profit
from it. You will be tempted, and your tempter will be the spirit of avarice. So I have
seen; and I know that if you will accept this warning with an open mind you will
overflow with the fear of God and in doing his will in this place. You will be praised,
and no scourge will afflict your dwelling. But if you don't listen to me you will end
up like Gehazi, suffering an affliction similar to his" (2 Kings 5.21).
And it so happened that after the holy man's death John did not take this warning to
heart fell victim to the snare which entrapped Judas because of his avarice. After
about fifteen or twenty years, when he had cheated the poor of their money, he
became so badly attacked by leprosy that you could not have put a finger on a sound
place in his whole body. This is what the holy Macarius had prophesied.
There was a certain lustful Egyptian who became infatuated with a free-born married
woman, but he had no success in trying to seduce her, for she modestly maintained
her chastity towards the husband she had had since her virginity. This repulsive man
then consulted a sorcerer. "Either persuade her to love me," he said, "or by your arts
make her husband divorce her." The sorcerer accepted his fee and began his spells
and incantations. He found it impossible to make her give in to him, so instead he
made it seem to anyone who looked at her as if she were a mare. When her husband
went outside he saw his wife as if she were a mare; when he went to bed it seemed
very strange to see a mare lying there. The husband wept, lamenting that he could
not understand what was happening, imagining that he was talking to an animal but
getting no answer except that she looked very angry. Tormented in his mind he at
last realised that it really was his wife, changed into a mare by some extraordinary
human wiles. So he approached the local presbyters, took them home with him and
showed her to them, but they had no idea of how such a calamity could have
happened. For three days she had eaten nothing, unable to eat either hay as a horse
or bread as a human being. At last, that God might be glorified and that the power
of Macarius might be seen, it occurred to the husband to put a halter on her and take
her to the holy man in the desert. As he drew near the brothers standing in front of
his cell confronted him and asked why he was bringing this mare with him.
"That mercy may come from the holy man's prayers," he said.
"Why, what's the matter?" they asked.
"This mare that you see is my unhappy wife," he said, "and I have not the faintest
idea how she got changed into a mare, and it's now three days since she had
anything to eat."
When they heard this they took him inside to where the holy Macarius was already
praying, for God had already revealed the matter to him while they were still on the
way to him, in answer to his prayers that he should be shown the reason for this
visit. As the brothers told began to tell him about this person who was bringing a
horse to him he said, "It's you are horses. You've got horses' eyes. This is simply a
woman in her natural created state. She has not been transformed. It is just that
she appears to be so to the eyes of people who are under a delusion."
He asked her to come near, blessed some water and poured it over her bare head,
and prayed over her. At once it appeared to everyone that she was indeed a woman.
He asked for bread to be brought, made her eat some and delivered her back, cured,
to her husband, giving thanks to God. And the man of God admonished her, saying,
"Never neglect the church. Don't stay away from the communion of the Sacraments of
Christ. All this has happened to you because you have not been near the
incomparable Sacraments of our Saviour for the last five weeks."
Here is another aspect of his extraordinary way of life. When he was in the prime of
life he dug a tunnel a hundred yards long from his cell to where he hollowed out
quite a large cave. When he was bothered by too large a crowd of people he would
slip out of his cell while no one was looking and go into his cave where no one could
find him. One of his devoted disciples told us that he would recite forty-four prayers
on the way to this cave through the tunnel, and the same on the way back.
He also had the reputation of having brought a dead person back to life in order to
discredit heretics who denied the Resurrection, and this story was well known
throughout the desert.
Once a mother weeping copiously brought him her son, grievously afflicted by a
demon. He was held securely on each side by two young men. The way the demon
attacked him was that after he had had three measures of bread and a jar of water,
he would bring it all up turned into a fiery vapour. Anything he had eaten and drunk
looked as if it had been consumed by fire. (For there is a class of demons known as
igneus, that is 'fiery'). Indeed, there are as many kinds of demons as there are
humans, not essentially different, but different in their purposes. If his mother did
not give him anything to eat he would eat his own excrement and drink his urine 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
"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 presbyter 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. Once when he was with that great and
holy father, Antony, he noticed some quite excellent palm branches which he was
working with, and begged for a handful of them for himself. "It is written, 'Thou shalt
not covet thy neighbour's goods'," said Antony. And while he yet spoke the palm
branches shrivelled as if destroyed by fire. When he saw this Antony said to
Macarius, "The Holy Spirit indeed rests on you, and you will wear my mantle after
Again, the devil came upon him once in the desert in a state of extreme bodily
exhaustion, and said to him, "See now, you have been given the blessing of Antony.
Why not use that power and ask God for food and strength to continue your journey?"
"My strength and praise is in the Lord," he replied. "Do not tempt the servant of God."
So the devil made him see a mirage in the shape of a camel wandering through the
desert heavily loaded up with everything he needed. When it saw Macarius it came
and knelt down beside him. But he recognised it for the mirage that it was and fell
to prayer, whereupon it was swallowed up by the earth.
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
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.
He kept up this abstinence for three years, eating only four or five ounces, except
that during one whole year he also ate the sixth part of an olive.
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 Pharaoh. 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.
Macarius continued, "When I drew near to the monument seventy of those demons
that I mentioned came rushing out at me in various shapes, some of them shouting,
some of them leaping, some frighteningly gnashing their teeth at me, some flapping
their wings like crows, some reviling me face to face.
"'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
"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
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.
On another occasion he told us the following story, "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 presbyter 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." "Why that?" I asked.
"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
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 keep my feet company." 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
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.
It was also said about this man that from the time he was baptised he never spat
upon the ground. He was baptised at the age of forty and lived for sixty years after
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.
I came to this holy Macarius one day rather distressed in mind and said to him,
"What shall I do, abba Macarius, for my thoughts bother me saying, 'Give it up and
go away'?" "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 presbyter) 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
 The Lausiac History –Chapter XIX, XX.
|THE LIFE OF MACARIUS OF EGYPT AND MACARIUS