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Saint Macarius, the Elder, of Egypt
January 16 - (A.D. 390)

Saint Macarius, the Elder, was born in Upper Egypt, around the year 300, raised in the country and tended cattle. In his early years, in the company of some friends, he once stole a few figs, and ate one of them, but, from his conversion to his death, he never ceased to weep bitterly for this sin. By a powerful call of divine grace, he retired from the world in his youth, and, dwelling in a little cell in a village, made mats, in continual prayer and great austerities. A wicked woman falsely accused him of having deflowered her, for which supposed crime he was dragged through the streets, beaten, and insulted, as a base hypocrite under the garb of a monk. He suffered all with patience, and sent the woman what he earned by his work, saying to himself, “Well, Macarius, having now another to provide for, thou must work the harder.” But God revealed his innocence; for when the woman was in labor, and in extreme pain, she could not deliver until she had named the true father of her child. The people converted their rage into the greatest admiration of humility and patience of the saint. To shun the esteem of men, Saint Macarius fled into the vast desert of Scete, when he was about thirty years of age. He lived in this solitude for sixty years, and became the spiritual parent of innumerable holy persons, who put themselves under his direction and were governed by the rules he prescribed them; but all dwelt in separate hermitages. St. Macarius admitted only one disciple with him to entertain strangers.

He was compelled by an Egyptian bishop to receive the Order of Priesthood around the year 340, when he was 40 years old, so that he might celebrate the divine mysteries for the convenience of this holy colony. When the desert became more populated, there were four churches built in it, which were served by so many priests. The austerities of St. Macarius were excessive; he usually ate only once a week. Evagrius, his disciple, once asked him for permission to drink a little water when he had a parching thirst, but Macarius told him to content himself with resting a little in the shade, saying, “For these twenty years I have never once ate, drank, or slept as much as nature required.” His face was very pale, and his body weak and parched. To deny his own will, he did not refuse to drink a little wine when others asked him; but then he would punish himself for this indulgence by abstaining two or three days from all types of drink; and it was for this reason that his disciple asked strangers never to offer Saint Macarius a drop of wine. He delivered his instructions in few words, and principally instilled silence, humility, mortification, retirement, and continual prayer, especially the last, to all sorts of people. He used to say, with a sincere heart, “Lord, show me mercy as Thou knowest best! or, Assist me, O God!” He was delighted with this ejaculation of perfect resignation and love — “O Lord, have mercy on me, as Thou pleasest, and knowest best in Thy goodness!” His mildness and patience were invincible, and brought about the conversion of a heathen priest and many others.

The devil told him one day, “I can surpass thee in watching, fasting, and many other things, but humility conquers and disarms me.” To a young man asking Saint Macarius for spiritual advice, he said, “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.” A certain monk complained to him that in solitude he was always tempted to break his fast, whereas in the monastery he could fast the whole week cheerfully. “Vainglory is the reason,” replied the saint: “fasting pleases when men see you, but seems intolerable when that passion is not gratified.” One came to consult him who was molested with temptations to impurity; the saint examining the source, found it to be sloth, and advised him never to eat before sunset, to meditate fervently at his work, and to labor vigorously, without sloth, the whole day. The other faithfully complied, and was freed from his enemy.

At one time, God revealed to Saint Macarius that he had not attained the perfection of two married women who lived in a nearby town. He visited them and learned how they sanctified themselves. They were extremely careful never to speak any idle or rash words; they lived in the constant practice of humility, patience, meekness, charity, resignation, mortification of their own will, and conformity to the humors of their husbands and others, where the divine law did not interpose; in a spirit of recollection they sanctified all their actions by ardent ejaculations, by which they strove to praise God, and most fervently to consecrate to the divine glory all the powers of their soul and body.

Knowing that his end was drawing near, our saint visited the monks of Nitria, and motivated them to remorse and tears so pathetically that they all fell weeping at his feet. “Let us weep, brethren,” said he, “and let our eyes pour forth floods of tears before we go hence, lest we fall into that place where tears will only increase the flames in which we shall burn.” He went to receive the reward of his labors in the year 390, at age ninety, after having spent sixty years in the desert of Scete.

This glorious saint is honored in the Roman Martyrology on January 16th.