St. Macarius of Alexandria, anchorite

From Butlers Lives of the Saints 1894:
MACARIUS when a youth left his fruit-stall at Alexandria to join the great St. Antony. The patriarch, warned by a miracle of his disciple's sanctity, named him the heir of his virtues. His life was one long conflict with self. I am tormenting my tormentor, replied he to one who met him bent double with a basket of sand in the heat of the day. Whenever I am slothful and idle, I am pestered by desires for distant travel. When he was quite worn out he returned to his cell. Since sleep at times overpowered him, he kept watch for twenty days and nights; being about to faint, he entered his cell and slept, but henceforth slept only at will. A gnat stung him; he killed it. In revenge for this softness he remained naked in a marsh till his body was covered with noxious bites and he was recognized only by his voice. Once when thirsty he received a present of grapes, but passed them untouched to a hermit who was toiling in the heat. This one gave them to a third, who handed them to a fourth; thus the grapes went the round of the desert and returned to Macarius, who thanked God for his brethren's abstinence. Macarius saw demons assailing the hermits at prayer. They put their fingers into the mouths of some, and made them yawn. They closed the eyes of others, and walked upon them when asleep. They placed vain and sensual images before many of the brethren, and then mocked those who were captivated by them. None vanquished the devils effectually save those who by constant vigilance repelled them at once. Macarius visited one hermit daily for four months, but never could speak to him, as he was always in prayer; so he called him an angel on earth. After being many years Superior, Macarius fled in disguise to St. Pachomius, to begin again as his novice; but St. Pachomius, instructed by a vision, bad, rim return to his brethren, who loved him as their father. In his old age, thinking nature tamed, he determined to spend five days alone in prayer. On the third day the cell seemed on fire, and Macarius came forth. God permitted this delusion, he said, lest he be ensnared by pride. At the age of seventy-three he was driven into exile and brutally outraged by the Arian heretics. He died A. D. 394.

From Butlers Lives of the Saints 1895:


From Palladius, bishop of Helenopolis, who had been his disciple, c. 20.
Rufin, Socrates, and others in Rosweide, D'Andilly, Cotelier, and
Bollandus, p. 85 See Tillemont, t. 8, p. 626. Bulteau, Hist. Mon.
d'Orient, l. 1, c. 9, p. 128.

A.D. 394.

ST. MACARIUS the younger, a citizen of Alexandria, followed the business
of a confectioner. Desirous to serve God with his whole heart, he
forsook the world in the flower of his age, and spent upwards of sixty
years in the deserts in the exercise of fervent penance and
contemplation. He first retired into Thebais, or Upper Egypt, about the
year 335.[1] Having learned the maxims, and being versed in the practice
of the most perfect virtue, under masters renowned for their sanctity;
still aiming, if possible, at greater perfection, he quitted the Upper
Egypt, and came to the Lower, before the year 373. In this part were
three deserts almost adjoining to each other; that of Scete, so called
from a town of the same name on the borders of Lybia; that of the Cells,
contiguous to the former, this name being given to it on account of the
multitude of hermit-cells with which it abounded; and a third, which
reached to the western branch of the Nile, called, from a great
mountain, the desert of Nitria. St. Macarius had a cell in each of these
deserts. When he dwelt in that of Nitria, it was his custom to give
advice to strangers, but his chief residence was in that of the Cells.
Each anchoret had here his separate cell, which he made his continued
abode, except on Saturday and Sunday, when all assembled in one church
to celebrate the divine mysteries, and partake of the holy communion. If
any one was absent, he was concluded to be sick, and was visited by the
rest. When a stranger came to live among them, every one offered him his
cell, and was ready to build another for himself. Their cells were not
within sight of each other. Their manual labor, which was that of making
baskets or mats, did not interrupt the prayer of the heart. A profound
silence reigned throughout the whole desert. Our saint received here the
dignity of priesthood, and shone as a bright sun influencing this holy
company, while St. Macarius the elder lived no less eminent in the
wilderness of Scete, forty miles distant. Palladius has recorded[2] a
memorable instance of the great self-denial professed and observed by
these holy hermits. A present was made of a newly-gathered bunch of
grapes to St. Macarius: the holy man carried it to a neighboring monk
who was sick; he sent it to another: it passed in like manner to all the
cells in the desert, and was brought back to Macarius, who was
exceedingly rejoiced to perceive the abstinence of his brethren, but
would not eat of the grapes himself.

The austerities of all the inhabitants of that desert were
extraordinary; but St. Macarius, in this regard, far surpasses the rest.
For seven years {074} together he lived only on raw herbs and pulse, and
for the three following years contented himself with four or five ounces
of bread a day, and consumed only one little vessel of oil in a year; as
Palladius assures us. His watchings were not less surprising, as the
same author informs us. God had given him a body capable of bearing the
greatest rigors; and his fervor was so intense, that whatever spiritual
exercise be heard of, or saw practised by others, be resolved to copy
the same. The reputation of the monastery of Tabenna, under St.
Pachomius, drew him to this place in disguise, some time before the year
349. St. Pachomius told him that he seemed too far advanced in years to
begin to accustom himself to their fastings and watchings; but at length
admitted him, on condition he would observe all the rules and
mortifications of the house. Lent approaching soon after, the monks were
assiduous in preparations to pass that holy time in austerities, each
according to his strength and fervor; some by fasting one, others two,
three, or four days, without any kind of nourishment; some standing all
day, others only sitting at their work. Macarius took some palm-tree
leaves steeped in water, as materials for his work, and standing in a
private corner, passed the whole time without eating, except a few green
cabbage leaves on Sundays. His hands were employed in almost continual
labor, and his heart conversed with God by prayer. If he left his
station on any pressing occasion, he never stayed one moment longer than
necessity required. Such a prodigy astonished the monks, who even
remonstrated to the abbot at Easter against a singularity of this
nature, which, if tolerated, might on several accounts be prejudicial to
their community. St. Pachomius entreated God to know who this stranger
was; and learning by revelation that he was the great Macarius, embraced
him, thanked him for his edifying visit, and desired him to return to
his desert, and there offer up his prayers for them.[3] Our saint
happened one day inadvertently to kill a gnat that was biting him in his
cell; reflecting that he had lost the opportunity of suffering that
mortification, he hastened from his cell for the marshes of Scete, which
abound with great flies, whose stings pierce even boars. There he
continued six months exposed to those ravaging insects; and to such a
degree was his whole body disfigured by them with sores and swellings,
that when he returned he was only to be known by his voice.[4] Some
authors relate[5] that he did this to overcome a temptation of the

The virtue of this great saint was often exercised with temptations. One
was a suggestion to quit his desert and go to Rome, to serve the sick in
the hospitals; which, by due reflection, he discovered to be a secret
artifice of vain-glory inciting him to attract the eyes and esteem of
the world. True humility alone could discover the snare which lurked
under the specious gloss of holy charity. Finding this enemy extremely
importunate, he threw himself on the ground in his cell, and cried out
to the fiends: "Drag me hence if you can by force, for I will not stir."
Thus he lay till night, and by this vigorous resistance they were quite
disarmed.[6] As soon as he arose they renewed the assault; and he, to
stand firm against them, filled two great baskets with sand, and laying
them on his shoulders, travelled along the wilderness. A person of his
acquaintance meeting him, asked him what he meant, and made an offer of
easing him of his burden; but the saint made no other reply than this:
"I am tormenting my tormentor." He returned home in the evening, much
fatigued in body, but freed from the temptation. Palladius informs us,
that St. Macarius, desiring to enjoy more perfectly the sweets of
heavenly contemplation, at least for five days without interruption,
{075} immured himself within his cell for this purpose, and said to his
soul: "Having taken up thy abode in heaven, where thou hast God and the
holy angels to converse with, see that thou descend not thence: regard
not earthly things." The two first days his heart overflowed with divine
delights; but on the third he met with so violent a disturbance from the
devil, that he was obliged to stop short of his design, and to return to
his usual manner of life. Contemplative souls often desire, in times of
heavenly consolation, never to be interrupted in the glorious employment
of love and praise: but the functions of Martha, the frailty and
necessities of the human frame, and the temptations of the devil, force
them, though reluctant, from their beloved object. Nay, God oftentimes
withdraws himself, as the saint observed on this occasion, to make them
sensible of their own weakness, and that this life is a state of trial.
St. Macarius once saw, in a vision, devils closing the eyes of the monks
to drowsiness, and tempting them by diverse methods to distractions,
during the time of public prayer. Some, as often as they approached,
chased them away by a secret supernatural force, while others were in
dalliance with their suggestions. The saint burst into sighs and tears;
and, when prayer was ended, admonished every one of his distractions,
and of the snares of the enemy, with an earnest exhortation to employ,
in that sacred duty, a more than ordinary watchfulness against his
attacks.[7] St. Jerom[8] and others relate, that a certain anchoret in
Nitria, having left one hundred crowns at his death, which he had
acquired by weaving cloth, the monks of that desert met to deliberate
what should be done with that money. Some were for having it given to
the poor, others to the church: but Macarius, Pambo, Isidore, and
others, who were called the fathers, ordained that the one hundred
crowns should be thrown into the grave and buried with the corpse of the
deceased, and that at the same time the following words should be
pronounced: "_May thy money be with thee to perdition_."[9] This example
struck such a terror into all the monks, that no one durst lay up any
money by him....

Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome