Saint of the Day – 15 January – St Macarius of Egypt (c 300-390) Priest, Abbot, Hermit, Desert Father of the Church, Spiritual student of Saint Anthony Abbot, Ascetic, Miracle-worker , known as “The Glowing Lantern.” Macarius was one of the famed Desert Fathers, who fled society in the fourth century to live a life of austerity and prayer in the desert.Born in c 300 at Upper Egypt and died in 390 of natural causes. Also known as – Macarius the Elder, Macarius the Great, “The Glowing Lantern.”
The Roman Martyrology reads today: “In Egypt. St Macarius, Abbot, disciple of St Anthony, very celebrated for his life, wisdom and miracles.”
Macarius was born in Lower Egypt around the year 300. At the wish of his parents Macarius entered into marriage but was soon widowed. Shortly after, his parents died. Macarius distributed all his money among the poor and needy. He found a teacher in an experienced Hermit, who lived in the desert not far from the village. The Hermit accepted the youth, guided him in the spiritual science of solitude and silence, fasting and prayer and taught him the handicraft of weaving baskets.
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 to escape all mundane glory.
As a Hermit, Macarius spent seven years living on only pulse and raw herbs. He spent the following three years consuming four or five ounces of bread a day and only one vessel of oil a year. While in the desert, he visited St Anthony Abbot and learned from him the laws and rules of monasticism. When he returned to the Scetic Desert at the age of forty, he bwas Ordained a Priest. The fame of his sanctity drew many followers. The community, which took up its residence in the desert, was of the semi-eremitical type. The Monks were not bound by any fixed rule; their cells were close together and they met for the celebratiion of the Holy Mass only on Sundays. He presided, as Abbot, over this monastic community for the rest of his life.
A young man applying to Macarius for spiritual advice, he directed him to go to a burying-place, and upbraid the dead; and after, to go and flatter them. When he came back, the saint asked him what answer the dead had made: “None at all,” said the other, “either to reproaches or praises.” “Then,” replied Macarius, “go and learn, neither to be moved with injuries nor flatteries. If you die to the world and to yourself, you will begin to live to Christ.”
He said to another: “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. “Vain-glory is the reason,” replied the Saint; “fasting pleases, when men see you but seems intolerable, when that passion is not gratified.”
For a brief period of time, Macarius was banished to an island in the Nile by the Emperor Valens, along with St Macarius of Alexandria (Died 395), during a dispute over the doctrine of the Nicene Creed. Both men were victims of religious persecution by the followers of then Bishop Lucius of Alexandria. During their time on the island, the daughter of a pagan priest had become ill. The people of the island believed that she was possessed by an evil spirit. Both Saints prayed over the daughter and by their intercession she was cured. saved her. The pagan people of the island were so impressed and grateful that they were converted and built a Church. When word of this got back to the Emperor Valens and Bishop Lucius of Alexandria, they quickly allowed both men to return home. At their return they were met by a multitude of Monks in joyous celebration.
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, he was called “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.
Macarius died peacefully around the age of 90, in the year 390. After his death, the natives of his village appropriated his body and built a great Church for him in their village. Today, the body of Macarius is found in his Monastery, the Monastery of Saint Macarius in Scetes, Egypt.
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 Cells in this region, support the local tradition that the cloisters of Macarius, were equal in number to the days of the year.
We have 50 of his sermons to savour his wisdom. Below is a link to a video series of the sermons as well as a Pdf, which also contains great details of his life.