St Macarius the Great of Egypt, the Lamp of the
Desert (Commemorated 19th January)

St Macarius is one of the founding fathers of monasticism. He was born in the fourth century AD in the village of Jijber, Egypt. From a young age, he realised his calling from God was to apply himself to a life of ascesis and prayer. Having dwelt in the Nitrian desert for three years, he went to Saint Anthony the Great and became his devoted disciple and follower.

St Macarius struggled against demonic attacks. As his apolytikion states “By fasting, vigil and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts…” His view on prayer was that it did not require many words; rather, the mind should be concentrated on God. After ten years of intense asceticism Abba Macarius was sent by St Anthony to the Skete monastery and was made abbot. He spent most of his time conversing with God and never ceased to weep, repent and work. St Macarius soon became famous for his virtues and many people visited him.

At about the age of 40, following St Anthony’s urging, he accepted ordination to the priesthood. The Saint left theological writings that are based on his own personal experience. Fifty Spiritual Homilies provide us with his spiritual wisdom. Saint Macarius the Great also wrote many morning and evening prayers. The main theme of St Macarius’ writings is on our highest goal and purpose – the union of the soul with God, “as the Lord put on the body, leaving behind all principality and power, so Christians put on the Holy Spirit, and are at rest” (Homily 26).

He also spoke on our need for humility, “if God condescends to such insults and sufferings and humiliation (His passion and crucifixion), you, who by nature are clay and are mortal, no matter how much you are humiliated, will never do anything similar to what your Master did. God, for your sake, humbled Himself and you will not be humbled for your own sake?!” (Homily 26, 25-26). The Saint died in the year 391AD. His holy relics are located in the Coptic Monastery of St Macarius the Great, in Egypt.

Source: Lychnos December 2019 – January 2020