Lenten Reading: St. Macarius the Great. Homily 15

This Homily teaches at large how the soul ought to behave herself in holiness and chastity and purity towards her Spouse Christ Jesus, the Savior of the World. It contains also certain discussions full of great instruction, viz., whether at the resurrection all the members are raised up, and a great many more concerning Evil, and Grace, and Free Will, and the dignity of human nature.


1. A very wealthy man, a glorious king, sets his heart, it may be, on a poor woman, who possesses nothing but her own person. He becomes her lover, and desires to take her to live with him as his spouse. Then, if she shows all benevolence to her husband, retaining also her love to him, lo! that poor needy woman, who possessed nothing, finds herself mistress of all that belongs to her husband. If, on the other hand, she should act contrary to duty and obligation, and should behave improperly in her husband's house, she is then cast out with disgrace and contumely, putting her two hands upon her head, as is said figuratively in the law of Moses[1] concerning a wife who is disorderly and of no advantage to her husband. Then sorrow and great mourning become hers, while she reflects what wealth she is fallen from, and what glory has passed away from her, dishonored as she is because of her folly.

2. In like manner a soul which Christ the heavenly Bridegroom has espoused for mystical divine fellowship with Himself, and which has tasted of the heavenly riches, ought with great diligence sincerely to please Christ, her heavenly Wooer, and dutifully and properly to fulfill the service of the Spirit entrusted to her, to please God in all things, and to grieve the Spirit in nothing, and duly to preserve the modesty and love towards him in which beauty lies, and to behave herself well in the house of the heavenly King in all benevolence for the grace given to her. Behold, a soul like this is made mistress of all the good things of the Lord, and even the glorious body of His Godhead becomes hers. But if she fail, and act contrary to duty in her service, and do not the things that please Him, and follow not His will, nor co-operate with the grace of the Spirit which is with her, then she is deprived of her honors with disgrace and indignity, and banished from life, as being unprofitable and unfit for the fellowship of the heavenly King. Then over that soul there is woe and lamentation and weeping among all holy spirits unseen. Angels, powers, apostles, prophets, martyrs weep over her.

3. For as there is joy in heaven, the Lord tells us, over one sinner that repenteth, [2]so is there great woe and weeping in heaven over one soul that falls away from the eternal life. As on earth, when a rich man dies, he is accompanied out of life with music and dirge and wailing by his own brethren and kinsfolk and friends and acquaintances, so over that soul all the saints mourn with dirges and sad music.

The Bible says the same thing elsewhere in figurative language. The pine is fallen, it says, mourn, ye cedars[3] For as Israel, when he was thought to please the Lord though he never pleased Him as he ought had a pillar of cloud to overshadow him, and a pillar of fire to give him shine; saw the sea divide before him, water clear proceeding out of the rock; but when their mind and intention turned from God, then they were delivered to serpents, or to their enemies, being led away in sore captivities and tormented with bitter bondage. This the Spirit mystically declared in the prophet Ezekiel also, saying of such a soul, as of Jerusalem, I found thee naked in the wilderness, and I washed thee from the water of thine uncleanness, and I clothed thee with raiment, and put bracelets upon thy hands, and chains about thy neck, and earrings in thine ears, and thou becamest renowned among all the heathen. Fine flour and oil and honey didst thou eat, and after all thou didst forget My benefits, and wentest after thy lovers, and didst commit fornication with shame.[4]

4. So likewise the Spirit utters warning to the soul which through grace knows God, which after being cleansed from its former sins and adorned with the ornaments of the Holy Spirit, and after partaking of the divine and heavenly food, does not behave dutifully with much discretion, and does not properly preserve benevolence and love for Christ the heavenly Bridegroom, and so is rejected and put away from the life of which at one time it was a partaker.[5] For Satan can raise and exalt himself even against those who have reached such measures as these; even against those who have known God in grace and power, sin still lifts itself up and strives to overthrow them. We must therefore strive, and watch over ourselves intelligently, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, as it is written.[6] As many as are made partakers of the Spirit of Christ, see that you do not behave contemptuously in anything, small or great, and do no despite to the grace of the Spirit, that you may not be excluded from the life of which you have already been made partakers.

5. I will repeat this in a different character. If a servant comes into a palace, to be employed upon the vessels used there, he takes of what belongs to the king—he himself has nothing to bring—and ministers to the king with the king's own vessels. Here he needs much intelligence and judgment, that he may make no mistake in serving, by bringing one dish to the royal table when he should bring another, but should serve the courses, first and last, in the right succession. If through ignorance and want of judgment he does not serve the king in the right order, it is as much as his place and life are worth. In like manner a soul which is serving God in grace and the Spirit requires much discretion and knowledge, that it may commit no fault with the vessels of God, that is, in the service of the Spirit, by not keeping its own will in harmony with grace. It is possible in the service of the Spirit, performed secretly by the inner man, for the soul to serve the Lord in vessels of its own, that is, with its own spirit; but God cannot be served without God's vessels, that is, without grace, so as to please Him in all His will.

6. And when grace is received, there is then great need of intelligence and discretion—which themselves are given by God to the soul that seeks them from Him in order to serve Him—acceptably in the Spirit which is received, and not to be surprised into a mistake by sin, led astray by ignorance and presumption and carelessness, and acting contrary to what the Lord's will demands; because punishment and death and mourning will be to such a soul. The holy apostle says, Lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.[7] You see what fear he had, though he was God's apostle. Let us then beseech God that we, as many as have obtained the grace of God, may minister the service of the Spirit according to His will, in more than an ordinary way, and may keep no company with the notion of contempt, in order that thus we may live in a manner pleasing to Him, and may serve Him with spiritual service according to His will, and having done this may inherit eternal life.

7. Some one is compassed with infirmity. It happens that some of his members are sound, his eyesight perhaps, or something else, but the rest of his members are disabled. So it is in the spiritual world. A man may perhaps be sound in three members of his spirit, but he is not perfect ^or that. You see how many stages and measures of the Spirit there are, how the mischief is strained out and refined off bit by bit, and not all at once. The Lord's whole providence and government, the rising of the sun, and everything that He has created, are for the sake of the kingdom, which the elect are to inherit, for the constitution of the kingdom of peace and concord.

8. Christians therefore ought to strive continually, and never to pass judgment on anyon—no, not upon the harlot on the street, or upon open sinners and disorderly persons—but to regard all men with singleness of intention and purity of eye, so that it may become like a fixed law of nature to despise no one, to judge no one, to abhor no one, to make no distinctions between them. If you see a man with one eye, be not divided in your heart, but look upon him as if he were whole. If a man is maimed of one hand, see him as not maimed, the lame as straight, the palsied as whole. This is purity of heart, when you see sinners or sick people, to have compassion on them and be tenderhearted towards them.[8] It happens sometimes that the saints of the Lord sit in theatres and behold the deceit of the world. According to the inner man they are conversing with God, while according to the outer man they appear to men as contemplating what goes on in the world.

9. Worldly people are under one influence from the spirit of error, to mind earthly things; Christians have another purpose, another mind; they are of another world, another city. The Spirit of God has fellowship with their souls, and they tread down the adversary. It is written, The last enemy that is destroyed is death.[9] The godly are masters of all things; but those who are slack in faith and sinners are the slaves of all, and the fire burns them, and the stone and the sword slay them, and in the end devils have dominion over them.

10. Question. In the resurrection do all the members rise again?

Answer. To God all things are easy; and He has so promised, though to human frailty and thought it appears impossible. For as God took of the dust and the earth, and constituted the body as a different kind of thing, not at all resembling the earth, and made many sorts of elements in it, such as hair, and skin, and bones, and sinews; or as a needle thrown into the fire changes its color and is converted into fire, although the nature of iron is not taken away, but still subsists; so in the resurrection all the members are raised up, and not a hair perishes, as it is written,[10] and all become light-like, all are plunged in light and fire, and changed, and yet are not, as some say, resolved and turned into fire, with nothing of their natural substance left. Peter is Peter, and Paul is Paul, and Philip is Philip. Each one remains in his own nature and personality, though filled with the Spirit. If you say that the nature is resolved, then Peter and Paul are no more, and God is everywhere and in all directions, and neither those who go away into hell are conscious of their punishment, nor are those who go" into the kingdom conscious of the benefit.

11. Suppose there were a garden, planted with all sorts of fruit-trees, and were in it pear, or apple, and vine, with fruit and leaves; and suppose the garden and all the trees and their leaves were changed and altered into another nature, and the former ones became light-like; so men are altered at the resurrection, and their members become holy and light-like.

12. The men of God, then, ought to prepare themselves for conflict and combat. As a brave young man bears the blows that fall on him, and the wrestling match, and hits back, so Christians ought to put up with afflictions without and wars within, in order that, though belabored, they may conquer by endurance. That is the Christian's road. Where the Holy Spirit is, there follow, like a shadow, persecution and wrestling. You see the prophets, how they were persecuted by their countrymen from first to last, while the Holy Spirit worked upon them. You see how the Lord, who is the Way and the Truth, was persecuted, not by another nation, but by His own. By His own race of Israel He was persecuted and crucified. So was it with the apostles. The Paraclete Spirit removed from the quarter whence the cross came, and passed to the Christians. No Jew was persecuted; Christians were the only martyrs. For this reason they ought not to be surprised. The truth must needs be persecuted.

13. Question. Some say that evil enters from without, and that if a man pleases, he does not admit it, but sends it off.

Answer. As the serpent spoke to Eve, and because of her compliance gained admission within, so to this day sin, which is without, gains admission through man's compliance. Sin has power and liberty to enter into the heart. For our thoughts are not external to us, but from within, out of the heart. The apostle says, I will that the men pray, without wrath and evil disputations.[11] For there are thoughts proceeding out of the heart, as the Gospel says.[12] Go to prayer, and observe thy heart and mind, and determine to send up thy prayer to God pure, and look well there, whether there be nothing to hinder it, whether the prayer be pure, whether thy mind is wholly occupied with the Lord, as the husbandman's with his husbandry, the married man's with his wife, the merchant's with his merchandise; or whether thou bendest thy knees to prayer, while others pluck thy thoughts asunder.

14. But you say that the Lord came and condemned sin[13] by the cross, and that it is now within no longer. Suppose a soldier puts up his chariot at some one's house, he is free when he pleases to go in and out of that house. So sin is free to make its arguments heard in the heart. It is written, Satan entered into the heart of Judas.[14] But if you say that by Christ's coming sin was condemned, and that after baptism evil is no more at liberty to argue in the heart, do you not know that from the advent of the Lord to this day all that have been baptized have had bad thoughts at times? Have not some of them turned to vainglory, or to fornication, or to gluttony? All the worldly people dwelling within the pale of the church, are their hearts spotless and pure? Or do we find that many sins are committed after baptism, and that many live in sin? So even after baptism the thief is free to enter, and to do what he likes.

15. It is written, Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart[15] But thou sayest, "I do love; and I have the Holy Spirit." Hast thou constant remembrance, and passionate affection, and burning ardor for the Lord? Art thou fast bound that way day and night? If thou hast a love like that, thou art pure; but if not, then search thou still, whether, if earthly business or foul and evil thoughts come thy way, thou hast no inclination to them, or whether thy soul is always drawn to love and longing after God. The thoughts of the world drag the mind down to earthly and corruptible things, and do not suffer it to love God or to remember the Lord. And oftentimes, on the other hand, the unlearned man goes to prayer, and bends the knee, and his mind enters into rest, and deep as he may dig and get below, the wall of evil that withstands him breaks down, and he enters into vision and wisdom, where potentates and wise men and orators cannot penetrate to understand and know the delicacy of his mind, since he is engrossed in divine mysteries. One who is inexperienced in judging of hearts does not know how to value them, for lack of experience. Well, Christians abhor the glorious things of the earth, and account them but dung[16] in comparison with the magnificence of those things a magnificence which works effectually in them.

16. Question. Is it possible for a man who has a gift of grace to fall?

Answer. If he gets careless, he falls. The adversaries never are idle or shirk battle. How much more then ought you never to cease from the quest of God? For great is your loss if you are careless, although you may think yourself to be exercised in the very mystery of grace.

17. Question. Does grace remain after a man has fallen?

Answer. It is God's desire to bring the man back to life, and He disposes him to weep his way back and to repent. If it does remain, it is for the purpose of making you a surer workman in repenting of those things by which you formerly did amiss.

18. Question. Are those who are perfect liable to difficulty or warfare, or are they wholly free from anxiety?

Answer. The adversary never ceases from warring. Satan is merciless in his hatred of men; therefore he never shirks from warring against every man. But he is not seen to set upon all to the same degree. Governors of provinces and counts at court pay tribute to the emperor; but the man in that position has such confidence in his wealth of gold and silver that he meets his taxes out of superfluous income, and feels no loss. A man who gives alms never feels it a loss, and in the same way Satan considers these things no part of his serious business.[17] But take a poor man, destitute even of daily food; he is beaten and tortured, because he cannot pay the tax; he spends his time in being scraped and harried, and cannot die; while another man is commanded to lose his head, and perishes at a moment's notice. So it is among Christians. There are some who are vigorously warred upon and scraped by sin; and yet they become the firmer and wiser for the wars, despising the power of the adversary, and they are in no peril in that quarter, because they are unfallen and assured of their own salvation, because they have often practiced in the war with evil, and have gained experience. Having God with them, they are led and are at rest.

19. Others, however, who have not yet had practice, if they fall into a single difficulty, and war is stirred against them, sink at once into destruction and perdition.

Like travellers in a city intending to see their dear ones and acquaintances, who meet many people in the market-places, but are not stopped by them, because their aim is to find their friends, and when they knock at the door outside and call, their dear ones open to them with joy; but if they loiter in the market-places, and are deluded or detained by those who encounter them, the door is shut, and no one opens to them; so those who press forward to reach our Master, Christ the true Beloved, ought to look down upon all others and take no notice of them. Counts and governors, who have entrance into the palace to the king, are in much fear, how they shall present their accounts, and lest for some mistake in answering for themselves they should be brought to trial and to punishment; but simple country folk, who have never set eyes on a prince, pass their days without anxiety. That is the way with this world beneath the sky, from kings down to the poor. Knowing nothing of the glory of Christ, they care only about matters of this life. Not readily does any one bethink him of the day of judgment. But those who in thought enter in before Christ's judgment seat, where His throne is, and pass their lives in His presence, are in fear and trembling continually, to make no mistake concerning His holy commandments.

20. When the rich men of the earth have brought much fruit into their garners, they set to work again every day to get more, in order to have plenty, and not run short. If they presume upon the wealth laid up in the garners, and take things easily and add no more, but use up what they have stored already, they soon sink into want and poverty. So they have to labor and add, enlarging their intake, that they may not get behindhand. In Christianity, to taste of the grace of God is like that. Taste, it says, and see how gracious the Lord is.[18] This tasting is an effectual power of the Spirit in full certainty, ministering in the heart. As many as are the sons of light, and of the ministry of the New Covenant in the Holy Spirit, these have nothing to learn from men; they are taught of God.[19] Grace itself writes upon their hearts the laws of the Spirit. They ought not therefore to rest their assurance only upon the scriptures that are written in ink; the grace of God writes the laws of the Spirit and the mysteries of heaven upon the tables of the heart[20] as well. For the heart governs and reigns over the whole bodily organism; and when grace possesses the ranges of the heart, it reigns over all the members and the thoughts. For there, in the heart, is the mind, and all the faculties of the soul, and its expectation; therefore grace penetrates also to all the members of the body.

21. On the other hand, as many as are sons of darkness, sin reigns over their heart, and penetrates to all their members, for out of their hearts proceed evil thoughts,[21] and thus diffused puts the man in darkness. Those who say that evil is not born and bred in man, may have no anxiety about to-morrow, nor any desire either. For a certain length of time, evil ceases to cause trouble in them by suggesting some object of desire, so that a man will affirm on oath, "Such a passion no longer assails me." After a short while he is consumed with the desire, so that he is found guilty of perjury into the bargain. As water runs through a pipe, so does sin through the heart and thoughts. As many as will not have this notion, are refuted and mocked by sin itself, even if sin did not wish to triumph; for evil endeavors to escape notice and to be hidden in the mind of man.

22. If a man loves God, then God also mingles His love with him. Once trusted by man, He adds to him the trust of heaven, and the man becomes a twofold being. Whatever part of yourself you offer to Him, He mingles with your soul a like part of His own, that all that you do may be purely done, and your love pure and your prayer pure. Great is the dignity of man. See how mighty are the heaven and the earth, the sun and the moon; but the Lord was not pleased to rest in them, but in man only. Man, therefore, is of more value than all created things—I may venture to say, not only than visible creatures, but invisible likewise, even than the ministering spirits.[22] It was not of Michael and Gabriel, the archangels, that He said, Let us make them after Our image and likeness,[23] but about the spiritual substance of man, I mean his immortal soul. For it is written, The angels of the Lord encamp round about them that fear Him.[24]

The material creatures are bound by an unchangeable kind of nature.

23. Heaven was once established for good and all—the sun, the moon, the earth— and the Lord had no pleasure in them, though they cannot alter from what they were created, neither have they any will. But you are for this reason after the image and likeness of God, because, as God is His own Master, and does what pleases Him—and, if He pleases, has power to send the righteous to hell and sinners into the kingdom, but He does not choose to do so, nor does He admit the thought, for the Lord is a righteous judge—so are you your own master, and if you choose to perish, you are of alterable nature. If you choose to blaspheme, to concoct poisons, to murder somebody, no one opposes or hinders you. If a man chooses, he is subject to God, and walks in the way of righteousness, and restrains his desires. This mind of ours is evenly balanced, having power to subdue by resolute thoughts the impulses and shameful desires of evil.

24. If in a great house, where there are things of gold and silver, and garments of various kinds, and money, young men and women who live there suppress their own minds, though nature, by reason of indwelling sin, covets them all, and because of the human fear of their masters they check the impulses of desire, how much more, where the fear of God is, ought a man to fight and counteract the indwelling evil. God has enjoined on thee what thou canst do. The nature of irrational animals is tied. The serpent's nature is bitter and venomous; therefore all serpents are such. The wolf is habitually ravenous; all wolves are of the same nature. The lamb's gentleness makes it a prey; all lambs are of the same nature. The dove is guileless and harmless; all doves are of the same nature. But man is not like that. One man is like a ravening wolf; another, like the lamb, is a prey. Both are of the stock of mankind.

25. One man is not satisfied with his own wife, but goes awhoring, while another does not so much as suffer a desire to rise in his heart. One man plunders his neighbor’s goods; another, in piety towards God, gives away his own. You see how alterable this nature is. You find it inclining to evil, you find it inclining again to good. In both cases it is in a position to assent to such action as it likes. Nature, then, is susceptible both of good and evil, either of divine grace or of the contrary power, but is under no compulsion. Adam himself to begin with, being in a state of purity, was sovereign of his own thoughts; but from the time that he transgressed the commandment, mountains grievous to be borne lie on his mind, and the thoughts of evil mingling with it are all made his own, and yet not one of them is his own, because they are under the dominion of evil.

26. You ought then to seek for a lamp to be lighted, that you may find pure thoughts. Those are the natural thoughts, which God made. People brought up at sea learn to swim, and when waves and billows rise, they are not surprised at it; but those who are not used to these things, when even a little sea comes up, take fright and go under. So it is with Christians. As the mind of a child of three cannot take in or understand the mind of a grownup reasoner, because there is a great difference of age between them, so Christians contemplate the world like infant children, with their eyes fixed upon the measure of grace. They are strangers to this age. Their city and their rest is elsewhere. Christians have the comfort of the Spirit, tears, and mourning, and sighing; and even the tears are an enjoyment to them. They have fear also, in the midst of joy and rejoicing, and thus are they like men carrying their blood in their hands, having no confidence in themselves, or thinking themselves to be anything, but despised and rejected above all men.

[1] Macarius seems to be thinking of Jer. 2:37.

[2] Luke 15:7.

[3] Zech. 9:2.

[4] The passage is taken in substance from Ezek. 16.

[5] After these words the Holkham MS. has in the margin, prima manu, the sentence: Because even those who have tasted with all assurance of the grace of the Holy Spirit are subject to fear; for Satan has power against them if only he sees them grow negligent or highminded.

[6] Phil. 2:12.

[7] 1 Cor. 9:27.

[8] Cf. Hom. 8 § 6.

[9] 1 Cor. 15:26.

[10] Luke 21:18.

[11] 1 Tim. 2:8. The word for "disputations" in the Greek is the same which is used for "thoughts" in St. Matthew in the ensuing passage.

[12] Matt. 15:19.

[13] Rom. 8:3.

[14] a John 8:27; cp. verse 2.

[15] Deut. 6:5.

[16] Phil. 3:8.

[17] Macarius means that Satan can afford to let some persons alone. Like the taxes of the rich, or the charities of people in general, they mean no loss to him.

[18] Ps. 34:8.

[19] 1 Thess. 4:9.

[20] 2 Cor. 3:3.

[21] 2 Matt. 15:19.

[22] Heb. 1:14.

[23] Gen. 1:26.

[24]. Ps. 24:7.

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