Lenten Reading: St. Macarius the Great. Homily 15, Continued


27. Suppose there were a king, who entrusted his treasure to some poor man. The man who received the charge of it does not hold it for his own, but always acknowledges his poverty, not daring to squander out of another's treasure. He bears continually in mind, not only that the treasure is another's, but "it was a mighty king who entrusted me with it, and whenever he pleases he takes it away from me." So ought those who have the grace of God to esteem themselves, to be humble-minded and to acknowledge their poverty. As the poor man who received the charge of the treasure from the king, if he presumes upon the treasure that is another's, and is proud as of wealth of his own, and his heart conceives arrogance, the king takes away his treasure, and the man who had it in charge is left poor as he was before; so if those who have grace presume, and their hearts are puffed up, the Lord takes His grace from them, and they are left such as they were before receiving the grace from the Lord.

28. There are many, who, in spite of grace being with them, are cheated by sin without observing it. Suppose there is a maid in a house, and also a young man; and she is wheedled into consenting to him, and falls, and loses her character. So the dreadful serpent of sin is always with the soul, tickling and enticing it; and if it consents, the incorporeal soul enters into connection with the incorporeal evil of that spirit. Spirit enters into connection with spirit, and he who gives consent commits adultery in his heart, admitting the suggestion of the wicked one. This then is the measure of your conflict, not to commit this crime in your thoughts, but to resist with your mind, and do battle and conflict within, and not to comply, and to take no pleasure in the thought of what is wrong; and if the Lord finds in you this preparation, at the last day He takes you to Himself in His kingdom.

29. For there are things which the Lord so orders that He may not leave Himself without testimony of His divine grace and calling; and there are others which He orders in the way of permission, that a man may be proved and exercised, that his self-determination may be made plain. Those in afflictions and temptations, if they endure, do not fail of the kingdom of heaven; therefore Christians in circumstances of distress are not vexed or grieved. If they are tried by poverty or suffering, they ought not to be surprised, but rather to take pleasure in poverty and reckon it as wealth, and fasting as feasting, and dishonor and obscurity as glory. On the other hand, if they should fall into circumstances that in this life are glorious, which incline them to worldly ease, or wealth, or glory, or luxury, they ought not to take pleasure in these things, but to shun them as they would shun fire.

30. In the world around us, if a very small nation is stirred to war against the emperor, he is at no pains to go to the front in person, but sends soldiers with their officers, and they carry on the war. But if the nation in motion against him is a very great one, powerful enough to ravage his empire, the emperor himself is compelled to take the field, with those in the palace and in his camps, and to join in battle. Consider then your own dignity. God set Himself in motion, in company with His camp—I mean the angels and holy spirits—and came to your protection in person, to deliver you from death. Take good care of yourself, then, and bethink yourself what a provision has been made for you. We use an illustration from this life, being still in it. Suppose there were an emperor, and he were to find a man in want and suffering, and were not ashamed of him, but treated his wounds with healing medicines, and brought him into his palace, and clothed him with the purple and the diadem, and made him partaker of the royal table; even so Christ the heavenly King came to suffering man and healed him, and made him partaker of the royal table, and this without putting constraint upon his will, but by persuasion He sets him in such honor.

31. It is written in the gospel that the Lord sent His servants, calling those who were willing, and declaring to them that dinner was ready; but those who had been called excused themselves, alleging, one, "I have bought some yoke of oxen," another, " I have betrothed to myself a wife." You see that the entertainer was ready, but the people invited refused. They alone were answerable for it. So great is the dignity of Christians. Consider how the Lord has prepared for them the kingdom, and calls them to enter in, and they will not. As for the gift that they are to inherit, one might say, if every one from the creation of Adam to the end of the world strove against Satan and endured afflictions, he would do nothing great in comparison with the glory which he is to inherit; for he will reign to ages without end with Christ. Glory to Him Who so loved a soul like this, for giving Himself and His grace and entrusting the soul therewith! Glory to His greatness!

32. According to all appearances, all we brethren who sit here have but one image and the one character of Adam. Well, have we in secret also, in the things within, one purpose among us all, and one heart? Are we all one, good and godly? Or are there some of us who have fellowship with Christ and His angels, and others with Satan and the devils? And yet we all sit together appearing like one man; every one of us bears the same character of Adam. You see how different the invisible substance, the inward man, is from the outward, when we all look like one man, and yet some are with Christ and the angels, and some with Satan and the unclean spirits. The heart contains an unfathomable depth. In it are reception-rooms, and bedchambers, doors, and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is the workshop of righteousness or of unrighteousness. In it is death; in it is life. In it is the good traffic, and the contrary.

33. Suppose there were a very great palace, and this were deserted, and became full of every evil smell, and of many dead bodies. Well, the heart is Christ's palace, and it is full of all uncleanness, and of crowds of many wicked spirits. It must be refounded and rebuilt, and its storechambers and bedrooms put in order; for there Christ the King, with the angels and holy spirits, comes to rest, and to dwell, and to walk in it, and to set His kingdom. I tell you, it is like a ship furnished with plenty of tackle, where the captain disposes of all, and sets them their tasks, finding fault with some, and showing others their way about. The heart has a captain in the mind, the conscience, which is ever judging us, thoughts accusing or else excusing one another.

34. You see that conscience will not slubber over such thoughts, which comply with sin, but at once judges them. It tells no lies. It attests what it must say before God in the day of judgment, as though judging us continually. Suppose there be a chariot and reins; the animals and all the apparatus are under one driver; so when he pleases, he is carried along by the chariot at a great rate, and when he pleases, he stops it. Whichever way he pleases to turn it, there it goes along with him. The whole chariot is in the driver's power. In like manner the heart contains many natural faculties bound up with it, and it is the mind and conscience which chides and guides the heart, and calls from sleep the natural faculties that spring in the heart. The soul has many members, though it is but one.

35. From the time that Adam transgressed the commandment, the serpent entered in and made himself master of the house, and became like a second soul beside the soul. For the Lord says, Whoso denieth not himself, and hateth not his own soul, is not My disciple and, He that loveth his soul shall lose it. Sin entering into the soul has become like a member of it, and is united with the bodily man, and therefore many unclean thoughts spring up in the heart. He who does the wishes of his soul, does the wishes of evil, because it is entwined and mingled with the soul. He who brings his soul into subjection, and is angry with himself and with the desires that beset him, is like one who subdues an enemy's city. This man is permitted to come to good measures of the Spirit, and is rewarded through the power of God with the pure man, and is made greater than himself; for such an one is deified, and made a son of God, receiving the heavenly stamp upon his soul. For His elect are anointed with the oil of consecration, and are made men of rank and kings.

36. Such is the nature that men have. In the depth of wickedness and the bondage of sin, a man is at liberty to turn to what is good. A man bound over to the Holy Spirit, and inebriated with heavenly things, has power to turn to evil. A woman clothed in rags, famished, and dirty all over, is with much labor brought to royal rank, and arrayed in purple and crown, and made a king's bride. She remembers her former filthy condition, and is half-minded to go back to her old state; but she will not deliberately return to her former shame, for that would be folly. Yet even those who have tasted of the grace of God, and are partakers of the Spirit, if they do not take heed to themselves, are extinguished, and become worse than they were before, when they were in the world. Not that God is liable to change, or impotent, or that the Spirit is Himself quenched; but men do not correspond to grace, and for this reason miscarry, and fall into a thousand evils. For those who have tasted of that gift have both things present with them, joy and comfort, fear and trembling, gladness and mourning. They mourn for themselves and for all Adam, since mankind is all one, and the tears of such persons are bread, and their mourning sweetness and refreshment.

37. If you see a man proud and puffed up because he has a share of grace, this man, even if he should work miracles and raise the dead, but does not hold his soul worthless and contemptible, and continue poor in spirit and an object of abhorrence to himself, is cheated by sin without knowing it. Even if he works signs you cannot believe him, for the sign of Christianity is this, to be approved of God while earnestly shunning the notice of men, and even if a man has the entire treasures of the King, to conceal them, and to say continually, " It is not mine; another has put this treasure in my charge. I am a poor man, and when He pleases, He takes it from me." If any one says, "I am rich; I have enough. I have gained; I need nothing more," he is no Christian; he is a vessel of error and of the devil. The enjoyment of God is insatiable. The more any one tastes and eats of Him, the more he hungers. Such men's ardor and passion for God is beyond restraint, and the more they endeavor to get on and make progress, the more they esteem themselves poor, as those that are in need and have nothing. This is what they say: "I am not fit for this sun to shine upon me." This is the sign of Christianity, this humility.

38. But if a man says, "I am satisfied and filled," he is a deceiver and a liar.

As the body of the Lord was glorified, when He went up into the mountain, and was transfigured into the divine glory and into the infinite light, so are the bodies of the saints glorified and shine like lightning. The glory that was within Christ was outspread upon His body and shone; and in like manner in the saints, the power of Christ within them shall in that day be poured outwardly upon their bodies. For even now they partake of His substance and nature in their minds; for it is written, He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are of one, and, The glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given them. As many lamps are lighted from one flame, the bodies of the saints, being members of Christ, must needs be what Christ is, and nothing else.

39. Question. What advantage have Christians over the first Adam? for he was immortal and incorruptible, both in body and in soul, whereas Christians die and come to corruption.

Answer. The real death is within, in the heart, and is concealed, and it is the inner man that perishes. So if any one has passed from death unto life in that hidden region, he does indeed live for ever, and never dies. Although the bodies of such men are dissolved for a season, they are raised again in glory, for they are hallowed. So we call the death of Christians sleep and repose. If the man were immortal, and his body exempt from corruption, the whole world, beholding the strange fact that Christian men's bodies were incorruptible, would come over to the good by a kind of compulsion, not by a voluntary decision.

40. In order that the freedom of will which God gave man at the beginning might once for all be shown and might abide, providence orders these matters, and bodily dissolution takes place, that it may be at the man's discretion to turn to the good or to the bad. For even one who is perfect in evil, deep in sin, making himself a tool of the devil, by whom he is completely mastered, is not bound by any necessity. He is at liberty to become a chosen vessel, a vessel of life. In like manner on the other side those who are drunk with the Godhead, although filled full with the Holy Spirit and under His dominion, are not held by any necessity, but have their free choice to turn and do what they please in the present world.

41. Question. Is it by degrees that evil is diminished and rooted out, and a man advances in grace? or is evil rooted out at once, when he receives a visitation?

Answer. As the unborn babe in his mother's womb is not at once fashioned into a man, but the image is formed by degrees and born, and even then is not full grown, but takes many years to develop, and become a man; and again, as the seeds of barley or of wheat do not root the moment they are put in the ground, but storm and wind pass over them, and then in due time the ears form; and the man who plants a pear tree does not at once partake of the fruit; so likewise in spiritual things, where there is so much wisdom and delicacy employed, it is only little by little that a man grows and comes to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature not, as some say," Off with one coat, and on with another."

42. He who wishes to be a learned man goes and learns his letters. When he has got to the top there, off he goes to the Latin school, and is at the very bottom. When he gets to be top there too, off he goes again to the advanced school, and is once more at the bottom, a freshman. Then, when he becomes a "scholasticus," he is a freshman among the pleaders, and last of them all. When he once more rises to the top, he is then made a governor, and when he reaches the position of chief magistrate, he takes to him the aid of the assessor. Well, if the world of sense has such a series of promotions, how much more have the heavenly mysteries their promotions, and increase the number of grades, and then, through much practice and many a testing, the man who gets through is made perfect. Christians who have truly tasted of grace, and have the sign of the cross upon their mind and heart, these, from the king to the beggar, consider all things but dung and ill savor; and these are able to know that the whole world of earth, and the treasures of the emperor, and his riches, and his glory, and the discourses of wisdom are but a vain show, having no solid basis, but passing away; and whatever there is under the heaven, to them is easily contemned.

43. Why so? Because the things above the heavens are so strange and wonderful, which are not to be found in kings' treasures, nor in wisdom of words, nor in worldly glory, and dignities, and wealth such wealth they possess, who have the Lord and Creator of all things in their inmost man, a possession which does not pass away, but abides. Christians know the soul to be precious beyond all created things; for man alone was made after the image and likeness of God. Behold the heaven, how vast it is, and the earth; and the creatures in them are valuable, and their bodies are great; but man is valuable above all those bodies, inasmuch as the Lord was well pleased in him alone. The whales of the sea also, and the mountains, and the beasts, in outward appearance are greater than man. Behold then thy dignity, and of how great value thou art, that God hath made thee above angels, because for thy help and deliverance He came upon earth Himself in person.

44. God and His angels came for thy salvation. The King, the King's Son, held council with His Father, and the Word was sent, and put on the garment of flesh, and concealed His own Godhead, that like might be saved by like, and laid down His life upon the cross. So great is the love of God towards man. The Immortal chose to be crucified for thee. Consider then how God loved the world, because He gave His only begotten Son for them. How shall He not with Him freely give us all things? In another place it says, Verily I say unto you that He shall make him ruler over all His goods Elsewhere it shows the angels as ministers of the saints. When Elias was in the mountain, and the foreigners came against him, the young servant said, "There are many coming against us, and we are by ourselves." Then Elias answered, " Do you not see camps and multitudes of angels with us round about succoring us?" You see that the Master and the multitudes of the angels are with His servants. How great then is the soul, and how much valued by God, that God and the angels seek after it for fellowship with themselves and for a kingdom! And Satan and his powers seek after it for their own party.

45. For as in the natural world kings are not waited upon by boorish people, but by those who are goοd-looking and well-educated, so in the heavenly palace those who wait upon the heavenly King are the blameless, the irreproachable, the pure in heart. As in the palace good-looking maidens, that have no kind of blemish, the handsomest, go into the society of kings, so in the spiritual order, it is the souls that are adorned with all good manners which have the society of the heavenly King. In visible things, where a prince goes to stay, if it should happen that that house contains anything that is not clean, it is put to rights, and much cleaning takes place, and sweet odors are poured out; how much more does the house of the soul, in which the Lord rests, require cleaning, that He may be able to enter in and rest there, who is without spot or blemish! In such a heart God and the whole church of heaven rests.

46. In the natural world, if a father enjoys possessions, and has diadems and precious stones, he hides these in storehouses, and they are treasured up for his beloved son, and to him he gives them. So God has entrusted what He has gotten, with His own precious things, to the soul. In the natural order, if there is a war, and a king comes with his army to fight, and his side is inferior in numbers or in strength, immediately he sendeth an ambassage, desiring conditions of peace; but if it be a very great nation against an equal nation, and king against king—say the king of the Persians against the emperor of the Romans—the two kings have no choice but to move with all their forces. See then how great is thy dignity, that God has moved with His own forces that is, with angels and spirits to join issue with the adversary in order to deliver thee from death. God came for thy sake.

47. Suppose a king were to find a poor man who had leprosy all over his body, and were not ashamed of him, but applied remedies to his wounds, and healed his sores, and then took him to the royal table, and arrayed him in purple, and made him a king; that is what God did to the race of men. He washed their wounds, and healed them, and brought them into the heavenly bridechamber. Great then is the dignity of Christians, so great that there is nothing to compare with it. But if the Christian becomes high-minded and allows evil to steal over him, he is like a city without a wall, and the robbers come into it from any quarter they please, with nothing to hinder them, and lay it waste and set it on fire. Thus, whilst thou art taking things easily, and paying no heed to thyself, the spirits of wickedness come in upon thee, and destroy and lay waste thy mind, dissipating thy thoughts upon this present world.

48. Many people who are well informed about outward things, and pursue knowledge, and take pains about the correctness of their lives, consider that this constitutes perfection, not looking deep into their hearts, or seeing the bad things there that keep the soul in. According to the inner meaning of evil, it is a root in the members; the thief is in the house, that is, the opposing power. It is a defiant and an invisible force; and unless a man sets himself to combat sin, the inward evil gradually spreads, and by multiplying carries the man along into open sins, to commit them. Evil is continually gushing up like the eye of a well-spring. Be thou then busied upon stopping the streams of evil, lest thou shouldest fall into a thousand wrong things and be like one in stupor. Suppose there to be a nobleman living at ease in affluence, and the officers of the governor and those who serve warrants arrest him, carrying him off to the governor, saying, " You are accused on a serious charge, and your head is in danger." At the very tidings of such a fear, he loses all his ideas, and is like one in a stupor.

49. Conceive, then, that it is thus with the spirits of wickedness.

The world that you see round you, from the king to the beggar, are all in confusion and disorder and battle, and none of them knows the reason, or that it is the manifestation of the evil which crept in through Adam's disobedience, the sting of death. For the sin which crept in, being a kind of invisible power of Satan, and a reality, implanted all evils. Without being detected it works upon the inner man and upon the mind, and contends with the thoughts; but men are not aware that they are doing these things at the instigation of an alien force. They think it all to be natural, and that they do these things of their own determination, while those who have the peace of Christ in their minds, and His enlightenment, know very well the source of these movements.

50. The world is subject to the lust of evil, and knows it not, and there is an unclean fire that kindles the heart, and so spreads into all the members, and disposes men to lasciviousness and a thousand wrong things. Those who let themselves be tickled and pleased with it commit the sin inwardly in the heart, and thus the evil gets room, and they fall into open impurity. Mark that the same is true of the love of money, and of vainglory, pride, envy, anger. A man is invited to a dinner, and many meats are offered him; sin suggests that he should taste them all, and so his soul is pleased and becomes overloaded. Lusts are intolerable mountains, among which are rivers of dragons and venomous beasts and serpents. As if a whale were to swallow up a man in its belly, so sin swallows up souls. They are burning flames of fire, and fiery darts of the wicked one. The apostle says, That ye may be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one. The evil got room, and has laid its foundations around the soul.

51. But the prudent, when the passions bestir themselves, will not comply, but are angry with the evil desires, and make themselves enemies to themselves. For Satan has a great wish to rest and stretch himself in the soul, and is annoyed and cramped when the soul will not comply with him. Some there are under the command of the divine power, who if they see a young man with a woman may perhaps think a little, but their mind is not denied, nor do they inwardly commit sin; but it is not yet possible to be confident in such a case. There are others in whom the thing is at an end, quenched, and withered up; but these are the measures of the great ones. As men in the trade go down naked Into the deep of the sea, into the watery death, to find there pearls that will do for a royal crown, and purple dye, so those who embrace the single life go naked out of the world, and go down into the deep of the sea of evil and into the gulf of darkness, and from those depths they take and bring up precious stones suitable for the crown of Christ, for the heavenly church, for a new world, and a city of light, and a people of angels.

52. As in a net many kinds of fishes are included, and they cast back the worse kinds at once into the sea, so the net of grace is spread over all, and seeks satisfaction; but men will not consent, therefore they are thrown back again into the very pit of darkness. As much sand is washed away before the gold is found, and that in very small grains like millet, so out of many there are few found to be approved. Those who have the work of the kingdom are made manifest, and those who only dress up the word of it appear. Those who are seasoned with the heavenly salt appear, and those who speak out of the treasures of the Spirit. The vessels in which God is well pleased appear, and He gives them His own grace; while others with much patience receive the hallowing power, in divers manners, as the Lord wills. So he who speaks, unless he be guided by heavenly light and wisdom, cannot satisfy the mind of every one, since there are so many different purposes, some at war, and some at rest.

53. If a city has been laid waste, and one wishes to rebuild it, he at once demolishes completely the things that are ruinous and fallen, and so begins to dig and to lay his foundations where he dug, and to carry up the building, though there is as yet no house; and he who wishes to make a pleasure garden in a waste, ill-smelling place begins first to clean it up, and to make a fence round it, and to prepare water-courses, and then he plants, and the plants grow, that thus after a long time the garden may bear fruit; so the purposes of men since the fall are dried up, laid waste, and thorny. God said to the man, Thorns and thistles shall the earth bring forth to thee. There is need, therefore, of much toil and labor, for a man to seek and lay up the foundation, till fire shall come into men's hearts, and shall begin to clear off the thorns; and so they begin to be sanctified, glorifying the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.

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