Lenten Reading: St. Macarius the Great. Homily 24

The state of Christians is like merchandise, and like leaven. As merchants amass earthly gains, so Christians gather together their thoughts that were scattered about the world. As leaven turns the whole lump into leaven, so the leaven of sin permeates the whole race of Adam; but Christ puts a heavenly leaven of goodness in faithful souls.


1. Christians are like merchants trading for very great gains. As merchants amass out of the earth earthly gains, so Christians collect together out of all the earth, by means of all virtues and the power of the Spirit, the thoughts of their own heart in this present age. This is the greatest and the true merchandise. For this world is opposed to the world above, and this present age to the eternity above. The Christian therefore, according to holy scripture, must deny the world, and be translated and pass in mind out of this present age, in which the mind is placed and exposed to allurements ever since the transgression of Adam, into another age, and in frame of thought must live in the world of the Godhead above, as it is said, But our conversation is in heaven.1

2. But there is no succeeding in this unless the soul will deny this world and shall believe in the Lord wholeheartedly, in which case the power of the Spirit of God is able to gather in the heart, now scattered over the whole earth, to the love of the Lord, and to translate its frame of mind into the eternal world. From the time of Adam's transgression the thoughts of the soul have been scattered away from the love of God to this present age, being mingled with material and earthly thoughts. But as Adam, when he transgressed, took into his system a leaven of evil affections, so by participation all who were born of him, and the whole race of Adam, partook of that leaven, and ever since it has grown and increased, until the affections of sin have so developed in men that they have come to fornications and lasciviousnesses and idolatries and murders and other wrong things, until humanity is all leavened with evil. To such an extent has the evil developed among men, that they have come to think that there is no God, and to worship inanimate stones instead, and to be unable so much as to take in the notion of a God. To such an extent has the leaven of wrong affections leavened the race of the old Adam.

3. In the same manner, the Lord, when He came on earth, was pleased to suffer on behalf of all, and to purchase them with His own blood, and to put the heavenly leaven of goodness in faithful souls, when they have been humbled under sin, and then by a process of growth and development to fulfill in them every righteousness enjoined upon them and all virtues, until they are leavened into one in that which is good, and become with the Lord one Spirit, according to St. Paul's saying,2 so that sin and wickedness cannot even in thought come into the soul so completely and entirely leavened with the Divine Spirit, as it is said, Charity thinketh no evil, and the rest.3 But without the previous leavening from heaven, which is the power of the Divine Spirit, it is impossible for the soul to be leavened with the goodness of the Lord, and to arrive at life, even as the race of Adam could never have been perverted to such malice and wickedness, if the previous leavening of malice, which is sin, had not crept into him, being, as it is, a power of Satan of a spiritual and immaterial nature.

4. If a person were to knead flour without first putting in leaven, however much pains he may think good to take, turning it over and over, and working it up, the lump remains unleavened and unfit for food; but if leaven is put in, it draws to itself the whole lump of flour, and works it all to leaven, as the Lord said in His comparison of the kingdom, The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.4 If there were meat, and a person were to take all manner of care of it, but did not salt it with the salt which destroys worms and prevents ill odor, the meat stinks and decays and becomes unserviceable to man. In the same way conceive of all mankind as being so much meat or dough, and imagine the salt and the leaven to belong to another world, the divine nature of the Holy Spirit. Now if this heavenly leaven of the Spirit, this good, holy salt of the Godhead, from yonder age and from yonder home, be not mixed and put into the human nature of men, there is no ridding the soul of the ill odor of wickedness, there is no leavening it from the heaviness and unleavened condition of evil.

5. Whatever the soul may think fit to do of itself, whatever care and pains it may take, relying only, upon its own power, and thinking to be able to effect a perfect success by itself, without the co-operation of the Spirit, it is greatly mistaken. It is of no use for the heavenly places; it is of no use for the kingdom that soul which supposes that it can achieve perfect purity of itself, and by itself alone, without the Spirit. Unless the man who is under the influence of passions will come to God, denying the world, and will believe with patience and hope to receive a good thing foreign to his" own nature, namely the power of the Holy Ghost, and unless the Lord shall drop upon the soul from on high the life of the Godhead, such a man will never experience true life, will never recover from the drunkenness of materialism; the enlightenment of the Spirit will never shine in that benighted soul, or kindle in it a holy daytime; it will never awake out of that deepest sleep of ignorance, and so come to know God of a truth through God's power and the efficacy of grace.

6. Unless a man is permitted thus through faith to receive grace, he is not qualified or adapted for the kingdom; but on the other hand, if he receives the grace of the Spirit, and does not at all change his mind, or do despite to grace by negligence or wrong-doing, and thus contends for some time without grieving the Spirit, he shall be enabled to obtain eternal life. As one perceives the workings of evil by the passions, by anger, by concupiscence, by envy, by heaviness, by wicked thoughts and other wrong things, so ought one to perceive the grace and power of God by the virtues, by kindness, by goodness, by cheerfulness, by gaiety, by divine gladness, in order to be likened to and mingled with the good and divine nature, with the kind and holy workings of grace. When the will is gradually and progressively tested by time and opportunity, whether it is continually at one with grace and is found well-pleasing, it comes gradually to be altogether in the Spirit, and so being wrought by the Spirit to holiness and purity is made meet for the kingdom. Glory and worship to the undefiled Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.

1 Phil. 3:20.

2 1 Cor. 4:17.

3 1 Cor. 8:5.

4 Matt. 8:33.

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