The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ST. MACARIUS THE GREAT - How the Ancients Understood What It Meant to Be a Monk

This selection is from St. Macarius the Great, born about A.D. 300. A former camel driver, he spent most of his monastic life in Scetis where the Coptic Monastery of St. Macarius stands to this day with a very active community and monastic life.

BEGIN: One day, Macarius the Egyptian went from Scetis to the mountain of Nitria for the offering of Abba Pambo. The old men said to him, "Father, say a word to the brethren." He said, "I have not yet become a monk myself, but I have seen monks. One day when I was sitting in my cell, my thoughts were troubling me, suggesting that I should go to the desert and see what I could see there. I remained for five years, fighting against this thought, saying, perhaps it comes from demons. But since the thought persisted, I left for the desert.

"There I found a sheet of water and an island in the midst, and the animals of the desert came to drink there. In the midst of these animals I saw two naked men, and my body trembled, for I believed they were spirits. Seeing me shaking, they said to me, 'Do not be afraid, for we are men.' Then I said to them, 'Where do you come from, and how did you come to this desert?'

"They said, 'We come from a monastery and having agreed to gather, we came here forty years ago. One of us is an Egyptian and the other a Libyan.' They questioned me and asked me, 'How is the world? Is the water rising in due time? Is the world enjoying prosperity?'

"I replied it was, then I asked them, 'How can I become a monk?' They said to me, 'If you do not give up all that is in the world, you cannot become a monk.' I said to them, 'But I am weak, and I cannot do as you do.' So they said to me: 'If you cannot become like us, sit in your cell and weep for your sins.'

"I asked them, 'When the winter comes are you not frozen?' And when the heat comes do not your bodies burn?' They said, 'It is God who has made this way of life for us. We do not freeze in winter, and the summer does us no harm.'

"That is why I said that I have not yet become a monk, but I have seen monks." END

from, "The Desert Christian," by Sr. Benedicta Ward, New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1975, pp. 125-126