Homily 53

By St. Macarius the Great

I

He who wishes to please God and above all to be deemed worthy of becoming a son of God should, having acquired patience, be thankful in the many different afflictions, distresses, and necessities he encounters: I mean, for sickness and sufferings, either spiritual afflictions coming to him from the evil spirits, or bodily hurts, disgraces, and reproaches coming from men, which are all obstacles that estrange his soul from the Kingdom and keep it from drawing nigh to God.

Therefore in all these afflictions that befall him he who wishes to be well-approved by Christ should be glad, delighted, and exult and be fervent in his headlong course towards God, and voluntarily hasten towards Him, and if he should be the more hindered by these things, he should be at rest and nobly leap above all afflictions through his love for the Lord; but if a man does not thus conduct himself and does not dispose himself in this way and he is not manly when being pained and distressed, then such a one is not a son of life, because he did not become an imitator and follower of all the saints, nor did he follow the footsteps of the Lord.

II

For observe as an intelligent being, and see how from the beginning the fathers, the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs and all the sons of life rejoiced in afflictions and found pleasure in tribulations and necessities; and their rest was in ill treatment and pains.

For it is said: “They would rather be taken by the hand by the people of God and be ill-treated along with them than to have temporary delight in sins;” and again it is said: “Son, if you come to work for the Lord, prepare your soul for trials, make your heart right and patiently endure, and do not strive anxiously in time of attack; attach yourself to Him and do not apostatize, so that you may grow to your end; accept all that happens to you, singing, because gold is tested in fire and acceptable men in the furnace of humility; believe in Him and He will help you” (Wisdom of Sirach 2:1-6), etc.

And in another place it is said: “All things which come upon you accept as good: knowing that without God nothing is done.”

The blessed Apostle more perfectly sets this forth saying: “As ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults” (II Cor. 6:4-5).

And the Lord says: “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you” (Mat. 5:11), also the things that follow; if you wish to become sons and heirs of such as these you should take upon yourself the imitation of their conduct and way of life and be a follower and doer of the Lord’s word; narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Mat. 7:14).

When you are tested either in distresses or in sufferings or in sickness or in reproaches, or in insults, you should more than rejoice and be happy in these things; for it is said: “Woe to the ones who delight and are filled and the ones who are blessed on earth;” for blessedness is prepared by the Lord for the mourners and the afflicted; one who desires to live the eternal life should be thankful in all things, and accept afflictions and tribulations and love humility.

III

For one does not serve God only by kneeling, one must equally patiently endure in prayer every day. This practice is good, it is truly good to pray and unceasingly to persevere in prayer. It is chief of all practices, but without virtue the rest of the members are dead.

By good works prayers become acceptable: (I mean) that one not hate brothers; not speak against anyone, to be humble and not high minded, to not esteem oneself to be something, though one work all righteousness.

When the Lord is sought in such a sincere and holy manner, He comes immediately. But if He is not thus sought, He is considered to be as it were, an image [seen] in sleep, and a man’s prayer, being superficial, is accounted as nothing by God.

IV

Why does God not reveal Himself to us quickly when we seek Him? Because He does not wish to? Far be it! For He wants all men to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of truth (I Tim. 2:4); and every zeal and labor of the Fathers and of the Lord Himself were done for this reason. To make God known to mankind, this is the operation of grace, which is life everlasting; but most assuredly there is a certain transgression proper to the soul [that stands] in the midst, and for this reason the Lord has not yet made known or revealed Himself to us; for God is not a respecter of persons but pays attention to the ideas and the thoughts of those seeking Him (Acts (10:34).

Therefore, because of our lethargy and neglect, or unbelief or other faults, of which we are not aware, since we do not examine ourselves minutely, the Lord does not make Himself known to us, He Who said that He would show Himself to those who seek Him in a holy manner and keep His commandments (John 14:21). For it is written: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).

Let us then earnestly seek to examine ourselves closely and search our hearts, so that we may know our own faults, believing that Christ the Liberator of our souls will save us from every fall, apparent or hidden, and when we truly seek Him in righteousness and holiness He is ready to show Himself to us according to His promise, cleaning our defiled hearts of all filth and evil.

V

Accordingly, we should choose above all things the afflictions, and distresses, and insults, if we wish to please God, so as to be deemed worthy to live all the ages with Him. Who indeed is worthy to suffer hunger and nakedness for the Lord and to rejoice? Blessed is such a man, truly blessed, because a great boldness is given him in the presence of God. For the Lord wishes that you be approved in these things, if in afflictions you do not forget Him, for it is said: “with joy in all patience and long-suffering” (Col. 1:11), and elsewhere: “Afflictions and distresses found me: but thy commandments were my meditation” (Ps. 118:143).

This is spiritual struggle; in this God is well-pleased.

VI

The majority of men who really want to please God labor only in the flesh because they lack true knowledge; but the man of God should struggle in the mind and the thoughts and the inner, hidden free will. This is the soul’s true struggle, with God’s aid, against the thoughts of the unseen evil powers.

For it is said: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers” (Eph. 6:12).

For as long as they are compared to the visible, the spirits of evil are invisible and bodiless; similarly, the soul as long as it is compared to the gross body is invisible and bodiless; therefore it is necessary for the battle and struggle to be invisible and bodiless in the innermost part of man.

From of old the ancient fathers fought this real battle, though in appearance they seemed to be men as the rest. Those who battled thus were able to please God.

VII

For souls which are manly and noble and despise all things come out to war, just as Moses speaking allegorically about the evil spirits’ hidden war against the soul, and of souls being suitable, states: “If anyone has espoused a woman, he shall not come out to war, and if anyone has planted a vineyard he shall not come out.”

These things are said about ties to material things; one tied to any material thing never contends against evil spirits, for if one does not struggle because of the craving for pleasures and possessions, he is cast out of heavenly bliss, as the Lord says in the Gospel, in accord with the saying of Moses, about those called to the wedding and asked to be excused, “the first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it”; and the other, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. I pray thee have me excused” (Luke 14:18-20).

VIII

For they who are valiant and ready to obey the will of God progress in spiritual warfare; a good preparation and fitness for war against the unseen enemy is when one leaves father and mother and all of the things of life and brings himself to God, and in addition to these denies his own soul, giving all that he has and will receive from his bodily parents, money and all things, and his soul which he received from God, and entrusts them to his spiritual father, an ascetic, so that he should manage them in any way he wish; and that a man should not be curious about what does or does not behoove him, so as not to be found judging and trying the one he selected to be the judge and manager of his soul --- as one having experience to take the soul in hand and bring it to God --- and for paltry material things reject him; for he [i.e. the spiritual father] is shown to be more an ascetic through these things, than one who is an ascetic by being in submission for God’s sake.

IX

For tell me, you who do this; you say to the ascetic, “I subject my own soul to you,” and supplicating him you fall at his feet, saying, “Take my soul and bring it to God,” knowing that you do this not to man but to God, Who said: “He who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16), and do you think that you are not sinning when falsely withdrawing what you brought to God? Or do you think that it is not a sin, to take back the things given to God? Learn how you take them back. You deem the ascetic worthy of faith because you surrender to him your own soul to bring it to God, but then concerning cold, base, and pitiful material things of this world you judge and test him. How do you not think you sin, and no ordinary sin, but sacrilege, the judgment of which the blessed Peter showed in Acts, when Ananias and Sapphira were rebuked for holding back from the price of the land which they sold to bring forth to the service of God, having appointed it in advance to the service of the brethren, and they were condemned to a bitter death, and a great fear came upon all the Church (Acts 5:1-11).

But you say I do not take back the renunciation, but that I manage properly and I provide well.

In particular the word [of Scripture] does not allow you to be a judge of what no longer pertains to you, for you do not understand what is proper and what is not proper; it is reprehensible when you have taken back the renunciation. Moreover, it is reprehensible when, lying, you say, “I did not take it back.”

X

For tell me, did you not give your soul and then your goods to God by the hand of the ascetic? Therefore they are no longer in your authority. The soul’s true and certain renunciation is when a man never accomplishes his own will, but being just like raw material to the artisan, thus he subjects all his senses to him to whom, after God, he has subjected his soul, having his eye looking earnestly to the things commanded by him.

Just as raw material does not resist the artisan who wishes to make a vessel of honor and not dishonor, for matter is both without life and without senses, so does the word [of Scripture] demand you to be.

For when you have commended your soul to the ascetic, as one having experience, and it is not your own, let him lead you and bring you where he wishes and as he wishes. If this then is said about the soul, how much more should you be insensible to earthly and corruptible created things, which you say you have renounced?

XI

If then you seek to oppose the ascetic, observe how many sins you contemplate committing: first, sacrilege accompanied by judgment, having renounced the will and taking it back again; second, by your reactions you condemn the one selected by you to be judge; third, it brings the sickness of presumption and self-love and love of power; fourth, the brothers in the chief position whom you should glorify you dishonor as paupers, as ones who have renounced nothing, and you wish to place them under your power, because you supplied them food and clothes in which to minister. Wherefore, if you return to the monastery, all things seem to be yours, and you reason thus: “Before I came the ascetic appeared lowly and poor, and from me and through me he lifted up his head, and through my things he seemed to shine and found a great reputation with the friends dwelling with him; for before this his clothes were paltry, but now they are bright, through which he is also glorified. Behold, he wishes that I be equal with the rest, as though I were senseless.”

So this man strives to force the ascetic to alter his just judgment, so that responding to this constraint he should be ordained the ruler of the brotherhood.

But if he is also educated, he will strive to be placed on the [first] seat as a teacher, and afterwards he will believe himself worthy of blessing his own fathers --- of whose ascetic life not even the edge of his lips have ever tasted, these who have struggled in every sort of virtuous asceticism --- and then perhaps he will wish completely to remove the ascetic from the rule. Furthermore he thinks that he has distorted nothing or undermined nothing, since he did not take back the money. In this manner he evilly and improperly thought to take his soul out of the hand of the ascetic.

And how much better would it have been if he had taken the money and gone away immediately! For an immediate release from harm is more profitable than any material gain. For by such a renunciation [i.e. of his vow] he would release himself from the greater judgment for innumerable evils and he would deliver the ascetic with the entire brotherhood from toil and many sins.

XII

But you, O ascetic and athlete of piety, if you wish to sail over this great and spacious sea, over this vast and nameless ocean, then having already gone successfully some distance from the land and divorced your ship from matter, do not guide it back again to land, seeking to return, but have your eye earnestly fixed upon heaven.

For in that heaven upon which I tell you to fix your sight you will find stars, the names and numbers of which are known to the Pilot of Heaven.

You find in it all the luminaries: fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, truly unwandering* luminaries, shining upon the unlighted night of life. Gazing steadfastly at them, you will [be able to] guide the ship of piety to the haven of rest, the heavenly Jerusalem, having taken leave of all things in imitation of these men and turning aside to nothing.

 

* Here is a reference to the planets, whose orbits wander in respect to the earth --- hence their name; the sphere of the stars, however, moves regularly.

XIII

For there are many who rub their hands, but rare are the workers of piety.

Now your offering of laborious renunciation was not made together with the many in the wide way, but with those who constrain themselves to enter by the strait and narrow way into eternal life. You must have the promise unceasingly in your mind, for thus you will be able to bear valiantly all afflictions.

For not just anyone, but those who are valiant and ready to obey the will of God walk the narrow way, and having unceasing war against the spiritual doings of evil, and these men justly inherit the Kingdom as elect soldiers of God.

XIV

Moses, the servant of God, spoke allegorically when he called cloven-hooved and cud-chewing four-footed ones clean; and, on the other hand, the ones not having these qualities, unclean (Lev. 11:3). Therefore the man of God should not undiscerningly follow a single [minded] reasoning while he harbors and takes pleasure in the evil reasoning of wickedness that dwells in him. On the contrary, he should examine himself at all times by means of his nature’s rational faculty that has with precision its own reasoning as an opponent of the wicked devices of the evil one. And again chewing the cud and meditating and exercising the mind in the faithful oracles of God’s commandments, so that dwelling always on these, the opponent, the pious reasonings, be strengthened against the indwelling wickedness, until it is clothed in power from on high, which authoritatively destroys the indwelling wickedness and clearly exhibits the reasoning of his pure nature.

The ones thus struggling and examining themselves are accounted clean by God, being without voluntary sins, and they offer their own will, as much as they can, solely to God.

XV

For one who wishes to be truly a Christian should acquire not a carnal toil and struggle, but one [carried on] in the mind, in the very thoughts.

That is, he should become accustomed to meditate always upon good and pure reflections as much as he is able, and to straining his mind towards the right, every hour in faith looking forward to the visitation of the Spirit, so that through this kind of struggle he may receive purification, so that all that he sees in the world he receives as edification for the soul, understanding everything purely. Through the riches and the rest of the delights of the world he perceives heavenly true wealth on high and delight, the unfading glory, of which the former things are a shadow.

For this world is the image of the true and eternal one; all which a man sees inwardly in his soul he should take as of service to himself, so that his mind is never at rest from meditating upon those good things, because after many struggles and sweat and pain of soul he can attain to them. But in very truth God Himself perfects the entirety [of these things].

XVI

For one wishing to flee and always to save his thoughts from the evil one, should acquire a nesting place and refuge in the Lord, and an unceasing remembrance of God, and he must have confidence, and thus one is able to fight against the wickedness that encompasses a man --- whether the wickedness of the outer world, or the evil powers within --- and to be freed from all his habits and preconceptions.

Being engaged in this struggle, and having this aim, to hope in God, the Fathers were able to please Him. For though in things visible they acquired wives and children and goods, their mind was above the world; whence having come to trials and ordeals they acted bravely, and they were not saddened at all by the destruction of all their visible possessions, because they acquired the great and true possession, confidence in God. Thus Job, despoiled of all visible hope and his body being wounded, conquered solely by the love of God; for having transferred his reflections thither, he became higher than all things.

Thus also we with courage should persevere in and patiently endure all that we meet with, being wounded with the love of God.

XVII

For if a woman has a husband, but he is in bonds and afflictions, while she lives in luxury and is carefree, it is obvious that she is not temperate, not maintaining the required good will to her husband, for she should be sympathetic and share pain. In this way also souls who desire to be joined with and to reign with the Heavenly Bridegroom should walk the strait and narrow way wherein He Himself walked, showing Himself an example for us. If they turn aside into another way, not bearing the wounds and the suffering of the Lord, these souls are accounted as harlots and are cast out of the Kingdom.

XVIII

Let us call upon God then, in faith and full assurance, looking for mercy from Him, seeing that we have His written covenant that “to him that knocketh it will be opened” (Mat. 7:7) and that “He will dwell in them and walk in them” (Lev. 26:11-12). For even though men are dragged along by ten thousand cares darkened by temptations, and by these things they are constrained to lie unsparingly, yet if they have made written agreements, they are unable to act unfairly, even if they want to. How much more will the truthful God fulfill His agreement with us, to send to us the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit? But in truth we are liars not seeking Him in undoubting faith as He taught us. But we will be able with much boldness to call upon Him, if in so far as possible we surrender ourselves to the Lord, departing from our own will and not living unto ourselves, but as being purchased by His precious blood, we act according to the Master’s will. And thus denying ourselves, and voluntarily enslaving ourselves only to the One Who purchased us, being found to be grateful and faithful servants, we shall receive the promised Holy Spirit, glorifying Father, Son, and Spirit to the ages. Amen.

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© 1981 by George Rallis who acknowledges the assistance of Thomas Koines in the preparation of this translation.

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Taken from Orthodox Life, Volume 31, No. 5, September-October 1981, published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York.

Psalms have been changed to the Brenton Septuagint version for use on this website.

 


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