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The Paradise Of The Holy Fathers Volumes 1 and 2 by Saint Athanasius Of Alexandria

AS for the other Macarius, the Alexandrian, I did see him, for he was an elder in the place which is called the “Cells,” wherein I myself lived for nine years, and he lived for three years after I entered therein; some of [his] wonderful acts I myself have seen, and some of them I have learned from others, and [of others] I have also heard rumours. Now his sad, stern life of self-denial was as follows: Whensoever he heard of any beautiful deed being done by any man whatsoever, he must straightway carry it into practice in a fuller form. He once heard from a certain man that all the brethren of Tabenna never tasted any food whatsoever which had been cooked by fire during the whole of the Forty Days’ Fast, and he straightway determined within himself that for seven years he would not eat any food which had been cooked by fire, and that he would not partake of anything except young wild herbs, and vegetables which had been made soft by soaking in water, or similar things. And when he had completed this rule of life he heard of a monk in a certain monastery who only ate one pound of bread each day, and he straightway broke his bread into pieces and cast it into a vessel with a narrow mouth, and he determined within himself that he would eat nothing that his hand could not draw up out of the vessel the first time [he put it in]. And time after time, he used to tell the story with a smile, and say, “When I put my hand down I could fill it readily, but I could not draw it up full because the mouth of the vessel was [too] narrow, and it would not let me take it out full.” Now he lived this hard life for three years, and ate [daily only] four or five ounces of bread; and of water also he only drank sufficient to enable him to eat his bread. Of oil [he took] only one flask each year, making use of it only on the great First Day of the Resurrection, and on the great day of Pentecost, and at the Nativity, and at the Epiphany, and when he received [the Mysteries] during the Forty Days’ Fast. I will tell also of the various other practices of his sad, hard life. He determined [once] to vanquish sleep, and it is related that he never entered under a roof for twenty days, and that he was burnt up by the exceedingly great heat of the sun at noonday during all this time, and that during the nights he was without rest. And he himself told us, “Had I not quickly gone in under a roof and slept, and rested myself the brains in my head would have dried up, and I should become like a drunk man. But,” he would say, “I have been conquered against my will, for although the nature of the body hath been overcome I have given it what it needeth.”

And again, once when he was sitting in his cell a gnat bit him in the leg and he suffered pain, and he crushed the gnat in his hand and killed it. Then straightway he despised himself because he had avenged himself upon the gnat, and he passed upon himself the sentence that he should go to the place which is called “Scete,” that is to say, the inner desert, and sit there naked for six months. For there were many great gnats (i.e., mosquitoes) there, and they were so savage that they could pierce the skins of pigs, and they resembled wasps; and his whole body was so eaten and swollen that a man would have thought that he had the hide of an elephant, and when he came [back] to his cell six months later they could only recognize from his voice that he was Macarius.

And again he desired greatly to go and see the garden of Jannes and Jambres, the magicians of Egypt, because, as he himself told us, they had obtained power, and riches and dominion, and had built there a tomb, and had established there great works in marble; now their tomb was ornamented with many things, and they had also placed there gold and things of a marvellous character, and trees and plants, for the place had been made into a garden, and they had also dug a well there. Now because Macarius did not know the way, he observed the course of the stars, and travelled thereby; and thus he journeyed through the open desert as upon the sea. And he took with him also a bundle of thin reeds, and at the end of each mile he used to drive a reed into the ground like a rock, so that he might be able to find the way when he had to come back. And when he had journeyed for nine days, and had drawn nigh the place wherein was the tomb, the Evil One, who always wageth war against the athletes of the Lord, gathered together all the reeds which the blessed man Macarius had driven into the ground, and put them under his head for a pillow whilst he was asleep, when he was about one mile from the garden, and when the blessed man woke up he found the reeds. Now it is probable that God permitted this thing to happen for His own glory and for the triumph of His servant, so that Macarius might not put his confidence in reeds, but upon God, Who by means of a pillar of cloud led the children of Israel in the desert for forty years. And Macarius told us, saying, “Seventy devils came forth against me from that garden, and they flew about before my face like ravens, and they were crying out and groaning, and saying, ‘What seekest thou here, O Macarius? What seekest thou, O monk? Why hast thou come hither? Thou canst not stay here.’ And I said unto them, ‘I only want to go in and see [the garden], and then I will depart.’ And I entered therein, and I saw everything, and [I found] hanging over the well an iron chain with a brass bucket, but they were rusted through age; and the pomegranates which were therein were dried up and burnt by the sun.” And having seen [the garden] he turned and came back in twenty days.

Now when he was coming back he lacked water, and the bread also which he had carried was finished, and he was nigh to perish, and was in great tribulation through thirst, when suddenly he saw a damsel who was arrayed in a spotless linen garment and who carried a pitcher of water wherefrom water dripped, and she was distant about half a mile from him. Then he followed her for three days, thinking that he would overtake her and drink, but he did not do so, although she seemed to him to be standing still in one place and bearing a pitcher. Then he despaired of obtaining water to drink, and he was brought very low, when suddenly there appeared unto him there a herd of buffaloes. And among them there was one which had with her a little sucking calf, and she stood still before him; and he drew nigh and sucked milk from her. And she came with him through all the desert even unto his cell and gave him milk to drink, and she would not let her calf suck from her in those days.

And on another occasion the brethren were digging a well in a certain place which was called Thrônôn, when a serpent which belonged to the class of deadly serpents bit him. Then Macarius took hold of the serpent with his two hands by his upper and lower lip and, grasping him tightly, tore him in twain, from his head even unto his tail, and said unto him, “Since Christ did not send thee, why didst thou dare to come [here]?” Now the blessed man had four cells in the desert: one in Scete, in the inner desert, one in Libya (?), one in the “Cells,” and one in Mount Nitria. [Two] of these were without windows, and in them he used to dwell in darkness during the Forty Days’ Fast, another was so narrow that he could not stretch out his legs, but another, wherein he used to receive the brethren who came unto him, was wide and spacious. And he healed so many people who were possessed by devils that no man could count them. Once when I and the blessed Evagrius were there in his cell they brought unto him from Thessalonica a certain virgin who had been a paralytic for many years, but by means of prayers and by anointing her with oil with his hands he cured her in twenty days and sent her away whole to her city and home; and when she had departed she sent to him gold and goods of various kinds.

And again, he heard from a certain man that the monks of the Monastery of Tabenna lived stern lives of self-denial, and he took counsel with himself, and put on the garb of a young man and a husbandman, and in fifteen days he went up to the Monastery of the Broken Ones by the way of the desert, and came to the Monastery of Tabenna, seeking to see the head of that Monastery whose name was Pachomius. Now Pachomius was a man elect and perfect, and he had the gift of prophecy, but the [business] of the blessed Macarius was hidden from him. And when Macarius saw him he said unto him, “Abbâ, I beseech thee to receive me into thy monastery that I may be a monk therein.” Pachomius said unto him, “Thou art an old man, and art not able to fast. The brethren are men who fast, and thou canst not endure their labours, and because thou art not able to do this [thou wilt] be offended, and thou wilt go forth and wilt abuse them”; and he would receive him neither the first day nor the second day, nor any day until seven days [were passed]. But since he remained fasting throughout all these days he said unto the head of the monastery, “Abbâ, receive me. And if I do not fast like unto you, and toil as ye do, command them to cast me out;” so the head of the monastery persuaded the brethren to receive him. Now the number of the members of the brotherhood of that monastery were four hundred men, [and they are thus even] unto this day; and they brought in Macarius.

And when a few days had passed, the Forty Days’ Fast drew nigh, and Macarius saw that large numbers of the brethren kept the fast and observed the rule of the house in various ways. There were some who ate daily at eventide, and some [who fasted for some] nights, and there were also some who ate once in five days; and some stood up the whole night through, and sat down in the daytime. And the blessed man Macarius took a large quantity of leaves of date palms, and brought them [to his cell], and he stood up in one corner thereof, and he neither touched bread nor water, nor bent the knee, nor lay down, until the forty days had passed, and the days of unleavened bread had come; but each Sunday he used to eat a few moist cabbage leaves so that he might pretend to be taking food. Whensoever he went outside his cell for a needful purpose he returned straightway and stood up in his place without speaking a word unto any man; and he stood in his place and held his peace, and he used to do nothing else except pray within himself, and as he stood up he wove rope of the palm leaves. And when all the brethren saw him they made a tumult against the head of their monastery, and said unto him, “Whence hast thou brought upon us this man, who hath no body and who is incapable of being tired out, to judge us and to take vengeance upon us? [Either send him away and let him depart], or know that we all will go away.” Now when the head of the monastery had heard from the brethren concerning the fasting of Macarius and his rule of life, he prayed to God and entreated Him to reveal to him who this man was, and it was revealed unto him by God. Then he went and took him by his hand, and he brought him to the house of prayer to the place where the altar was stablished, and he answered and said unto him, “Come, O blessed old man, thou art Macarius, and thou hast hidden thyself from me. For many years past I have earnestly desired to see thee, and now I thank thee that thou hast broken the heart of the brethren somewhat, so that they may not imagine any longer that they observe their fast with excessive rigour. Go then in peace to thy place, for in no slight measure hast thou edified us, and do thou continue to pray for us”; then Pachomius having persuaded him, Macarius departed from thence.

And Macarius used to say, “Every kind and variety of rule of the life of self-denial and fasting which I have desired to observe with all my heart have I kept, but there came upon me the desire that my mind should be with God in heaven [if] only for five days, and that I should be exalted above the anxious cares and thoughts of material things. And having meditated upon this thing, I shut the door of the courtyard and of the cell, and I constrained myself so that I might not give a word to [any] man. And I continued thus, and I began [to fulfil this thought] on the second day of the week, and I commanded my mind, and said unto it, ‘Thou shalt not descend from heaven, for behold, there thou hast angels, and the princes of angels, and all the hosts which are in heaven, and especially the Good and Gracious God, the Lord of all. Thou shalt not come down from heaven.’ And continuing thus I was sufficient for this thing for two days and two nights, and I constrained the Evil One to such a degree that he became a flame of fire and burnt up everything which I had in my cell, and at length the very mat upon which I stood blazed with fire, and I thought that I should be wholly consumed. Now when, finally, fear of the fire took hold upon me my mind came down from heaven on the third day, because I was unable to keep my mind collected in the state in which it had been, and I came down to the contemplation of the world and the things thereof. And this happened so that I might not boast.”

And on another occasion I went to his cell, and I found a priest lying there by the side of the door; his whole head was consumed, and was eaten into holes by the disease which is called cancer, and the bone of his skull was shewing through. Now this man had come unto him to be healed, but Macarius did not wish to see him. And I myself besought the blessed man and said unto him, “I beseech thee to have mercy upon him, and to give unto him a word.” Then he answered and said unto me, “He is not worthy to be healed, for [this] punishment was sent upon him from God. But if thou desirest that he shall be healed persuade him to forsake the ministration at the altar, for he used both to be minister at the altar and to commit fornication, and for this reason he was punished. Persuade him then to forsake [his ministrations], and God will heal him.” And having said these things to the sick man he pledged himself and swore an oath, saying, “I will never minister at the altar again”; and afterwards Macarius received him, and said unto him, “Dost thou believe that God existeth?” and the priest said unto him, “Yea, master.” And again Macarius said unto him, “Peradventure thou art able to scoff [at God],” and the priest said unto him, “Nay.” Then the blessed man said unto him, “If now thou dost acknowledge thy folly, and also that thy punishment was from God and that it was a fitting punishment for thy deeds, first of all confess thy transgressions.” And the priest gave a promise that he would not sin again, and that he would not minister at the altar, but that he would lead a life which was suited to the capacity and grade of those who were in the world; and Macarius laid his hand upon him, and in a few days he was made whole, and the hair grew upon his head [again], and he went to his house healed whilst I was looking at him.

And again a certain young man who had an evil devil was brought unto him and he laid one hand on the head of the young man and another on his heart, and he prayed until he made the devil to rise up in the air, whereupon the young man breathed out his breath and became like a great [empty] skin bottle; and he suddenly uttered a cry, and water flowed out from all parts of his members, and he was made whole and became as he was before the devil entered into him. Then Macarius anointed him with the oil of the martyrs, and commanded his father that he was not to taste flesh or wine for forty days, until he was thoroughly healed.

And again on a certain occasion certain thoughts of vainglory vexed him, and urged him to go forth from his cell and to depart and heal the multitudes in Rome and to give assistance unto those who were lying [there] sick, for the grace and might of God were inciting him greatly to heal those who were possessed of devils and to make whole those who were diseased; but although he was much disturbed in his mind [on this matter], yet he was not persuaded to go, for the Evil One greatly pressed upon him in his thoughts. Finally, however, he lay down inside the door of his cell, and having set his legs (or feet) on the threshold, he cried out and said, “Pull, unclean devils, pull hard, for I will never go [thither] on my legs, and if you are able to carry me you must do so thus.” And he took an oath to them [i.e., the brethren], saying, “I continued to lie thus until the evening, and if ye had not lifted me up, I should never have moved from my place.” And when the night had come he stood up.

And again, on another occasion, when these thoughts were mounting up [in his mind] he filled with sand a basket which held two or three bushels, and lifting it on his shoulders he began to wander about [with it] in the desert. And his kinsman Theosebius the Antiochian met him and he said unto him, “What art thou carrying on thy shoulders, father? Tell me, so that I may carry thy load, and that thou mayest not toil thyself.” And he said unto him, “I am making to work that which hath made me to work, for it wisheth to go forth from its state of rest, and it fatigueth me”; and having walked about for a long time he went into his cell, having exhausted his body.

And one day there laid hold upon me the chills of fever, and I went and sat down, and watched him from the window (or opening in the wall), in the feebleness of his old age. And I was thinking about him that he was like unto one of the brethren of old, and I began to listen unto him that I might see what he was saying, or what he was doing; now he was alone inside [his cell], and he was one hundred years old, and moreover, his teeth had fallen out by reason of his old age. And I listened unto him and to what he was saying, and he was striving with his soul and with Satan, and he was saying unto himself, “What dost thou wish for, O thou wicked old man? Behold, thou hast eaten oil, and thou hast drunk wine, what more dost thou wish for? Wouldst [thou] eat Satan’s white food?” And he was reviling himself. And moreover he said unto Satan, “I cannot conquer thee in any wise, and thou art not able to do anything unto me; get thee gone from me.” And again he said unto himself, “How long shall I be with thee?”

And moreover, Paphnutius, the disciple of this man, related unto myself and unto the blessed Evagrius, saying, “One day a female hyena took her whelp, which was blind, and came and knocked with her head at the door of the court when he was sitting therein, and she dropped the whelp at his feet. And he took up the whelp, and prayed, and spat in its eyes, and straightway its eyes were opened and it saw; and its mother gave it suck, and then took it up and went forth. And one day later she brought unto the blessed man a sheep-skin cloak, that is to say, a skin which hath been stripped off a sheep; and the blessed woman Melania spoke unto me concerning this sheep-skin cloak, saying, ‘I myself received this sheep-skin cloak from the hands of Macarius as a blessing.”

And Paphnutius also spake thus, “From the first day whereon he received baptism he never spat upon the ground, and he lived for sixty years after his baptism.”

Now in his latter days he was beardless, and he only had a small quantity of hair upon his [upper] lip and upon his chin; because by reason of his excessive fasting and the abstinence of his solitary life not even the hair of [his] beard would grow. I once went unto him when weariness of the ascetic life had laid hold upon me, and I said unto him, “Father, what shall I do? For my thoughts vex me, and say unto me, ‘Thou art doing no [good], get thee gone from here.’ ” And he said unto me, “Say unto thy thoughts, ‘For Christ’s sake I will guard these walls.’ ”

I have written for thee these few things out of a very large number concerning the life and deeds of the holy man Macarius, and concerning the solitary monks who were his companions; and everything is indeed true. I entreat all those brethren who read in this book, or who desire to take a copy therefrom, not to forget [to write] after [this section] the narrative which is found in certain of the codices at the end of the above history which relateth unto the matters of Macarius, as if these histories had been composed by Hieronymus, but they must know that of a certainty that they were composed by Palladius. For I have found the absolute ending of this book which belonged to the histories of the matters of Macarius, with an apology and a preface which were composed by Palladius [and addressed] to Lausus the Prefect, wherein he maketh known concerning all the various kinds of the divers histories of men and of women which were composed by him; and I will prepare this apology and preface, and by the help of God I will write them down in the proper place.








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