Joseph of Thebes said, "Three things are seen to be honorable by God. The first is when temptations come on someone who is weak, and are accepted thankfully. The second is when every action is pure before God, mixed with no human motive. The third is when a disciple remains obedient to a spiritual father, and gives up his self-will."
Macarius wanted to encourage the brothers so he said, "A little while ago a mother came here with her son who was vexed by a devil, and he said to his mother, 'Get up, let us go away from here.' But she said, 'My feet are so bad that I can't walk away.' So her son said to her, 'I will carry you.' I am amazed at the cleverness of the devil, how much he wanted them to flee from this place."
Hyperichius said, "Snatch your neighbor from his sins, so far as you can, and refrain from condemning him, for God does not reject those who turn to him. Let no evil word about your brother stay in your mind, so that you can say, 'Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.' (Matthew 7:12)."
Syncletica said, "We ought to behave always with discretion: and remain in the community, not following our own will, nor seeking our own good. Like exiles we have been separated from things of the world and have given ourselves in faith to the one Father. We need nothing of what we have left behind. There we had a reputation and plenty to eat; here we have little to eat and not much of anything else."
They said there was a man in Syria who lived near the way into the desert, and it was his work faithfully to refresh every monk who came from the desert, and whatever time he came. One day a hermit arrived and he offered him food. But the hermit refused, saying, "I am fasting."
The man was saddened, and said, "Please do not pass over your servant, do not scorn me. Let us pray together. Look, here is a tree; let us obey him for whom the tree bows down when he kneels and prays."
So, the hermit knelt and prayed, but nothing happened. Then the man knelt down, and at once the tree bent its trunk. They rejoiced at the sight, and gave thanks to God who is always doing wonders.
Some monks called Euchites, or "men of prayer," once came to Lucius in the ninth region of Alexandria. He asked them, "What manual work do you do?"
They said, "We do not work with our hands. We obey St. Paul's command and pray without ceasing." (I Thessalonians 5:17).
He said to them, "Don't you eat?"
They said, "Yes, we do."
He said to them, "When you are eating who prays for you?" Then he asked them, "Don't you sleep?."
They said, "Yes, we do."
He said, "Who prays for you while you are asleep?" and they could not answer him. Then he said to them, "I may be wrong, brothers, but it seems to me you don't do what you say. I will show you how I pray without ceasing although I work with my hands. With God's help, I sit down with a few palm leaves, and plait them, and say, 'Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great mercy: and according to the multitude of thy mercies do away with mine iniquity.' (Psalm 51:1)
He asked them, "Is that prayer, or not?"
They said, "It's prayer, all right."
He said, "When I spend all day working and praying in my heart, I make about sixteen pence. Two of these I put outside the door, and with the rest I buy food. Whoever finds the two pennies outside the door prays for me while I am eating and sleeping: and so by God's grace I fulfil the text, "Pray without ceasing." (I Thessalonians 5:17).
Cassian said that a brother came to Serapion and the hermit asked him in the usual way to offer prayer. But he refused, saying that he was a sinner, and unworthy of a monk's habit. Serapion wanted to wash his feet but he would not allow it, using the same words.
Serapion gave him a meal, and then began to talk to him gently, saying, "Son, if you want to make progress, stay in your cell, keep a watch upon yourself and attend to the work of your hands. Nothing is more profitable to you than staying your cell."
But, when the brother heard this, he was furious, and the hermit could not help seeing his face change. So, Serapion said to him, "Just now you were saying 'I am a sinner' and accusing yourself of being an unworthy monk. Then why were you angry when I gave you some loving advice?If you would be truly humble, learn to carry the burdens that others lay upon you bravely, and don't just shower terms of abuse over yourself."
When the brother heard this, he did penance before Serapion, and went away much helped.
~~ Hatsuhana doing penance under the Tonozawa waterfall by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1798 - 1861
Macarius the Great came to Antony on the mountain. When he knocked on the door, Antony went out and said, "Who are you?"
He said, "I am Macarius."
Antony went in and shut the door, and left Macarius outside. Afterwards, when he saw how patiently he waited, he opened the door to him and welcomed him saying, "I have heard of you, and for a long time I have wanted to see you." He was hospitable and refreshed him, for Macarius was tired with his hard work.
In the evening, Antony put out a few palm leaves for himself. Macarius said to him, "Give me some, so that I may work at them."
Antony said, "I only have these." So he made a pile of what he had, and they sat late, talking to the good of their souls, and made a plaited rope, and the rope hung out of the window in the cave. At dawn, Antony went out and saw the plait Macarius had made, and he marveled and kissed his hand, saying, "There is great virtue in those plaits."
Cassian said that Syncleticus renounced the world, and divided his property among the poor. But he kept some for his own use, and so he showed that he was unwilling to accept either the poverty of those who renounce everything or the normal rule of the monasteries. Basil of blessed memory said to him, "You have stopped being a senator, but you have not become a monk."
A brother came to Poemen and said to him, "What am I to do, abba? I am wretched with lust. I went to see Hybistion and he told me: 'You must not let this passion live in you any longer.'"
Poemen said to him, "Hybistion lives like the angels in heaven, and he does not know about these things. But you and I are full of lust. If a monk controls his stomach and his tongue, and stays in solitude, he can trust that he is not yet lost."
Once a hermit came to see Achillas, and saw blood dripping from his mouth so he asked him, "What is the matter, abba?"
Achillas said, "A brother came and said something that upset me, and I have been brooding over that grievance. I prayed God that he would take it away, and the word turned into blood in my mouth. Look, I have spat it out, and I am now at peace, and have forgotten my grievance."
Once some monks of Mount Nitria sent a message to Scetis to ask Macarius the Great to come to see them. They said if he could not come to them, the whole crowd of them would go to him, since they wanted to see him before he passed on to the Lord.
When Macarius arrived in Nitria, the whole congregation gathered in his presence. The elders asked him to speak a word to the brothers. But he shed tears, and said, "Let us pray and weep, my brothers, before we go hence to the place where our tears consume our bodies."
They all wept; and fell on their faces, saying, "Abba, pray for us."
Joseph of Thebes said, "Three things are seen to be honorable by God. The first is when temptations come on someone, who is weak, and are accepted thankfully. The second is when every action is pure before God, mixed with no human motive. The third is when a disciple remains obedient to a spiritual father, and gives up all his self will.
John said that a hermit saw in a rapture three monks standing on the edge of the sea and a voice came to them from the other side saying, "Take wings of fire and come to me." The first two did so and reached the other shore, but the third stayed where he was crying and weeping.
Later on, wings were given to him also, not of fire but weak and feeble so that he reached the other shore with great difficulty, sometimes in the water, sometimes over it.
So it is with the present generation: the wings they are give are not of fire, they are weak and feeble.
A brother asked a hermit, "Suppose there are two monks: one stays quietly in his cell, fasting for six days at a time, laying many hardships on himself: the other ministers to the sick. Which of them is more pleasing to God?"
The hermit replied, "Even if the brother who fasts six days hung himself up by his nose, he wouldn't be the equal of him who ministers to the sick."
Four monks once came from Scetis to Pambo, wearing tunics of skin. Each described the goodness of one of the others, though not in his presence. One of them fasted much, one of the owned nothing, the third man was of great charity, and they said of the fourth that he lived in obedience to others for twenty-two years.
Pambo answered, "The latter has greater virtue than the others. Each of you others has to use his own will to keep what he has promised, but he roots out his self-will and makes himself the servant of another's will. People like that, if they persevere till death, are saints."
A hermit who was very holy lived near to a community of monks. Some visitors to the community happened to go to see him and made him eat, though it was not the proper time. Later, the monks of the community said to him, "Weren't you upset, abba?"
Lot went to Joseph and said, "Abba, as far as I can, I keep a moderate rule, with a little fasting, and prayer, and meditation, and quiet: and as far as I can I try to cleanse my heart of evil thoughts. What else should I do?"
Then Joseph stood up and spread out his hands to heaven, and his fingers shone like ten flames of fire, and he said, "If you will, you can become all flame."
While Abba Macarius was praying in his cave in the desert, a hyena suddenly appeared and began to lick his feet and, taking him gentlyby the hem of his tunic, she drew him towards her own cave. He followed her, saying, "I wonder what this animal wants me to do?"
When she had led him to her cave, she went in and brought him her cubs which had been born blind. He prayed over them and returned them to the hyena, their sight healed. She in turn, by the way of a thank offering, brought the man the huge skin of a ram and laid it at his feet.
He smiled at her as if at a kind and sensitive person and taking the skin, spread it under him.
Born about 380 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, to a well-respected Christian family of Macedonian heritage, Syncletica was well-educated and was said to be beautiful. When her parents died, she sold all her possessions, cut her hair as a sign of consecration and moved with her blind sister to the family tomb outside Alexandria to begin her life of ascesis. Women soon began to gather around her and she agreed to be their spiritual mentor.