Chapter XIII, Macedonius (continued) Book IX
(Maesymas further down this page)
When Sunday came round again at the end of the week, the great Flavianus sent messengers inviting him to share the celebration with him.
"Haven't you done enough," he said "that you want to ordain me as presbyter all over again?"
When they told him that he could not be ordained twice, he still would not give way, and refused to attend right up to the moment when those around him told him that it was time.
I am aware that many may find this story not particularly edifying, but I have included it because I do think it worthy of being recorded insofar as it shows his simplicity of mind and purity of heart. To such as these the Lord promised the kingdom of heaven: 'Amen, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew 18.3). So you must realise that in trying to sum up in a general way his manner and character, I am portraying him as he really was.
There was a certain military commander who in pursuit of his pastime of hunting came up into the mountain with his dogs and soldiers and all the paraphernalia of the hunt. He caught sight of Macedonius in the distance and his followers told him who it was. He immediately jumped off his horse and went up to speak to him
"Is there anything lacking in what I do?" he asked. Macedonius replied with another question.
"What have you come up here for?"
"To hunt," he said.
"I am a hunter too," he said. "I hunt for my God. I hope to capture him. I long to contemplate him, and I shall never cease from this beautiful quest."
The commander acknowleged that what he had heard deserved respect, and so departed.
There was a certain city which a demon inspired to run riot and deface the statues of the Emperor. As a result of this, some of the top military commanders came to the city with orders to put the citizens to the sword. Macedonius came down from the mountain and accosted the commanders in the market place. When they learned who he was they jumped off their horses, and embraced his hands and knees and wished him well.
"Tell your Emperor," he said, " that I am human with the same nature as those who have offered him injury, and although it is part of that nature to show anger, the anger he has used in this case is quite immoderate. To revenge what has been done to the images of himself, he proposes to kill the images of God. Does the destruction of bronze statues merit the death of human bodies? It is a simple and quick matter to refashion bronze statues, but can he, for all that he is the Emperor, bring back to life any bodies he has killed?"
He said all this in the Syrian tongue, but when they had heard an interpreter translating it into Greek they trembled, and signified their intention of passing the message on to the Emperor.
Now I am sure that you must all agree that these words came from the grace of the divine Spirit. How else could he have spoken in the way he did, a man of no learning, who had spent his life on the top of a mountain, completely simple in spirit, who had in no way been trained in divine eloquence? Now that I have made clear his spiritual wisdom, and how faithfully he adhered to the principles of justice (for he trusted in justice with the strength of a lion), I shall pass on to his miracles.
The wife of a certain wealthy nobleman was afflicted with a grievous eating disorder. Some said that this disease was the work of a vexatious demon, others that it was simply physical weakness, but whether this or that, the fact is that she was eating thirty chickens a day. She was simply unable to restrain her appetite, but kept on asking for more. Her whole life was directed towards this end, until her family, in pity for her, begged the help of that divine man. He came and prayed. With his right hand he made the saving sign over some water, which he then commanded her to drink. Her illness was cured, her immoderate appetite was restrained, and from then on she ate only a small portion of chicken per day. Such was the disease, such the cure.
When a certain girl took to her bed vexed by an evil demon her father hastened to the divine man, praying and crying and begging that he cure his daughter. He prayed and ordered the demon to leave the girl, but it replied that it was not there of its own will but at the command of a powerful magician. It also told him the name of the one who was behind it and said that his desire to possess the girl was his motivation. Hearing this did nothing to lessen the father's anger for he thought that his daughter could not be cured. So he went to the highest judge of all, the one who presided over the whole panel of judges, made his accusation and described the whole affair.
The accused man denied everything when brought to trial and declared that the accusation was slanderous. But he could not bring forward anybody to testify on his behalf except the very demon that was bound by the incantation, so he begged the judge to have recourse to that divine man and hear his testimony. The judge said that it would not be right and proper for him to hear the case in a monastery, so the girl's father said he would bring Macedonius down to the court, hastened up to him, managed to persuade him, and brought him back.
The judge moved out of the judgment seat; he became a spectator and not a judge. It was Macedonius who took on the function of being a judge, exercising his own inner authority. He ordered the demon to lay aside its usual mendacity and tell the whole truth about the tragedy. Vanquished by the greatest possible superior power, the demon named the man who had bound it with magic spells, and also the maid who had administered a potion to the girl. It went on to admit to other things it had done at the commands of others, burning a house, killing a beast of burden, putting a curse on somebody. The man of God then ordered it to be silent and depart at once from the girl and from the city. In obedience to the law of God the demon did what it was told and fled far off.
So the divine man freed the girl from her demonic possession, exonerated the poor wretch who had been accused, and enabled the judge to abandon the death sentence which he had been considering. These events should be enough to demonstrate the abundance of divine power which had been given to him, but I still have yet more to tell.
There was a woman called Assyria from a noble family, very wealthy, who became so mentally disturbed that she no longer recognised her own family and refused to take either food or drink. In the course of time she began to rave; some said she was possessed by a demon, the doctors said it was mental illness. After every possible remedy had been tried and had not brought her any relief, her husband, whose name was Abrodianus, a magistrate held in high honour, went to that divine fountainhead Macedonius, told him of his wife's illness, and begged him to effect a cure. The divine man agreed, came to the house and with great zeal offered urgent prayer to God. After praying he asked for some water, made the sacred sign over it, and asked her to drink it. The doctors protested that to drink cold water would only make the illness worse, but he drove the whole lot of them out, and offered the water to the woman. As soon as she had drunk it she came to herself, completely free from all illness. She recognised the divine man, asked him to give her his right hand and moved it to her mouth to shower it with kisses. From that time on she was completely sane.
The kind of life that Macedonius led began to spread through the mountains. One very dark night when snow was falling, a shepherd came looking for his wandering sheep near the place where the man of God was. He relates that he saw him surrounded in flames with two men in white garments stoking the fire. He quickly realised that the man of God was enjoying assistance from God.
He was no less gifted in respect of prophecy. A leading citizen came to him once, a man well known for his devotion and true religion (who has not heard of the virtues of Lupicianus?), and said that he was very worried about certain goods which were being transported to him by sea from the capital city. It was now fifty days since they left port and he had heard nothing from them.
"One ship," said Macedonius immediately, "has perished, but the other one will arrive tomorrow at the port of Seleucuia."
He listened to what Macedonius had to say, and experience later proved the truth of what he had heard.
Whatever else I might miss out, I must tell you about things to do with me. My mother had lived with my father for thirteen years without being blessed with any children, for she was sterile, naturally unfruitful. She did not grieve excessively about this, for she was well instructed in the ways of God and believed that it must be for her benefit. Nevertheless, while bearing patiently her sorrow of not having children, wherever she went she asked the servants of God to pray that children be given her from God. Some promised to do so, but urged her to be content with the will of God. Macedonius said quite plainly that he would pray to the creator of the universe, and promised that his prayer would be heard. But when three years went by and the promise had not been fulfilled, my father went to see him and reminded him of his promise. He was asked to send his wife to see him. When she came, the divine man told her that he would pray and that she would have the gift of a son, and that he must be dedicated to the giver of the gift. She was living her life seeking salvation for her soul and deliverance from the pains of eternal death.
"God will give you a son over and above that," said Macedonius, "for he is generous and bountiful and rewards twofold those who pray to him in sincerity and truth."
My mother went home blessed by that promise. And in the fourth year she conceived and her womb was quickened, and she hastened to the man of God and blessed him profusely.
But in the fifth month of her pregnancy she found herself in danger of having a miscarriage. She was too ill to go anywhere herself, so she sent a message to this new Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 4.16) to remind him of how she wished to have children and of what he had promised. He saw the messenger coming and knew why, for the Lord had revealed to him in a dream both the illness and the remedy. So he came, leaning on his staff, and gave his usual blessing of peace when he entered the house.
"Be of good cheer and fear not," he said then. "The giver of the gift will not deprive you of the gift, so long as you do not fail to keep faith with what has been agreed between you. For you have promised to give back to him the gift he will give you by consecrating him to the sacred ministry."
"That is what I choose and promise," said my mother, "though my thoughts are more on seeking the survival of this half-formed foetus than on the education of a son apart from God."
The divine man took water and blessed it.
"Drink this water," he said, " and be assured of the help of God."
She drank it as he had asked, and the danger of miscarriage passed. Such were the miracles of our own Elijah.
I often benefited from his blessing and teaching.
"My son," he would say, "your birth was brought about through much hard work. I spent many nights beseeching God that your parents would ensure that you would live up to the name given you when you were born. See that you live a diligent life as befitting one who had been dedicated by promises made before you were born. What is dedicated to God and is separate from the world is universally venerated, so it follows that you must not give room to thoughts of evil, but think and do only such things as are pleasing to God, the fount of all virtue."
The divine man often gave me lessons, and I learned to remember what he told me and that I was a gift from God. I won't go into details about everything he taught me, but I pray that through his prayers the assistance of God may be always with me, and that I may continue to follow his precepts for what remains of my life. I trust that what I have said is sufficient to show what his life was like and how his labours drew down the grace of God upon him.
His departure from this world was marked by honours worthy of his laborious life, for not only all the citizens and people from far and wide were there, but a number of important government officials, to whom was entrusted the task of carrying his sacred coffin on their shoulders. They carried it to the shrine of the sacred martyrs, renowned for their victories, where his sacred body, blest by God, was laid to rest along with the divine Aphraate and Theodosius. His glory is still with us and cannot be extinguished. But now I put an end to this tale, knowing what a beautiful inspiration can be drawn from his story.
We know of many other shining lights of devotion and true religion in the city of Antioch, the great Severus, Peter the Egyptian, Eutyches, Cyril, Moses and Malchus, and many others who walked this same path. But if I tried to describe the deeds of them all, all the time there is would not be sufficient. Besides, to read about an excessive number of them would be far too much for many people. But great praise is due to those who have been written about, as also indeed to those whose life we can only guess at. They are to be imitated, they bring great benefits. I, however, shall wander through the meadows of Cyrus [near Antioch], and describe the beauties of the fragrant and beautiful flowers to be found there, to the best of my ability.
In former times there was one Maesymas who displayed every kind of virtue. He was a country dweller whose first language was Syrian. When the quality of his life became known he was entrusted with the pastoral care of the village. He offered the sacrifice, and cared for the flock of God, and said and did all that the law of God required. They say he never had a new tunic or mantle, but mended tears in them with patches of old rags, and this was his way right up to the end of his life. He happily cared for the poor, and travellers; his doors were open to all who came. He is said to have had two dolia [large storage jars], one filled with grain, the other with oil. From these he supplied all the wants of the needy, for the blessing given to the widow of Sarepta (1 Kings 17, 9&14) was granted also to those two dolia.
The Lord hears the prayers of all who call upon him, and the sharing out of his water supply brought forth a harvest from the seeds of his hospitality, insofar as a plentiful supply was granted in response to the zeal of his spirit.
From the God of all he received the grace of doing miracles. I will mention one or two of them, but pass over the rest in order to hasten on to other people.
There was a faithful woman of noble family whose son of tender years became ill. She had several doctors come to see him, but when they had tried every remedy they could with no result they despaired, and declared that he was near to death. But the woman had hope of better things, and in imitation of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4.24) she ordered that a litter should be harnessed to her mules. She and the boy both arrived at the house of that divine man, showing her grief in weeping, and begging for his help. He took the boy and laid him at the foot of the altar and prostrated himself in prayer for healing both of body and soul. His prayer was accepted, and the boy was restored to his mother whole. I was told this story by her who witnessed the miracle and obtained healing for her son.
The ruler of the village was one Latoius, who was one of the chief senators of Antioch. He was totally godless, and demanded excessive dues from the local farmers. The divine man counselled clemency, and preached to him of the virtue of mercy, but he was obdurate, unwilling to suffer the loss of anything which could have been got for him. When it was time for him to go and collect his taxes, his chariot was got ready, he got into it and ordered the driver to set the horses going. They pulled with all their force, endeavouring vigorously to make the vehicle move, until it was noticed that the wheels of the chariot were tied up with iron chains and pieces of lead. When even a team of farm workers were unable to move the vehicle, one of Latoius' company realised why this was happening, and told him that the old priest had put a curse on him, and that he would have to placate him and get him to change his mind.
He jumped out of his chariot and came as a suppliant to him whom he had previously spurned. He fell at his feet, embraced him, dirty old clothes and all, and begged him to abate his anger. He listened to his plea, and offered his prayers to God. The chains on the wheels were loosened which before were firmly fixed, and the chariot was able to move as normal.
Many other things like this could be told about this outstanding divine person. But the chief lesson to be learnt by those who would pronounce otherwise, is that there is no reason why living in towns or villages should be a spiritual disadvantage. For this man shows that anyone who like him takes charge of the worship of God in the midst of crowds of people is equally able to achieve the heights of virtue. Would that I also, aided by their prayers, might be lifted up to at least some small share in their virtues.
Acepsimas was a contemporary of Maesymas, and his fame was widely spread throughout the East. For sixty years he was enclosed within his little dwelling, seeing and speaking to no one. He looked inwards where he might seek the vision of God, and this was all his delight, as the prophet said: 'Delight in the Lord and pray to him, and he will grant you all the petitions of your heart' (Psalms 37.4). He received the food brought to him through a sort of narrow gap in the bank around his cell, which was not straight in front of the cell so that he would not be directly opposite anyone who might be trying to catch sight of him. It went at an angle, and so constructed that it was in the shape of a curve. The food brought to him was lentils soaked in water, and once a week he would go out at night and draw up from a nearby well as much water as he needed.
A shepherd tending his sheep once saw him in the distance moving through the darkness and thought he was a wolf, for he was bent over with all that he was carrying. The shepherd picked up his sling, intending to throw a stone at him, but found that he was unable to move his hand in order to throw the stone, until the divine man had finished drawing his water and returned on the way home. He then realised his ignorance, and next morning he went to the little house where Acepsimas was training himself in virtues, and in a loud voice described what had happened and begged for pardon. He was forgiven for his sin, not by hearing any voice, but by the sight of Acepsimas' hand moving in a gesture of absolution.
Another person, with an ill-mannered curiosity and a desire of discovering what Acepsimas was doing all the time, climbed up into a plane tree beside the passageway, and immediately suffered the penalty of his audacity. For he became paralysed in a kneeling position from the middle of his body down to his feet, which made his wickedness very obvious. But Acepsimas, having first cut down the plane tree, indicated that all would be well. He had the tree cut down so that no one else could do the same thing and suffer a similar fate, but the rescue of the kneeling person followed the cutting down of the tree. Such was the strength of character and tolerance of this divine man. Through his struggles, however, he enjoyed much grace.
Not long before he departed this life, he predicted that his end would come in about fifty days' time, and he allowed inside all who wanted to see him. The bishop came to see him and urged him to accept the yoke of the presbyterate.
"I know, father," said the bishop, "how exalted is your way of life, as compared with my own poverty, but to me has been entrusted the pontificate, and it is by virtue of that that I lay hands on anyone to ordain them, not by any virtue of mine. So accept the gift of priesthood through the laying on my right hand and the grace supplied by the most holy Spirit."
"Seeing that I am about to depart this life in a few more days," replied Acepsimas, "I won't argue with your decision. But if I had been going to live much longer I would have fled from the grave and serious burden of priesthood, in fear of how I might be required to give an account of what had been entrusted to me. However, I've only got a few more days to go, so for the space of what time is left to me I gladly submit to your wishes."
And at once with no further prompting he knelt down in expectation of the grace of the Spirit, which would be administered to him by the laying on of hands. He lived only a few days as a priest, and then exchanged a life of burdensome responsibility for a life freed from senility and care.
There was a contention among the people about who should take possession of his body, everybody wanting to take it to their own villages. But the contention was silenced when someone revealed an oath concerning the holy man.
"This holy man," he said, "made me swear an oath that he would be buried right here."
So it is that even in death the true citizens of heaven manage to preserve their asceticism and simplicity. While they were alive it never occurred to them that anything would turn them into important characters, while in death they had no desire for human honour, for all their love was directed towards the bridegroom. It is the same thing with women who have the virtue of modesty. They desire to be loved and praised only by their husbands; they have no time for the praises of anyone else. And the husband for that reason declares how outstanding and beautiful she is, even if she does not want this, and so she shares in his glory in overflowing abundance. When anyone seeking God petitions heaven for anything he receives much more besides; his petitions are answered in overflowing measure. This is the rule he gives us in the Gospel: 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his justice and all these things shall be added to you' (Luke 12.31). And again: 'He who leaves father, mother, brother and children for the sake of my gospel will receive a hundredfold in this life and in the world to come life everlasting' (Matthew 19.29). Acepsimas followed these precepts in word and deed.
And in word and deed he is present with us as our teacher. We rely on his prayers to watch over us as we strive to attain the reward of our heavenly calling which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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