Life of St Macarius of Rome (continued), Book Ib
(Also St Posthumius further down this page)
"At last I knew I was the unhappy victim of the devil's tricks. I rushed out of the cave, beating my breast and pouring forth floods of tears. My companions, the lions, must have realised my sinfulness, for they both fled from my sight. When I saw them go, I began to call devoutly upon the mercy of Christ, with great grief and lamentation, begging that he might order them back again, if only I might be given a rule of penance. And immediately the most merciful Father allowed me to do penance and called the lions to come back straight away.
"They came back with me into the cave and they dug a hole in the earth as long as a human being, into which I lay down and I ordered the lions to bury in that place up to the neck. I spent three years buried in that trench. During a very heavy rainstorm the roof of the cave suddenly gave way over my head, and I could see light. I put my hand outside and was able to feel the herbs which I could pick and eat.
"After three years the lions came back, and seeing the light shining round me they dug away the earth which was covering me, and I came out totally healed in body, and feeling all my pristine virtue restored. I glorified my Lord Jesus Christ, went outside the cave, knelt on the ground and stayed there without moving for forty days and forty nights, praising and praying to God, and giving him thanks for the great gifts of mercy which he ever shows to us sinners.
"At the ending of those forty days I went inside the cave and behold, the four corners of the cave shone brilliantly with a heavenly light and I saw the human form of our Saviour Christ, holding a golden rod in his hand, and singing a marvellous song in the sweetest of voices, and the voice was as loud and strong as if it were the voice of a thousand. When the heavenly voice of the singer had come to an end, suddenly a voice proclaimed three times: 'Amen, and forever, Amen'. At that moment the Saviour left the cave and ascended up to heaven, and a tall pillar of fire came down into the cave like an extensive cloud. There were thunderings and dazzling lightnings, and I heard all the birds of the air singing each in its way, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord our God'. When I saw and heard the immensity of the vision I was terrified. Caught up into an ecstasy, I fell to the ground and remained there for eight days, and then I understood how Christ our Lord, the Saviour of the world, had gone into the cave and blessed it.
"I then went into the cave and began to make reparation for my ignorance and negligence, praising and glorifying Christ our Saviour and redeemer and creator of all, who had borne with me so patiently, and led me to penitence, and finally had shown me such great mercy. These things all happened when I had been in the cave seven years at the age of forty.
"See now, my beloved sons, I have given you a true account of my life. Now think, if you are able to withstand all the attacks of the wicked enemy, stay here with me. But if not, go back to the monastery from which you came, and may the Lord be with you on your journey."
Having listened to what the holy man of God had told us we fell to the ground and glorified the Lord who alone does great marvels, and replied to Macarius, the holy servant of God.
"Most blessed father Macarius, pray for us to the Lord that we may be able to return to our monastery and spread the tale of your holy life throughout all the churches of Christ, for we believe that it was for this very purpose that the Lord guided us to you."
The old man then poured out prayer for us for a long time, and blessed us all and embraced us, and commended us to Christ that he might direct our ways in peace. Then he handed us over into the care of the two lions, giving them instructions that they were to guide us as far as the place of darkness, where the darkness had encompassed us for seven days and seven nights. Macarius, the holy servant of Christ, bade us farewell, and we quickly came back to the arch of Alexander, where the lions saluted us and with hurried steps returned to the servant of God.
By the favour of Christ we continued on our journey without any difficulty, and entering the land of the Persians came to that wonderful plain called Assia where the holy Mercurius had killed the apostate Julian. We entered the city of Kitissifodo, the place of the three children, not far from Babylon. We crossed the river Tigris, and on the fifteenth day arrived at Jerusalem and prayed at the sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ and at all the other holy places, pouring out thanks to Christ the Saviour of all who had preserved us in safety both going and coming. Leaving there we swiftly arrived back in our monastery and found our hegumen and all our brothers safe and well. We told them in due course all the wonders we had seen and heard, the merciful acts of the Lord, and the life and doings of the most blessed Macarius. They praised and glorified God for everything they heard, singing hymns to God the Father Almighty, and his only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour, and the lifegiving Spirit who enlightens our souls, three persons in one God, who lives and reigns to be blessed and praised everywhere, now and always, and through deathless ages of ages. Amen
Life No 14
The Life of the blessed Posthumius,
the father of five thousand monks.
by an unknown author
As with great longing you have ever desired to hear about what is holy, so we have a duty of care in this respect, lest the times are passed over in silence. So therefore we cannot stay silent about the works of the Lord, unceasingly shown forth in his servants. First and foremost, then, you should be told about the holy servant of God, Posthumius, and the manner in which God deigned to call him into his grace, according to the accounts given by those who witnessed the unfolding of his life. It has been my care to provide these writings for your delight, inasmuch as the Lord is able to manifest the mysteries of his kingdom to those who believe in him, even through the efforts of untutored rustics such as myself.
Posthumius was a native of Memphis, of noble birth, blameless in childhood, unskilled in letters, unaffected by all the pernicious doctrines of the Egyptians, as never having had any truck with the delusions of that race. He was a weaver of ropes, and did not frequent the company of other young people, so never at any time shared in the fripperies of public society, dancing was never something that attracted him. Throughout the whole of his life obscene language never proceeded out of his mouth, and his heart was completely free from avarice. Even while still living in the word he never gazed at young women, and lying was something he avoided with all this strength. He expressed hatred for neither neighbour nor stranger. At all times he preserved peace in his soul.
He had reached the age of thirty-seven living like this, when it pleased God to call him out of the corruption of sin into the incorruption of eternal life. For and angel of the Lord appeared to him as he was weaving his ropes.
"Posthumius," called the angel.
"What is it?" he asked.
"What is that in your hand?"
"A rope I am weaving."
"Do you know the most high God who is in heaven?"
"Sir, I have no notion of a god in heaven. I am a simple rustic with no learning. I have been plying my trade from my infancy up, and have never had the opportunity of learning anything from people who live in cities. I have always avoided company."
"Pray to God and he will give you both wisdom and knowledge."
"I don't know how to pray to God. I wouldn't know what to say."
The Angel took a laurel leaf, wrote the words of a prayer on it and gave it to Posthumius.
"Eat this," he said, "and it will taste as bitter as gall. But it will fill your heart with prayers for wisdom, give you an outline of prayer and sound doctrine."
Posthumius took it and ate it, and it was bitter to his mouth. But then his heart was filled with sweetness, and he mightily magnified the Lord. We may truly believe that what was happening to him was the same as what happened to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3.3) and the apostle John (Revelation 10.9), who ate and were filled with wisdom and prophecy.
The angel of the Lord then touched the lips of Posthumius. The bitterness was dispelled and his tongue spoke of the mighty works of God.
"Posthumius," the Angel then said, "Kneel on the ground and face the East, and what you must pray will be given to you by God."
Posthumius knelt on the ground and faced towards the East, and he was filled with prayer.
"I will bless you, O Lord God Almighty, king of heaven, who make your name known to those who know you not. Your name is made manifest through our Lord Jesus Christ, your son, who gathers to himself a people called out every nation. To bring succour to the world bowed down with its burdens, you did not spare your only-begotten son, for the sake of the salvation of the human race. Through him, by your mercy, I pray that you may show light to them that sit in darkness. You know, O Lord, that I have no store of words, and yet you have given me the gift of being able to speak to you, and you have taught me what I should pray for. For I know in myself, O Lord my God, that verily the blind see, the deaf hear, the tongues of the dumb are loosed, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the poor have the gospel preached to them, and sinners are called to repentance. (Matthew 11.5).
"Who am I that you should be mindful of me? How is it that my weakness has prevailed in your sight that you have come and sought me? Wherefore I pray now that you may wash me from the stains of those sins which belong to the misery of my natural state. They have long oppressed me, for I lived in unfaithfulness, brought up by my parents to live in the manner of the gentiles like a dumb beast. You have sent me your Angel and struck my thigh (Genesis 32.25), you have opened up my heart of stone. Woe to him who keeps silent about you, for he shall suffer for ever in the burning fire. I have learned in a brief moment that there is no joy for the ungodly in your sight, nor relief for the wicked after death, for unless they turn to you they cannot be saved. But since it has seemed good to you that I should not be lost, O Lord the redeemer of my lowliness, lead me into even better things yet, that I may fully know Jesus my Lord and Saviour who is one with you, who is blessed for ever."
This is the first prayer that holy Posthumius made, through which the angel of the Lord led him into the path of seeking for true faith.
Posthumius eagerly expected that the angel of the Lord would visit him again. He trusted and hoped that the Lord would always favour him in this way. And behold, a few days later, as he was twisting ropes from rushes as usual, the angel of the Lord came in to him.
"Hail, Posthumius," he said, as Posthumius rose to his feet in awe. "Is it your will that I should take you to a priest of God who will baptise you in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit?"
"O my lord, holy messenger of God," replied Posthumius, "that is the great joy that I desire above all else, for you would be teaching me the fulness of the pathways of God, and how to bring to perfection the works of supernatural grace."
The angel of the Lord seized him by the hair of his head and carried him off to a certain holy man called Priscus, who feared God.
"Teach this man about the way and wisdom and knowledge of the Lord," the angel said to Priscus, "and baptise him in the name of the Father, Son and holy Spirit."
The priest of the Lord was delighted to hear this, though he did not at first realise that it was an angel of the Lord who was introducing him, until the Angel was suddenly transformed before his very eyes into a splendid figure of beauteous countenance, clothed in shining white garments. The priest of God was afraid, and flung himself to the ground, but the Angel immediately raised him up.
"Fear not," the Angel said, "I am the guardian of you and of all your brothers. It was necessary that you should be shown the glory of our God (Revelations 22.16), so that you should learn how to teach this man the word of the Lord and enlighten him about the path of salvation, so that he might live for ever with the Lord."
Having spoken thus, he departed from them.
Bishop Priscus took Posthumius into his care and taught him about fasting. He laid his hands on him and enrolled him as a catechumen, and very soon taught him the meaning of the Sacrament and baptised him. At his baptism he was filled with the holy Spirit, and spoke this prayer:
"I give you thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ, that through your holy Spirit you have deigned to reconcile me to God the Father, and have redeemed me from death and the eternal punishment prepared for those who do not believe in you and who are burdened with the weight of their own sins. For the sins from which you have happily delivered me were heavier than lead, and I rejoice in being freed from all my iniquities and my bondage to them. Truly there is no respect of persons with God (Acts 10.34), and his mercies are manifold. How could I, unworthy as I am, become part of your new creation unless you touched me with your heavenly finger? You have come swiftly to my aid; you have overthrown the hostile law reigning in my members, and cleansed me by water and the rebirth of the holy Spirit. There is a renewed spirit giving voice in me, who for such a long time have lain prostrate among the lost sheep.
"I rejoice in having been enrolled under the sign of a great name, like a soldier assigned by grace to the following of an Emperor. Dumb, I have been given a voice, and I long to bear witness to your children in a hymn of praise, for you have brought me out of captivity. In your wisdom you have sought out the foolish, you have brought life, you have refreshed the needy, you have brought the dead back to life, you have called me from afar to approach your majesty; although a stranger to the fellowship of Israel, by the grace of Christ you have willed me to be one with the Communion of Saints. Therefore I cleave to you. and when you have taught me how I shall sing psalms to your name, I shall sing and bless your name for ever and unto the ages of ages."
At the time when Posthumius was baptised he was quite unlettered, but he grew in the name of the Lord with increased faith and virtue from day to day. He was on fire with a zeal for brotherly love, and bound himself to all the brothers in the bonds of humility. He keenly felt the demands of love, and sought out all the brothers who were members at that time of the local churches. He learned how to sing the psalms, he chastised his body with fasting, day and night he prayed to God. He dined on the herbs of the field, his drink was cold water. He covered his body with a hair shirt and tired himself out by running about in the desert in order to subdue his body. He considered it a sin to neglect any part of his routine. He avoided idle speech, he learned how to bend his ear to the divine books. He detested all bad language. He was a model of purity in all his prayer.
He ceased not from weeping, and when as often happened he suffered from the attacks of demons he found safety in the fortress of prayer. To avoid over indulgence in sleep and to avoid pandering to his mortal limbs, he would sleep for a little while on stony ground, and when the hardness of his bed made his body ache he would get up and continue with the work of God. He allowed himself bread and water in due measure, but never got up from the table with a full stomach or with his thirst completely quenched, for he said it was not fitting to obey all the demands of the body. He practised obedience and taught it, and he bore patiently and humbly with people who were angry or proud. When Satan tried with his wiles to divert him from his purpose, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and immediately knew that help from above was there for him. Right through to old age he continued his way of life as he had begun it. To the very end, he used these methods of practising contempt of the body.
If ever he was afflicted with a fever or severely tormented by stomach pains he did not give way to his illness. He would not look for extra warmth, or lessen his fasting, for he said that if he pandered to his body with hot meals he might lose the redemption of his soul from the Lord. But if ever he was so severely ill as to lose all the strength of his legs so that he was not physically capable of getting up to keep vigil, he still did not cease to pray and sing psalms as he lay. If his tongue was dried up with thirst he felt uncomfortable in his inmost being, lest the devil, the soul's enemy, should rejoice, and a holy man of God should be found negligent in the work of God. But when he seemed to be permanently distracted by such thoughts he went to the bishop who baptised him, and asked for his blessing to go out into the most hidden parts of the desert without taking any food with him, and stay there for a long period of time to meet the numerous attacks of the demons. And the Lord, who had converted this venerable man from the world, fortified his heart to be able to withstand all the demons' craftiness.
Posthumius' way of life became known to blessed Antony's disciple, the holy Macarius, who began to hold his name in such high regard that it seemed good to him to go and visit him in the desert. Now this same Macarius had been left in charge of Antony's monks. There were almost fifty thousand of them, disciples of that illustrious man. Macarius knew that the time of his departure from this world was drawing near, and he was wondering whom he might ask to take charge of this flock of the Lord after his death.
When the holy Macarius met the holy Posthumius he took him gladly to his heart, not least because he had heard of his reputation from an Angel. He had not come merely for the sake of making a visit, but to make an assessment of his character. And Macarius found Posthumius' whole way of life very pleasing, and began to suggest to him that it might be a good idea for him to come and see the legacy of the holy Antony, prince of anchorites. Posthumius had no desire to go there at all, and resisted the idea with all his strength, but when he was warned in a dream to go without delay, he found himself unable to deny the divine majesty any longer. So in the company of Macarius he undertook the journey and came to that vast company of monks, governed by Macarius alone, who, as we have often said, had been the one to bury the body of the master after his soul had been called out of this world.
Now that he could see the end of his own life in this world approaching he called the holy Posthumius to talk to him.
"Look, brother, the time of my departure is at hand. I have heard of your good reputation, and as my general debility increases I have come to believe that the end of my old age will be of great relevance to you. You have done well to come here with me. Now take up the governance of this flock of God with paternal love. Don't ask whether it will be useful to you, but rather whether it will benefit the salvation of many (1 Corinthians 10.33). Do not run the risk of losing the grace of that honourable reward which you will receive from the Lord in due season."
The holy Posthumius fell down at his feet.
"Dearly beloved father," he said, "How can you think of placing on me the care of this great multitude? I am only an unlearned rustic. Seek out men of merit who are better fitted than I to care for the souls of so many people."
"I am not listening to your excuses," said Macarius. "I do not accept them as valid. All these men will be under your direction, for there is no other man of such great abstinence with the capability of guiding the souls of these people, and dealing sympathetically with them. Beloved brother, I can assure you that the Lord himself by his own choice has named you as being the one to take over the ministry in this place. And there is no way that I can countermand the decrees of heaven."
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