Macarius Alexandrinus, Saint


A fourth-century monk at Kellia (feast day: 6 Bashans). He is surnamed the Alexandrian or the Citizen to distinguish him from his contemporary, the celebrated Saint MACARIUS THE EGYPTIAN. He was born at the end of the third century in Alexandria, where, before becoming a monk in circumstances not known, he practiced the profession of a mime, or according to other sources, a merchant of preserved fruits. He died in 394 in the desert of the Kellia at almost 100 years of age.

PALLADIUS, who arrived in the desert in 391 and devoted to him chapter 18 of his Lausiac History, knew him there over three years. He was then the priest of the monastic community of the Kellia, where the “Origenist” monks grouped around EVAGRIUS PONTICUS and AMMONIUS OF KELLIA were numerous. He was probably in sympathy with their ideas. Evagrius mentions him several times in his books and consulted him as a master (cf. Guillaumont, 1971, pp. 698-99). Although resident in the Kellia, according to Palladius, he had small cells in various places, such as in NITRIA and in SCETIS, where he is found in company with Macarius the Egyptian, with whom he suffered exile in 374 at the time of the Arian persecution.

Comparison has often been made between the two Macarii, equals not only in age but also in ascetic virtues, spiritual gifts, and authority. The historian Socrates (Historia ecclesiastica 4.23) says that the Alexandrian was very similar to the Egyptian, but that while the latter was austere and reserved, the Alexandrian was smiling and loved to banter with the young monks. We can, in fact, see him bring some humor even into his numerous ascetic exploits.

Quite early there was confusion of the two in the stories, especially in the reporting of miracles, of cures, of resurrections of the dead, and even of fantastic tales like the visit far into the desert paid to the mythical paradise of Jannes and Jambres, pharaoh’s magicians in the far-off times of Moses. This story is told of the Alexandrian by Palladius (chap. 18) and by the Latin recension of the HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTO (chap. 29), but also of Macarius the Egyptian in the Greek recension of the same work (Festugière, 1971, chap. 21). The same confusion appears in the APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM. The alphabetical collection places only three apothegms under the name of the Alexandrian (304-305), but among the forty-one placed under the name of the Egyptian (257-282) several probably belong to the Alexandrian.

Macarius the Alexandrian left no writings. The monastic rules put into Latin under his name, whether alone or in association with others (PG 34, pp. 967-982), certainly do not come from him, for there was no written rule at the Kellia in his time, any more than in Nitria or in Scetis. The same is true of a discourse on the fate of souls after death, transmitted in Greek under his name (385-392) and attributed by the Syriac tradition, equally wrongly, to the Egyptian (Lantschoot, 1950, pp. 159-89).


  • Cotelier, J. B., ed. Apophthegmata Patrum. PG 65, pp. 71-440. Paris, 1864.
  • Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi’n Natrun, pt. 2; The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and Scetis. New York, 1932.
  • Festugiere, A.-J. Historia Monachorum in Aegypto. Edition critique du texte grec et traduction annotée, chap. 21. Brussels, 1971. Guillaumont, A. “Le Problème des deux Macaire dans les
  • Apophthegmata Patrum.” Irenikon 48 (1975):41-59.
  • Guillaumont, A., and C. Guillaumont, eds. Tractatus practicus by Evagrius Ponticus, 94. Paris, 1971.
  • Lantschoot, A. van. “Révélations de Macaire et de Marc de Tarmaqa sur le sort de l’âme après la mort.” Le Muséon 63 (1950):159-89.


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