MACARIUS THE EGYPTIAN, SAINT, or Macarius the Great
The illustrious fourth-century anchorite in the desert of SCETIS (feast day: 27 Baramhat). He was called the Great, or the Egyptian, to distinguish him from his contemporary, MACARIUS ALEXANDRINUS. A monastery in Scetis is still called by his name, DAYR ANBA MAQAR.
Macarius the Egyptian was born about 300 in the village of Jijber, situated in the southwest part of the Delta. After living for some time as a hermit near a village, he withdrew about 330 into the Wadi al-Natrun. He first established himself near the lakes that occupy the bottom of the wadi, then penetrated farther south into the desert region where DAYR AL-BARAMUS is today. He there prepared for himself a cave comprising two rooms, one of which served as an oratory.
He then received his first two disciples, to whom tradition has given the names of MAXIMUS AND DOMITIUS, called the Romans. Later he reached the western part of the wadi and installed himself in a cave not far from the place where the monastery that bears his name stands today. It appears that there quickly gathered around him a numerous community of monks who desired to live following his example and his directions. According to RUFINUS (Historia ecclesiastica 2.4) and the SYNAXARION (13 Baramhat), he was deported with Macarius Alexandrinus during the Arian persecution in 374 to an island in the Delta. He returned shortly afterward to Scetis, where he died about 390.
The Coptic sources—the Life of Saint Macarius (falsely attributed to SERAPION OF TMUIS), the collection of the Virtues of Saint Macarius, and the Arabic-Jacobite Synaxarion—have a tendency to exaggerate Macarius’ relations with Saint ANTONY. Saint Antony is said to have given him the monastic habit, then advised him to accept priesthood. Furthermore, confusing him with another Macarius, superior of the monastery of Pispir, they have him present at the saint’s death and burying his corpse. However, Macarius’ relations with Antony are well attested by the APOPHTHEGMATA PATRUM, which reports two visits made by Macarius to Antony. He can be considered a disciple of Saint Antony.
The prestige and authority of Macarius were great even during his lifetime, not only among the monks of Scetis but also among those of the deserts of Nitria and the KELLIA. EVAGRIUS PONTICUS, a resident in the Kellia, traveled about 25 miles (40 km) to Scetis to consult Macarius, who was considered by Evagrius to be a master. It was said of Macarius that he was “a god on earth.” Immediately after his death, perhaps even in his lifetime, marvelous stories were spread about him, attributing to him many cures and miracles, sometimes confused with those attributed to Macarius Alexandrinus.
According to a narrative preserved in Coptic about the translation of the relics of Saint Macarius, and according to the Arabic-Jacobite Synaxarion, the people of Jijber, learning of the miracles wrought around his tomb after his death, stole the body of Macarius and carried it to their village to a church specially built to receive it. After the ARAB CONQUEST OF EGYPT, since Jijber was in ruins, the body was transferred to another town, Elmi, and in the time of the Patriarch JOHN IV (775-799) brought back to Scetis, where it was deposited in the church of Dayr Anba Maqar, where it is venerated today.
Various writings have come down under the name of Macarius. The only one that has some chance of being authentic is a letter known in Latin under the title Ad filios Dei, extant also in Syriac and Armenian and in the original Greek text, recently edited by W. Strothmann. A rich collection of treatises, letters, and homilies has been handed down in Greek under his name (and sometimes under that of Macarius Alexandrinus), among them the famous fifty Spiritual Homilies, some passages of which are found again in the collection of the Virtues of Saint Macarius, a late compilation of Greek origin. But since L. Villecourt showed the close relation of these homilies with the Messalian movement, it is generally admitted that these pseudo-Macarian writings are in reality of Syrian origin.
- Amélineau, E. Histoire des monastères de la Basse-Egypte. Annales du Musée Guimet 25, pp. 46-234. Paris, 1894.
- Cotelier, J. B., ed. Apophthegmata Patrum. In PG 65, cols. 257-81. Paris, 1864.
- Dorries, H.; E. Klostermann; and M. Kroeger. Die 50 geistlichen Homilien des Makarios. Berlin, 1964.
- Evelyn-White, H. G. The Monasteries of the Wadi’n Natrun, pt. 1; New Coptic Texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius, pp. 120-35. New York, 1926. Pt. 2. The History of the Monasteries of Nitria and Scetis, pp. 60-72. New York, 1932.
- Festugière, A.-J. Historia Monachorum in Aegypto. Edition critique du texte grec et traduction annotée, pp. 123-28. Brussels, 1971.
- Guillaumont, A. “Le Problème des deux Macaire dans les Apophthegmata Patrum.” Irenikon 48 (1975):41-59.
- Strothmann, W. Die syrische Überlieferung der Schriften des Makarios, pt. 1, pp. 74-84 (Syriac text); pt. 2, pp. 16-22 (Greek text); pp. 50-55 (German translation). Wiesbaden, 1981.
- Villecourt, L. “La Date et l’origine des ‘Homélies spirituelles’ attribuées à Macaire.” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, pp. 250-58. Paris, 1920.
- Wilmart, A. “La Lettre spirituelle de l’abbé Macaire.” Revue d’ascétique et de mystique 1 (1920):58-83.