He who has chosen the eremitical life ought to regard all things in this world as strange and as the cross of Christ, denying all things, ‘even his own life also,’ (Luke 14.26). He ought to have his mind focused on the love of Christ and prefer the Lord to parents, brother, wife, children, friends, possessions. This the Lord taught, saying: ‘Everyone that has not left father or mother or brothers or wife or children or lands and does not follow me, is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10.37). In nothing else is there found salvation for men and rest as we have heard.
How many kings have appeared from Adam’s race, possessing dominion over all the earth, thinking great things because of their kingly power! And yet none of them, for all that they had in their favour, had the power to know the evil which had infiltrated the soul because of the first man’s transgression and had darkened it. They did not know the change that had come over the mind that at first was pure and contemplated the Master and was held in honor. And now on account of its fall the mind is clothed with shame and the eyes of the heart are blinded so as not to see that glory which our father Adam before his disobedience beheld.
There have been diverse wise men according to the world, among whom some were noted for their ability in philosophy, others have been admired for their sophistic abilities, others for their oratorical skill, still others were men of letters and poets and composed summary histories. There also were various artisans who practiced the arts according to the world. Some carved in wood types of birds and fishes and images of men and in those they diligently sought to display their talent. Some fashioned by hand bronze statues similar to real humans and other things. Others build mighty and very beautiful buildings. Others dug out of the earth silver and gold that perish; others sought precious stones. Others possessed beauty of body and were pleased with their comeliness, and, all the more enticed by Satan, they fell into sin. And all of these artisans, being captured by the serpent dwelling within them and, not knowing the sin that abode in them, became slaves of the power of evil. They profited nothing from their knowledge and art.
Therefore, the world, filled with every variety, is likened to a rich man who possesses splendid and big houses, gold and silver and various possessions and all kind of service in abundance. But he is still seriously laden with sicknesses and afflictions and his whole family stands around, with all his riches, and is unable to relieve him of his infirmity. Thus no pursuit in this life, no brothers, no wealth, no courage, none of all the things mentioned above relieve man of sin, man who has been submerged in sin and cannot see things clearly. Only the presence of Christ can purify soul and body. Therefore, let us put aside every care of this life, and, crying out to the Lord night and day, let us devote ourselves to Him. This visible world and the rest found in it seem to comfort the body, but they aggravate all the more the passions of the soul and increase its suffering.
A certain prudent man desired to apply himself diligently. He strove with care to gain experience of all the things of this world, if he might be able to find some profit from them. He went to kings, potentates, rulers, and found no healing cure there to help his soul. And after spending much time with them, he found no improvement. He went again to the wise men of this world and the orators. He left them again in the same way, not having found any help. He toured the rounds of painters and those who mine gold and silver from the earth, and all the artisans, and he was unable to find any healing for his own wounds. Finally, having left them, he sought God for himself, the One who heals the sufferings and sicknesses of the soul. But as he was pondering about himself and meditated on these things, his mind was found wandering distractedly among those things from which he had visibly withdrawn out of hatred for them.
Take the example of a certain woman in the world who is rich with much money and a magnificent house, but she lacks any protection. And those who attack her to injure her and lay her buildings to waste are many. She, refusing the injury, goes out to seek a powerful husband, capable and educated in all respects. And after much struggle she finds such a man. She rejoices in him and has him as a strong wall. In the same way, the soul after transgression, and for a long time having been afflicted by the adverse power and having fallen into great devastation, ‘a widow and desolate’ (1 Timothy 5.5), was deserted by her heavenly Husband because of disobedience of the commandment. She was made fun of by all the opposing powers (for they drove her out of her mind and confused her in her heavenly knowledge), so she does not see what they have done to her, but only things she was born like this from the beginning. Then, after she had learned through hearing of her solitude and barrenness, she deplored her desolation before God, the Lover of mankind, and found life and salvation. Why? Because she went back to her family. For there is no other family tie and helpfulness like that between the soul and God and between God and the soul.
God made various kinds of birds. Some to fashion their nests in the earth and there to have their nourishment and rest. Others he ordained to build their nests under water and there to have life. He fashioned two worlds: one above for the ‘ministering spirits’ (Hebrews 1.14), and he arranged it that they have their communication there; the other world is below for men under this atmosphere. He created also sky and earth, sun and moon, waters, fruit-bearing trees, all kinds of animals. But in none of these did God rest. All creation is ruled by Him, and still He did not establish His throne in them nor did He enter into fellowship with them. But it was only with man that He was pleased, fellowshipping and resting in him. Do you see the relationship of God to man and of man to God? Therefore, the wise and prudent person, after passing through all creatures, took no rest in himself, but only in the Lord. And the Lord was well pleased in nothing except man alone.
If you raise your eyes to the sun, you find its orb in the sky, but its light and rays stretch to the earth and all the power of its light and its splendor is aimed at the earth. So also the Lord sits at the right hand of the Father ‘above all principality and power’ (Ephesians 1.21), but He casts His eye on the hearts of men on earth, in order that He may raise up to where He is those who accept help from Him. For this reason He says: ‘Where I am, there shall my servant also be’ (John 12.20). And again Paul says: ‘He has raised us up together with Him and made us sit together with Him at His right hand in heavenly places’ (Ephesians 2.6). Irrational animals are much more consistent than we. For they are all joined, each to its own nature, the wild animals to the wild and sheep to their own species. But you do not rise up toward your heavenly family with is the Lord, but you give yourself over and consent in your thoughts to the thoughts of evil. You make yourself a helper of sin and you wage war with it against yourself. Thus you make yourself a prey for the enemy, like a bird caught by the eagle and eaten up, or the sheep by the wolf, or an ignorant child that would be bitten by it and would be infected. For the parables act as models in the spiritual life.
As a wealthy maiden, espoused to a fiancé, may receive no matter how many gifts before the consummation, either ornaments or clothing or precious vessels, she is not satisfied with these until the time of the marriage arrives and she arrives at full communion, so the soul, betrothed as bride to the heavenly Bridegroom, receives as pledge from the Spirit gifts of healing or of knowledge or of revelation. But it is not satisfied with these until it reaches the perfect communion, that is, of love, which is unchangeable and unfailing. It makes those free from passion and agitation who have desired it. Or as an infant, decked out with pearls and costly clothing, when it is hungry, thinks nothing of the things it wears, but ignores them. It cares only for the breast of its nurse, how it may receive milk. So likewise consider it to be with the spiritual gifts of God to whom be glory forever. Amen.
St Macarius the Great. Homily 45