reading books is good but possessing nothing is more than anything

Icon of St. Macarius the Great with a cherub. (The one written more recently is in higher resolution and from this blog.)

Saint Macarius, commemorated today, has many sayings collected. Here is one that should be a warning to me:

Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He went to Macarius, and said, ‘I have three good books, and I am helped by reading them. Other monks also want to read them, and they are helped by them. Tell me what to do.’ Macarius replied, ‘Reading books is good, but possessing nothing is more than anything.’ When he heard this, he went and sold the books, and gave the money to the poor.

And I’ve share this one before on this blog (from The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 15.32):

Within the heart are unfathomable depths. …It is but a small vessel: and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the Apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.

Finally, here is a story told of him:

Once, Saint Macarius was walking and saw a skull lying upon the ground. He asked, “Who are you?” The skull answered, “I was a chief priest of the pagans. When you, Abba, pray for those in hell, we receive some mitigation.”

The monk asked, “What are these torments?”

“We are sitting in a great fire,” replied the skull, “and we do not see one another. When you pray, we begin to see each other somewhat, and this affords us some comfort.”

Having heard such words, the saint began to weep and asked, “Are there still more fiercesome torments?”

The skull answered, “Down below us are those who knew the Name of God, but spurned Him and did not keep His commandments. They endure even more grievous torments.”

This story recognizes our current suffering as well as the love of Jesus Christ in his saints. May we weep with Macarius. Lord, have mercy. And Saint Macarius, pray for us.

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