Our Holy Father Macarius (Makarios)the Great (ca. 390)
He was born around 300 in Egypt and in his youth was a camel driver. While still living in his village, he withdrew to a small cell to devote himself exclusively to ascesis and prayer. When the people there wanted to make him a priest, he fled to another village. There a young woman who was discovered to be pregnant falsely accused Macarius of being the father. Macarius was seized, reviled and beaten, but made no effort to defend himself; instead he took on more work in order to provide for the mother and her child. When his innocence was finally discovered, the townspeople came to ask his forgiveness; but he fled to the desert of Sketis (now called Wadi Natrun). He was then thirty years old, and for the rest of his life he dwelt in the desert.
His humility and detachment from earthly things were so great that once, when he discovered a thief stealing his few possessions, he helped the man load them onto his camel, even pointing out to him the few things he had missed. Once a demon spoke to him thus: “Everything you do, I do too: you fast, but I never eat; you keep vigil, but I never sleep; you only exceed me in one way: your humility. Because of this I am helpless against you.” The Saint said that the demons could be put in two categories: those who arouse passions such as anger, lust and greed; and others, much more dreadful, who deceive us by spiritual illusion, blasphemy and heresy.
Saint Macarius soon became known throughout Egypt, and many visitors came to his isolated home. He welcomed all with joy, judging no one and providing hospitality for all. His compassion extended to all, and he prayed even for the damned. Once he found the skull of a pagan priest, which addressed him, saying, “Each time you have pity on us who are in torment, immersed in fire and darkness, we receive a measure of comfort and are allowed to see the faces of our fellow sufferers.”
Saint Macarius became a disciple of St Anthony the Great, and in his turn became the spiritual Father of many who came to live near him in the desert. He is considered the founder of the ancient and venerable monastic community at Sketis. At the age of forty he was ordained a priest at the urging of St Anthony, so that he and his brethren would not have to walk the forty miles of desert to Nitria to go to church.
Knowing that he was soon to die, he visited his disciples one last time, saying to them with tears in his eyes, “Let us weep, brethren, so that our eyes flow ceaselessly with tears, before we go to where our tears will scald our bodies.” Soon thereafter he reposed. His relics now rest in the Coptic monastery that bears his name. The collection of fifty Spiritual Homilies attributed to St Macarius is a treasury of Orthodox spirituality.
Our Holy Father Mark Eugenikos, Metropolitan of Ephesus and Confessor of the Orthodox Faith (1443)
This holy defender of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church labored in the final days of the Byzantine Empire, when, pressed on all sides by the Turks, the Emperor in desperation sought union with (or rather submission to) the Papacy in hopes of obtaining aid from the West. It was St Mark who stood almost alone to prevent such a disaster to the Faith.
He was born in Constantinople in 1392 to devout parents. He received a thorough education and seemed destined for a secular career, but at the age of twenty- six he abandoned all worldly claims and became a monk in a small monastery in Nicomedia. Soon the Turkish threat forced him to return to Constantinople, where, continuing in the monastic life, he wrote a number of treatises on prayer and the dogmas of the Church. In time he was ordained priest, then, at the insistence of the Emperor John VIII Paleologos was made Metropolitan of Ephesus. The Emperor also prevailed on him to join the delegation which traveled to the Council of Florence to consider the reunion of the Orthodox Church and the churches under the Papacy. (Saint Mark went as exarch of the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, who were unable to attend.)
The Greek delegation included the Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople. All, including Metropolitan Mark, began with great hopes that a true union in faith might result from the Council, but as the sessions proceeded, it soon became clear that Pope Eugenius and his theologians were interested only in securing submission of the Eastern Church to the Papacy and its theology. The Metropolitan spoke forcefully against various Latin dogmas such as the filioque and Purgatory, but the Greek delegation, desperate for western aid, bowed to expediency and agreed to sign a document of Union which would have denied the Orthodox Faith itself. Saint Mark was the only member of the delegation who refused to sign. When the Pope heard of this, he said “The bishop of Ephesus has not signed, so we have achieved nothing!”
When the delegation returned to Constantinople, the signers of the false Union were received with universal condemnation by the people, while Metropolitan Mark was hailed as a hero. The churches headed by Unionists were soon almost empty, while the people flocked to the churches headed by those loyal to Orthodoxy. Saint Mark left the City to avoid concelebrating with the Unionist Patriarch. He was exiled by the Emperor to Lemnos, but was freed in 1442. He continued to oppose the Union until his repose in 1444. In 1452 the Union was officially proclaimed in Constantinople, but the hoped-for Western aid was not forthcoming, and the City fell to the Turks in 1453.