St. Macarius the Egyptian was a Coptic desert father of the early 4th century. While details of his life are scant, he is thought to have been born around the year 300 A.D. He is mentioned in the Apophthegmata (‘Sayings’) of the Desert Fathers and was likely an abbot in one of the monasteries at Scetis in Lower Egypt (today’s Wadi El Natrun). The “Fifty Spiritual Homilies,” at least in some form, are generally ascribed to him but with little external evidence. Regardless, they are masterpieces of spiritual direction and insight and great treasures of the universal Church.
A Christian man has a twofold warfare set before him, an inward and an outward, the latter, in withdrawing from earthly distractions; the former, in the heart, against the suggestions of the spirits of wickedness.
The man who wishes really to please God, and is in truth an enemy to the opposite party of evil, has to wrestle in two conflicts and two contentions—one in the visible affairs of this life, by withdrawing from earthly distractions and from the love of worldly ties and from affections of sin—the other, in hidden things, by fighting against the spirits of wickedness themselves, as the Apostle said, We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
When man transgressed the commandment, and was exiled from Paradise, he was bound down in two ways and with two different chains. One was in this life, in the affairs of this life, and in the love of the world, that is to say, the love of fleshly pleasures and lusts, of wealth, and glory, and possessions, of wife and children, of kinsfolk, of country, of particular places, of clothes, and of all other things of sense, from which the word of God bids him be loosed by his own free choice—since what binds every man to the things of sense is his own consent—in order that, having loosed and emancipated himself from all these, he may be able to master the commandment perfectly. But besides this, in the hidden region, the soul is hedged and hemmed and walled round, and bound with chains of darkness by the spirits of wickedness, unable to love the Lord as it would, or to believe as it would, or to pray as it would. On all sides, both in things manifest and in things hidden, contrariety has come down to us from the transgression of the first man.
Accordingly, as soon as a man hears the word of God, and makes the effort, and casts away the affairs of this life and the bonds of the world, and denies all the fleshly pleasures, and looses himself from these, then, when attending constantly upon the Lord and giving all his time to Him, he is in a position to discover that there is another wrestling, in the heart, another hidden opposition, and another war with the suggestions of the spirits of wickedness, and another contest in front of him. Thus standing steadfast and calling upon the Lord in undoubting faith and much patience, and looking for the succour that comes from Him, he is enabled to obtain from that source inward deliverance from the bonds and hedges and earthworks and darkness of the spirits of wickedness, which are the workings of the hidden passions. 4. But this war can be brought to nought by the grace and power of God. By himself no man can deliver himself from the contrariety and error of thoughts and of unobserved passions and of devices of the evil one.
If, however, a man is entangled among the things of sense by the affairs of this world, and meshed in various earthly bonds, and carried away by the lusts of evil, he does not so much as discover that there is another wrestling and pummelling and battle within. Let it be that when a man makes the effort and takes himself away, and looses himself from these visible bonds of secular and material affairs and fleshly pleasures, and begins to attend constantly upon the Lord, emptying himself of this world, he is then at length in a position to recognise the inward wrestling of passions in the field against him, and the inward battle, and the evil thoughts: if, as I said before, he does not make the effort, and deny the world, and loose himself from earthly desires with all his heart, and determine wholly and entirely to cleave to the Lord, he does not discover the error of the hidden spirits of wickedness, and the hidden passions of evil, but is a stranger to himself, as one who knows not that he is wounded, and has hidden passions without being aware of them. He is still bound to the visible order, and entangled with the affairs of this world, and does not mind it.
The man who has really denied the world, and has made the effort and flung off the burden of the earth, and has taken himself away from the vain desires of fleshly pleasures, and glory, and authority and human honours, and has withdrawn from them with his whole heart—since the Lord secretly helps him in this open effort, in proportion to his denial of the will of the world—and has taken his stand to serve the Lord, and attended constantly upon it with his whole self, body and soul, this man, I say, finds contrariety, and hidden passions, and unseen bonds, and secret battle and effort, and hidden striving; and thus beseeching the Lord, and receiving from heaven the armour of the Spirit, which the blessed apostle reckons up, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, and arming himself with these, he will be able to stand against the hidden wiles of the devil amidst the wickednesses of the present. Having provided himself with this armour by all prayer and perseverance and supplication and fasting, and all by faith, he will be able to fight out the battle against the principalities and the powers, and the world rulers; and thus having overcome the opposing forces by the co-operation of the Spirit and his own earnestness in all virtues, he will become meet for eternal life, glorifying the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; to whom be glory and might for ever. Amen.