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January 19, 2011

Saint Makarios the Great of Egypt

St. Makarios the Great of Egypt (Feast Day - January 19)

St. Makarios the Great was born in the year 300 and died in 390. Thus his life was passed entirely in the fourth century, that exceptional and remarkable period in the history of the Church. At its very beginning the persecution of three centuries against Christians came to an end, and there was born the great Byzantine/Eastern Roman culture which gave to the whole world for all times the greatest spiritual treasures which Orthodoxy contains.

In the epoch of persecutions every Christian had to be prepared at any moment for the exploit of confessing the Faith and suffering martyrdom. Such a condition could be the lot of only a few chosen ones. Now religion became accessible to the masses and the former high spiritual level was inevitably lowered. It began to be difficult to live in a Christian way in the world. The new epoch required a new means for acquiring "heavenly crowns." In order to attain passionlessness, one had to traverse a long path of battling with the passions. The martyr's exploit was replaced by a voluntary martyrdom: self-renunciation and asceticism, life in the desert amidst labor and privations. There began a great exodus into the desert. The epoch of monasticism was born.

A marvelous and striking spectacle is to be seen in the astonishing spread of monasticism at its very beginning. Egypt, where paganism had its chief support, where superstition and idol-worship reached the highest degree, now assimilated such a throng of monks that there were no fewer dwellers in the desert than there were in the cities.

"I saw in Egypt," testifies Rufinus, "fathers who live on the earth but lead a heavenly life ... new prophets, of whose worth there is the testimony of their gift of signs and miracles. None of them is anxious over food and clothing, for they know that after all these things do the Gentiles seek (Matt. 6:32). They seek justice and the Kingdom of God, and all this, according to the promise of the Savior, will be added to them. Their faith is such that it can move mountains. Thus certain of them by their prayers stopped river torrents that were about to inundate neighboring villages, crossed over Waters as on dry land, subdued wild beasts, and performed numberless miracles; so that there is no doubt that it is by their virtues that the world stands."

"The heavens, speckled with a multitude of stars, are not as bright," says Chrysostom, "as the Egyptian desert, which displays everywhere the huts of monks ... It is better than paradise, where we see in human form numberless choirs of angels, throngs of martyrs, assemblies of virgins; we see the whole tyranny of the devil overthrown, and the Kingdom of Christ shines."

The founder of monasticism was the great Anthony. His disciple and continuator of his work was the great Makarios.

St. Makarios was born in the Egyptian village of Ptinapor, which was situated not far from the Nitrian desert. The melancholy and solemnity of the place, the eternally clear sky, the majestic pyramids with their severe lines, the ruins of gigantic temples and buildings – all this earthly grandeur reduced to dust involuntarily called forth thoughts of the instability of everything earthly. In addition, these places were filled with remembrances of the great Old Testament events that had occurred here: all this disposed one to the contemplative life and to self-reflection.

The parents of Makarios, the Presbyter Abraham and Sarah, were of righteous life and, like the Old Testament forebears of the same name, lived to old age without having children. The birth of St. Makarios was foretold to his father by the Patriarch Abraham, who appeared to him in a dream, and then by an angel as well. Likewise in a dream an angel appeared to the Presbyter Abraham when he was sick, healed him and, predicting the birth of a son, said, "He will be a dwelling of the Holy Spirit and will bring many to God." The new-born son was given the name Makarios, which signifies "blessed."

This "chosen vessel" was distinguished by an extraordinarily sensitive conscience. The Saint himself related an incident from his childhood. His companions stole some figs from somebody's garden. In running away they dropped one. Makarios picked it up and ate it. For his whole life he grieved over his action and could not remember it without tears.

When Makarios grew up, he submitted to his parents’ will and, against his own wishes, entered into marriage; however, feigning illness, he evaded married life. Soon his wife died, and in a short time his aged parents also departed to the Lord.

Makarios prayed fervently that the Lord would send him a wise instructor in the spiritual life. By Divine inspiration there came to church an ascetic of fair appearance, with long hair and a beard, with a body weakened by ascetic labors. There Makarios met him. Spending the whole day in spiritual conversation in the cell of an anchorite, the exhausted Makarios fell asleep with the approach of night; the elder, however, stood at prayer and had a prophetic vision suddenly there appeared throngs of monks in white garments and with wings and began to walk around the sleeping Makarios, calling him to the service indicated to him by God. The elder advised Makarios not to postpone his intention to devote himself wholly to the monastic life. Makarios accepted the advice. Having given away all his possessions, he returned to the anchorite, who, accepting him with love, instructed him in the monastic life and in basket-weaving. He settled him in a separate: cell not far from himself where Makarios gave himself zealously over to ascetic deeds, advancing rapidly in the spiritual life.

Makarios acquired the love and respect of the residents of the nearby village, his native Ptinapor, and they persuaded the bishop who was visiting them to make Makarios a cleric of their church, despite: the fact that he was still very young. This was against the wishes of Makarios. A few days after his ordination as a deacon he left and settled near another village.

Here there came upon him a difficult trial which he bore with extraordinary good-heartedness, which testified of the already high degree of his spirituality. In this village a girl, being pregnant, under the influence of the evil spirit slandered Makarios, saying that he was the Cause of her sin. The enraged parents together with their fellow-villagers subjected him to beating and tortures. Leaving him scarcely alive, they obligated him to furnish support for the girl. Meekly and without murmuring, St. Makarios bore all this and began to work all the harder saying to himself: "Now Makarios you have a wife and children, and therefore you have to work day and night to furnish their support."

When it came time for the girl to give birth, the just judgment of God overtook her for several days she was in terrible torment and could not be delivered of her burden. Then she understood that this was a punishment for her slandering of an innocent man. She acknowledged everything and indicated the one who was really guilty. Heating this, all were greatly frightened, fearing God's chastisement for wronging the righteous one, and, bothered by their conscience, they decided to go to Makarios in order to obtain forgiveness for themselves. A friend of Makarios with joy forewarned him of this. But Macarius, who had willingly accepted dishonor, did not desire to receive honors and glory. At night he secretly left for the desert of Nitria.

There he lived and labored in asceticism in a cave for some time, and then went to St. Anthony in the desert of Pharan. For a long time Macarius had thirsted to see the great anchorite; the glory of his ascetic deeds and holiness had then' spread everywhere. Abba Anthony, trying the patience of St. Makarios, did not at once allow him into his cell. Then, opening the door, he greeted him, saying, "I have long desired to see you, Makarios!'' - and with love he accepted him, consoling and reassuring him.

Makarios remained a long time with Anthony as his disciple. When Makarios had completely matured for an independent anchoretic life, St. Anthony commanded him to depart to the desert of Scetis. At that time the Mount of Nitria and the desert of Cellia that lay immediately beyond it were already peopled with monks, whose dwelling there, with the blessing of Abba Anthony, had been begun by St. Amoun. The desert of Scetis lay some days' journey beyond the desert of Cellia. It was a wild, sandy desert, where only rarely were springs to be found, and then with scarcely potable water. To this place no road had been laid out, and one directed one's course by sun and stars. It was in this unpopulated and somber locality that St. Makarios settled, giving himself over to ascetic labors, unceasing prayer, and contemplation of God.

St. Makarios, like his Abba Anthony, began to be subjected here to demonic attacks. He had to fight day and night with the demons. Sometimes they fell upon him in fury in the form of various monsters; sometimes in the form of enraged soldiers with a wild roar and cry they fell upon him, as if wishing to kill him; and sometimes they strove to unsettle him by means of trickery. Thus once at night demons, taking the: form of angels, surrounded him and woke him up and said: "Arise, Makarios, and sing with us and do not sleep" But he, recognizing the demonic attack answered them without rising from his bed: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for your father the devil and for you'" The demons continued to call him to prayer, but not succeeding in this they began to beat him. The Saint, however, called out to the Lord: "Help me, Christ my God, and deliver me from those who encompass me, for a pack of dogs has encompassed me and opened their mouths against me!" And the whole multitude of demons disappeared suddenly with a great roar.

When St. Makarios was gathering palm branches in the desert, a demon encountered him and said to him: "I suffer a great sorrow in being unable to conquer you. Everything that you do I do also: you fast, and I eat nothing at all; you keep vigil, and I never sleep. In one thing only do you surpass me -- in humility."

Soon after St. Makarios had settled in Scetis, disciples began to gather around him. The more terrible was the desert of Scetis, the more courage was required to settle in it. And it was only such that St. Makarios accepted. And all his disciples surpassed the other monks, as much by their zeal for ascetic labors as by the perfection of their life.

St. Makarios was only 30 years old when he went off into the desert, and then he was already called "youth-elder" for his spiritual experience and wisdom. At about the age of forty St. Makarios was ordained priest. At this time he possessed already the gift of prophecy and wonderworking. He was always distinguished by exceptional emaciation, whether he had been fasting or not. When asked. the reason for this, the Saint replied: "As a poker used to turn burning logs and sticks in a stove is always being scorched by fire, so in a man who directs his mind always to the Lord and always keeps in mind the terrible torments of the fire of gehenna, this fear not only gnaws the body, but dries up the bones as well."

When the number of the brethren had significantly increased, St. Makarios erected four churches. Each church had its own priest. The monks lived in cells separately from each other. St. Makarios himself lived also separately far off in the desert and had with him only two disciples. From his cell the Saint dug a subterranean passageway a half-mile long, and at its end a small cave. When he wished to hide from his numerous visitors, he went off to the cave, and no one knew where he was.

St. Makarios continued to visit his teacher, Abba Anthony, often and he was enabled to be present at his blessed repose. He received St. Anthony's staff. This gift he received as a precious holy object, and there with the spirit of the great Anthony reposed upon him, as once the Prophet Elisha bad accepted the spirit of the Prophet Elijah.

Socrates, the biographer of St. Makarios, speaks of how he performed numerous miracles and freed so many from evil spirits that to describe it all would require a whole book. Here are some of them.

A certain man was burning with passion for a married woman, but she had spurned him. Then he turned for help to a sorcerer. In order to make the husband put away his wife, the magician by means of demonic sorceries cast upon her such a spell that she began to appear to everyone like a horse. The husband surmised what was the matter and brought her to St. Makarios. Those around him took her for a horse and prevented him from entering the monastery. St. Makarios, however, said to them: "You yourselves are like animals if your eyes see the form of a beast; but she, created a woman, will remain one, and only seems an animal to your eyes which have been deceived by sorcerers." Having blessed water, he poured it out upon the woman, and she instantly resumed her natural appearance. And he told the woman that her trial had been allowed because she had not communicated of the Divine Mysteries for five weeks.

St. Makarios' gift of working miracles was so great that he could raise the dead. Once the heretic Hierax, who taught that there would be no resurrection of the dead, appeared in the desert and began to disturb the minds of the anchorites. He came also to Scetis and, in the presence of Makarios and numerous brethren, began to unfold his teaching, mocking the Saint's simplicity of speech. Seeing that the brethren were beginning to waver, Makarios proposed that all go to the cemetery; there, having prayed, he turned to the grave of a recently deceased monk and loudly called him by name. He answered from under the earth. The brethren hastened to dig him up and brought him alive out of the grave. Struck with terror, the heretic took flight and, pursued by the brethren, left their boundaries.

On two other occasions also St. Makarios raised a dead man: once (witnessed by Abba Sisoes) to exonerate an innocent man accused of murdering the dead man, and once (related by Rufinus) to save a woman about to be sold into slavery with her children.

A multitude of pilgrims and the sick flocked to St. Makarios. For them a guest-house was built in the monastery. The Saint had the custom of healing every day, anointing with oil, only one sick man, with the wise intention that the sick, remaining longer in the monastery, would receive spiritual benefit.

Once there came a priest with his head afflicted with gangrene, with open wounds on his neck. St. Makarios explained the reason for this: the priest had dared to serve Liturgy after committing the sin of adultery. The priest promised never again to serve, and St. Makarios healed him.

Of the Saint's extraordinary power of prayer and his clairvoyance the following incident will testify. His young disciple was selling baskets and mats in town. Here he was subjected to the peril of falling when a harlot, wounded by the beauty of the youth, by cunning, under the pretext of buying something, lured him to her. When she began to incline him to sin, the novice cried out to the Lord: "O Christ and King, Who delivered HIS servant from the belly of the whale, deliver me also from this sin!" And instantly he was carried off and found himself in his cell in the desert, where he saw St. Makarios, who with his spiritual eyes had seen his disciple in danger and had prayed for him to God.

Abba Makarios constantly instilled the idea that the foundation of everything is humility: "If we see that anyone exalts himself and becomes haughty because he is a participant of grace, then even were he to perform signs and raise the dead, if he does not acknowledge his soul to be dishonored and debased, and himself poor in spirit and vile, he is robbed by malice and does nor know it." This feeling of humility in the presence of an abundance of the gifts of grace is explained by St. Makarios in an excellent comparison: "If a king leaves his treasure with a poor man, the one who receives it does not consider this treasure as his own property, but everywhere acknowledges his poverty, not daring to spend another's treasure, because he always reasons with himself: this treasure is not only not mine, but what is more has been left me by a powerful king, and he, when he wishes, will take it from me. Thus should those who possess the grace of God think of themselves. If they exalt themselves and their hearts begin to grow haughty, the Lord will take from them His grace, and they will be left the same as they were before receiving it." "If anyone says, 'I have enough and more than enough,' he is deceived and a liar."

St. Makarios related how once he had had a revelation that he had not attained as yet such perfection in virtuous life as two women who lived in town. Then he left immediately on the long journey to town and sought them out, and at his request they related to him the following concerning themselves: "We married two brothers and lived together in one house for fifteen years. During this time we did not utter a single malicious or shameful word and lived together in peace and harmony. We wanted to leave our husbands and go to a convent, but, even though we begged with many tears our husbands did not let us go. Then we made a covenant with God and among ourselves -- not to utter a single worldly word to our very death." And the Saint said; "In truth God seeks neither virgin nor married woman, neither monk nor layman, but a free intent, accepting it as the deed itself, and He grants to the free will of every man the grace of the Holy Spirit, which operates in a man and directs the life of everyone who desires to be saved."

"I am not yet a monk, but I have seen monks," said Abba Makarios to the Nitrian brethren, and related how once by inspiration from above he went to the inner desert and, coming to an immense marsh, saw wild animals who had come to drink water. Among them were two naked men. They informed the Saint that they had dwelt here for thirty years already and lived on the food of dumb animals. They informed the Saint that they suffered neither from frost in winter nor from heat in summer. "What must I do to be a monk?" Makarios asked them. They said: "If you cannot renounce the world as we have, then go to your cell and weep over your sins."

The gift of love in St. Makarios attained the highest degree. His love for his neighbor was revealed especially in his condescension to the weaknesses of others. By the testimony of the elders of Scetis, he was as it were an "earthly god" just as God, they said, while seeing the whole world docs not chastise sinners, so also Makarios covered up men's weaknesses, which as it were he saw without seeing, and' heard without hearing.

"Christians," he said, "should judge no one, neither an open harlot, nor sinners, nor dissolute people, but should look upon all with simplicity of soul and a pure eye. Purity of heart, indeed, consists in seeing sinful and weak men and having compassion for them and being merciful."

With meekness arid mildness Makarios directed his brethren, inspiring in them above all love for each other. He said: "If, in giving someone a reprimand, you come in irritation, then you are gratifying your passion. In this fashion, without saving others you cause harm to yourself as well."

Having received power over evil spirits, St. Makarios could see them with his spiritual eyes and enter into conversation with them. Once he saw a demon coming as if with gourd dishes hanging from him. Questioning him, the Saint discovered that he was going to a neighboring monastery to tempt the brethren. In the dishes various temptations had been prepared as if some kind of victuals. Finding out from the demon that a certain monk by the name of Theopemptus was to be subjected to temptations, Abba Makarios hastened to that monastery. All the brethren came out with palm branches to meet the great and renowned Abba. Each one hoped that he would stop at his cell, but the Saint went to Theopemptus. The latter was extremely gladdened and consoled by this. In conversation with Makarios this brother was ashamed to confess his impure thoughts, and even denied that they tempted him. Makarios said: "How many years I have labored in asceticism, and I, an old man, am troubled by the spirit of fornication." And Theopemptus replied: "Believe me, Abba, I am likewise troubled." The elder spoke also of other thoughts, as if they tempted him, and in this fashion brought the monk to complete avowal. Then, having given him instruction on the battle with thoughts and on fasting, he left him. And from that time [his brother labored in asceticism more than others.

With love and humility St. Makarios converted to Christ a certain pagan priest. A disciple of the Saint met him first and called him a demon. The indignant priest beat the monk almost to death. When, however, Makarios met him right after this and behaved kindly to him, this so affected him that he grasped Makarios' feet and said: "You are a man of God; I will not let you go until you make me a monk." Following the priest, many pagans too were converted to Christ. Recalling this incident, the elder said: "A bad word makes bad even the good, but a good word makes good even the bad."

One youth, desiring to become a monk, asked St. Makarios: “How may I be saved?" The latter sent him to the cemetery, at first to rebuke and then to praise the dead, and then asked him what they had replied. "They were silent both to praise and to reproach," replied the youth. "And so you too," said the elder, "if you wish to be saved, be dead like the dead: think neither of insults from men nor of human glory."

Let us cite several instructions of St. Makarios:

"If for you disgrace is like praise, poverty like wealth, insufficiency like abundance, then you will not die."

"If we shall remember the evil that men have done us, the remembrance of God will grow weak in us; but if we shall remember the evil brought upon us by demons, we shall be safe from their arrows."

Asked how to pray, he replied: "It is enough if you will often repeat from your whole heart: 'Lord, as it pleases Thee and as Thou knowest, have mercy on me.' And if temptation comes upon you: 'Lord, help me!' The Lord knows what is profitable for us and has mercy on us."

If we speak of Makarios the Great, we should make note also of his contemporary, St. Makarios of Alexandria. He was priest in a monastery in the desert of Cellia which adjoined Scetis and was a close friend in asceticism of Makarios the Great (known also as "of Egypt"). Like the latter he was a disciple of Anthony the Great and likewise was of lofty spiritual life. The two Makarii often met for conversation and prayer.

During the domination of the Arians in the reign of the Emperor Valens (364-378) there was a severe persecution of the Orthodox. After the death of Athanasius the Great his see in Alexandria was forcibly seized by an Arian, Lucius, who banished the canonical successor, Patriarch Peter. The Egyptian desert dwellers were zealous defenders of the Nicene Creed. Lucius attempted by cruelty and tortures to force them into Arianism, but he did not succeed in this. Then he began to send the holy desert dwellers into captivity. St. Makarios the Great and St. Makarios of Alexandria were among the first seized. Together with some of the brethren they were placed by soldiers in a ship at night and sent to an island where only pagans lived. But here also the Lord glorified His faithful slaves. The daughter of the local pagan priest was possessed by an evil spirit. Sensing the approach of the Saints, she ran out to meet them, calling in a loud voice: "Why have you come here? This island is our dwelling place from of old." The Saints drove the demon out of her. Then the father of the healed girl, and after him all the dwellers on the island as well, were baptized. When news of this reached Alexandria, Lucius, because of the danger of a popular uprising, was forced to return the exiles to their desert.

An extraordinary and irresistible impression was produced by St. Makarios on all who came into contact with him. Divine grace transfigured his whole being. It could be noticed in his glance, in his speech, and in that extraordinary love which poured out upon all around him. His word, even the simplest, was always uttered with authority. It created and built. Filled with divine wisdom and power, it penetrated to the very depth of the human spirit. Even those who didn't know St. Makarios recognized him instantly amidst other monks by his extraordinary appearance.

Not long before the death of Makarios, the desert dwellers of the Mount of Nitria appealed to him with a request: "Father, so as not to trouble: the whole multitude of the brethren with coming to you, do you yourself, before: you depart to the Lord, come to us." When the: Saint came: to them, all with great joy came out to meet him. The elders begged him to give them all instructions, and St. Makarios said: "Let us weep, brethren: let our eyes pour out tears before we depart for a place where our tears will burn our bodies." All burst out weeping, fell on their faces and begged: "Father, pray for us!"

St. Makarios possessed the grace-bestowed gift of tears. He often shed them and said : "You will become worthy of the vision of the wondrous and blessed images of the Jerusalem on high in no other way than by day and night shedding tears according to the example of him who said: Every night I flood my bed, I water my couch with my tears (Ps. 6:7). A tear shed from great sorrow and heartfelt distress is food for the soul, given from heavenly bread."

For sixty years St. Makarios lived in his desert of Scetis, and at the age of 90 he departed to the Lord. Not long before his death, there appeared to him from the world above his Abba Anthony the Great, chief of the desert dwellers, and Pachomius the Great, founder of the coenobitic monasteries in Egypt. They said, "Rejoice, Makarios; the Lord Jesus Christ sent us to announce to you your joyful death. On the ninth day after today you will depart into eternal life. On that day we shall come again to you and with joy shall take you with us, so that together with us you might appear before the Lord's Throne and enjoy immortal life." St. Makarios summoned the brethren. He instructed them to preserve strictly the rules of the fathers and the traditions of the monks, placed the more experienced and advanced brethren as teachers among them, blessed all, bade farewell to them, and in solitude began to prepare for his departure.

On the day of his death a Cherubim appeared to him with a multitude of angels and said: "Arise, O follower of the Lord, and come with us into eternal life.” The Cherubim indicated to him the throngs of saints who had come out to meet him: "Behold the assembly of apostles, behold the throng of prophets, behold the multitude of martyrs, behold the choir of holy hierarchs, fasters, monks and righteous men. Give Unto me now your soul, which I was commanded by God to preserve during its earthly life." With the words, "Into Thy hands, 0 Lord, I commend my spirit," St. Makarios departed to the Lord.

The compiler of his life, Bishop Sarapion of Thmuis, relates how he heard from St. Paphnutius, the disciple of St. Makarios, that certain of the fathers saw with their mental eyes the ascension of the Saint's soul, as they saw also standing in the distance legions of demons who cried out: "You have escaped our hands, Makarios, you have escaped!" Only after having reached the gates of paradise did Makarios answer: "Yes, guarded by the power of my Christ, I have escaped your snares'"

Anthony the Great, in his God-inspired insights, gave a direction to monasticism for all times, both by his instructions and rules for beginners and for those in various stages of spiritual development, and by his guidance for the accomplished. It remained for following generations only to discover and develop the possibilities which the great Anthony gave them.

Makarios the Great, the disciple and closest friend of St. Anthony, having attained the measure of his Abba, not only assimilated his teaching, but in his writings transmits also his own contemplations and insights. His Homilies are founded on personal experience, and therefore their language is clear, expressive, and possessed of an extraordinary imagery and power. His teaching is the writings of a dweller of heaven, a heavenly man. To him, who had attained perfection, the spiritual world and its laws were open. He beholds the soul and sees all that takes place in it. He indicates to it the path to perfection. He is entirely caught up in contemplation of God and in exaltation. To him the great Secrets of the world above are open.

His writings speak to us chiefly of deification. He develops the philosophy of communion with God, although he built no philosophical system. "Genuine philosophy is ascetical doing, the acquisition of the Spirit of Wisdom and Reason. A God-bearing contemplator or seer of mysteries is a true wise man or lover of wisdom (philosopher)." He speaks of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. External labors -- fasting, vigil, prayer -- are only means to this and are not in themselves an end. This teaching of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit comes down through the centuries to our own great Seraphim. In the renowned Conversation with Motovilov St. Seraphim reveals to our whole contemporary world this ancient yet all-but-forgotten teaching.

As a precious heritage of the spiritual wisdom of St. Makarios, there remain to us fifty of his Homilies and seven Ascetic Treatises.

Several prayers written by Makarios the Great have entered into Church use. These are:

From the Prayers before Sleep, the first prayer, “O Eternal God," and the fourth, "What shall I offer Thee."

From the Morning Prayers, the-first prayer, “O Lord, cleanse mc," the second, "Having risen from sleep," the third, "To Thee, O Lord," the fourth, “O Lord, Who in Thy abundant goodness," and according to Greek manuscripts the ninth also, "O Holy Angel."

The relics of St. Makarios the Great repose in Italy, in the city of Amalfi on the Gulf of Salerno, not far from Naples.


Apolytikion in the First Tone
Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Makarios, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The Lord God established thee, O great ascetic, in the house of abstinence, like an unerring star that lit the farthest regions with guiding light, Father of Fathers, O venerable Makarios.