October 15, 2015

Old Man Makarios of Kapsala, the Drunk Hesychast

By Athanasios Rakovalis

All monks are not the same, nor are all athletes or doctors or anyone else. Some make progress and become distinguished while others are mediocre, some excel while others fail in their purpose. However, they all have their place in life, and God's criteria for them may be different than ours ... much different.

In God's eyes poor Lazarus was successful, who lived life as a beggar, and not the foolish Rich Man, with his many riches and worldly "success". In God's eyes the sinful Publican was successful, who was devastated by the sins he actually committed, and dared not to lift his eyes to heaven, but merely begged God humbly: "God be merciful to me, a sinner." In God's eyes the Pharisee was unsuccessful, who although was religious and kept God's commandments, yet his soul was inflated with pride and considered himself superior to the Publican and others. God abhorred him.

We must therefore be careful with things. Let us not judge what we see. For what happens in the depth of the human heart we cannot see. Therefore, "let us stand well, let us stand with fear." I came to know of the existence of Elder Makarios by hearing him. One evening I heard him yelling.

"Who's yelling?" I asked the hesychast who was giving me hospitality and teaching me iconography.

"Ah! That is old man Makarios. He's probably drunk again and he's singing," he told me, as he continued digging his garden. There was a moment of awkwardness. I asked myself: So there exist monks who get drunk? I didn't expect this.

"Go tomorrow to see if he needs anything," he told me.

"Yes Elder," I answered, for I was happy to meet such a peculiar ... hermit.

"Bring him some food and bread also."

The next day early in the morning, I got directions, loaded my bag and took off. I wandered and struggled, since the path was nearly closed due to all the branches. Then I arrived at his cell. It was a beautiful cell, like a painting, hidden among the trees and wild flowers. Maintenance was needed, but it was still standing. Outside the door between two stones was a pitch-black pot that was empty.

"He cooks outside?" I asked myself. I called out for him once, then again, but old man Makarios did not answer.

"Perhaps he's afraid? Perhaps he thinks I'm some sort of thief?"...

I went to stand in a spot where he could see me. In such isolation there were scoundrels who would beat old men until they told them where they had hidden their money. How far the madness and evil of humans can reach!

Suddenly the door opened and an old man appeared who was dragging his feet, wrapped in a small cassock of a descent style.

I thought: Was it a small sacrifice he was making by staying here in this place? An eighty year old man, helpless, in the woods, in isolation? Is this some small thing? For example, what sacrifice have I made for Christ?

I didn't disdain old man Makarios at all, rather, I liked him and appreciated him.

Slowly he came to trust me and opened the door. "What would you like me to do for you, Elder? Is there any work you want me to do for you?" I asked him once, and I asked him again. He politely refused, because he didn't want to burden me.

At a loss in asking him questions, he said to me:

"You want to make some wine?"

"I don't know how, Elder."

"I know how. I'll tell you."

"Where will we find grapes?"

"I'll tell you."


In the past, when people lived in this area, there were clusters of vines, that although remained for so many years without care, they still produced grapes. Old man Makarios told me to find them.

I filled a sack three times and threw the grapes in a wooden rectangular barrel. Then, with a freshly cut branch I hit them hard and made them pulpy. Lastly, we made the wine.

Old man Makarios was happy, and so was I. It seems wine was his consolation. He didn't want to go to a monastery where they would make him live as if in an old age home, although it was several times suggested to him.

He didn't want to leave the place where he had spent the majority of his life, the "place of his repentance," as he would call it. His passion was evident and it humiliated him. A monk who would get drunk! A hesychast, a hermit, who drank ... and would get drunk! Unthinkable!

But his virtues were hidden and could be seen only by those who looked upon him with kindness.

How did Father Makarios spend his days when he wasn't drunk? Do we know of his ascetic feats? Perhaps he shed tears of repentance like the Publican?

Surely he didn't abandon his spiritual rampart, his hesychastic arena. Is not courage needed to remain alone in the seclusion of the forest? Must one not have patience in hardships, in the deprivation of goods, in being blockaded in the snow?

Did this old man not have self-denial when he voluntarily stayed away from medical assistance or human consolation which he would have had in the monastery old age home?

Are these small things? Has he not stayed throughout his life at the feet of Christ? Has he not spent his entire life living in the church?

I'm not saying he excelled in everything, but he died as a contestant. So what if he got drunk? What of the fact that he would fall? What person has not fallen? Who knows his hidden life? Who knows how God will ultimately judge him?

Source: From the book The Wilderness of Kapsala. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.