There is a temptation among us all to gloat when we are proven right. We especially tend to gloat when we had to endure a lot of criticism and insults until the truth came out on our side. For some, we just want our opponents to admit their faults. Others of us want to make a meal out of our “haters.”
To combat this tendency, God provides us with the example of St. Macarius of Egypt. This well-respected African saint is one that almost all Orthodox Christians are familiar with as his words are in our prayer books. Despite being sought after and honored by all races of Christian believers in life, he led an extremely austere life as a celibate monk with a simple diet and basic clothing. From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, we find this story (my paraphrase of it).
Macarius had taken the life of a hermit monk making hand crafts to support himself. A local man saw him as a spiritual guide and took the monk’s work to the local village market to sell for him.
A young lady in the village became pregnant. When asked who was the man she slept with, she lied and claimed it was the monk Macarius. The people of the village seized him and led him into town to be humiliated, beaten, and spat upon. The monk’s assistant also was tormented as he stood by the innocent man. Rather than try to plead his case, Macarius worked harder to make more crafts telling himself that he has to support his new wife and child.
When it came time for the woman to deliver, she went through great pain as she couldn’t give birth. When asked what was the matter, she confessed that she falsely accused the monk and that the father was another man. The monk’s assistant quickly went to the outskirts of town to tell Macarius that the woman admitted her lie and that the whole village was coming to repent and honor him for their years of disbelief and abuse. Rather than stay and receive them, Macarius fled his cave and went even further away to a desert where no one knew of what had happened.
I confess, I think I’d stick around for a few tearful apologies from the most irritating of the bunch. But, this story is so opposite of myself and most of us. Even though we may not want to put folk through the same cruelty they put us through, the object of our existence is not earthly glory from man under any circumstances. St. Anthony died far away from his followers so that his relics would not be found to be venerated by anyone. St. Moses the Black once disguised himself before a wealthy official as not to be discovered. Even our Lord when He had done mighty works in one village, did He not move on to another place to spread the Gospel (Mark 1:35-39).
How many of us strive to make a school honor roll not because we love learning the various subjects presented to us and challenging our minds, but for financial awards and praises from others? How many of us bust our butts on our jobs not because we find our careers fulfilling our interest and passions, but because we want that pay raise, promotion, and recognition as the best in the profession? While not every man or woman will be called to live in a cave or monastic cell, the monks and nuns remind us that there is a world beyond this one with greater glories than what this world can offer. While recognition may come our way in our academics, employment, or community service; we must accept such things with the greatest of humility and make sure our true aim is for the kingdom of heaven.
When we make the glories of the kingdom of earth our true aim, we fall into the temptation Satan tried to offer our Lord. The more we want earthly glory, the more we will serve the devil to get it. Which is why Jesus rejected the overt plan of the devil. Which is why Macarius fled the slippery slope of many praises that would have misled him. Let us not be fooled into seeking earthly glory.