From The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks
When Macarius was living in the utter desert he was the only one who lived as a solitary, but lower down there was another desert where several brothers lived.
One day he glanced down the road and he saw Satan coming along looking like a man, who passed by Macarius’s dwelling. He seemed to be wearing a cotton garment full of holes and a small flask hung at each hole.
Macarius said to him, “Hey, mister, where are you off to?” He said, “I’m going to stir up the memories of the monks.” The hermit said, “What are these small flasks for?” He replied, “I’m taking food for the brethren to taste.” The hermit said, “So many kinds?” He replied, “Yes, if a brother doesn’t like one sort of food, I offer him another, and if he doesn’t like the second any better, I offer him a third; and of all these varieties he’ll like one at least.”
With these words he went on; Macarius remained watching the road until he saw him coming back again. When he saw the devil, he said to him, “Good health to you.” The other replied, “How can I be in good health?”
The hermit asked him what he meant, and he replied, “Because they all opposed me, and no one received me.” Macarius said, “Ah, so you didn’t find any friends down there?” He replied, “Yes, I have one monk who is a friend down there. He at least obeys me and when he sees me he changes like the wind.”
The hermit asked him the name of this monk: “Theopemptus,” he replied. With these words he went away.
Then Macarius got up and went to the desert below his own. When they heard of it the brothers took branches of palm to go to meet him. Each one got ready, thinking that it was to him that the hermit was coming. But he asked which was the one called Theopemptus, and when he had found out, it was to his cell that he went. Theopemptus received him with joy. When he was alone with him Macarius asked him, “How are you getting on?” Theopemptus replied, “Thanks to your prayers, all goes well.”
The hermit asked him, “Don’t your thoughts war against you?” He replied: “Up to now, it’s all right,” for he was afraid to admit anything. The hermit said to him, “Well, after so many years living as an ascetic, and being praised by all, though I am old, the spirit of fornication troubles me.” Theopemptus said, “As a matter of fact, Abba, it is the same for me.”
Macarius went on admitting that other thoughts still warred against him, until he had brought him to admit them about himself. Then Macarius said, “How long do you fast?” He replied, “Till the ninth hour.” “Practice fasting till a little later,” he said. “Meditate on the gospel and the other scriptures; if a bad thought comes to you, don’t look at it but always look upwards, and the Lord will come at once to your help.”
When he had given the brother this rule, Macarius returned to his solitude. He was watching the road once more when he saw the devil, and he said to him, “Where are you going this time?” He replied, “To stir up the memories of the brothers,” and he went on his way. When he came back the saint asked him, “How are the brothers?” He told him that it had gone badly and Macarius asked him why. He replied, “They are all obdurate, and the worst is the one friend I had who used to obey me. I don’t know what has changed him, but he doesn’t obey me any more; he’s become the most stubborn of them all. So I have decided not to go down there again or at least not for a very long time.”
When he had said this he went away and Macarius returned to his cell adoring and thanking God the Savior.