LENTEN FIRE: February 19

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers 

A rag on his chest

It was said about Abba Arsenius that his whole life while sitting and working with his hands he would have a rag on his chest on account of the tears that fell from his eyes.

Abba Macarius and the skull

It is said about Abba Macarius the Great that when he was out walking in the desert he found the skull of a dead person thrown on the ground.  After moving it with his palm-tree staff, the old man said, “Who are you?  Answer me.”

The skull said to him, “I was high priest of the pagans who lived here.  And you – why, you’re Macarius the Spiritbearer!  Whenever you take pity on those being punished and pray for them, their punishments are assuaged a little!”

Abba Macarius said to him, “What do you mean by “assuaged”?

The skull said to him, “As far distant as Heaven is from the Earth, just as great is the fire beneath our feet and over our heads.  As we are standing surrounded by fire, it is not possible for anyone to see someone else face to face; rather, people are attached back to back.  When you pray for us, therefore, each of us can partially see the other person’s face.”

The old man wept and said, “God have mercy on the day a person is born if this is what ‘assuagement’ from punishment means!”  The old man once again said to the skull, “Is there some other form of torture worse than this?”

The skull said to  him, “There is greater torture below us.”

Macarius said to the skull, “And who are those who suffer this torture?”

The skull said to him, “Those of us who did not know God have a little mercy shown to us, but other knew God and denied him and did not do his will; these are the ones below us.”

After these words, the old man took the skull, buried it in the earth, and continued his journey.

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