From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers
Do what you can
A brother in Scetis fell one time due to temptation and went to Abba Macarius the Alexandrian and told him about the temptation. After the old man punished him with the bonds of asceticism so he would repent and not open his door for a time, the brother left; he was troubled, however, because of the temptation and was in danger and was not able to carry out the order that Abba Macarius had bound him with. Distressed by battle, he went to the other Abba Macarius, the Egyptian. He told him about the transgression and about his inability to carry out the order that Abba Macarius had bound him with.
The old man calmed the brother’s spirit and encouraged him in numerous ways, saying, “Go, my child. What you’re able to do, do; gird yourself not to ever commit that sin again.” This was his penance. The brother said to him, “What shall I do? I am troubled on account of the order that Abba Macarius has bound me with.” The old man said to him, “This order does not bind you; rather it binds Abba Macarius.”
When Abba Macarius the Alexandrian heard that the old man had told the brother, “This order binds Abba Macarius,” he fled into the marsh; he resolved to remain there, without coming into contact with anyone, until he completed the sentence that he had bound on his brother. He remained in the marsh many days until his body was swollen with mosquito bites.
Abba Macarius the Egyptian heard that the old man had fled to the marsh on account of what he had said. He went to the marsh and looked for Abba Macarius the Alexandrian until he found him. When he saw him, he said to him, “Venerable sir, I said what I did in order to encourage that brother, and you, when you heard, like a good virgin fled into the interior bedchamber. (Song of Solomon 1:1-4) Get up, then, my father, return to your cell.” Abba Macarius the Alexandrian said, “Forgive me according to the terms of what you told the brother, because what you said applies to me. Unless I complete the sentence that I bound on the brother, I will not leave.”
When Abba Macarius the Egyptian saw that he was firm in his decision to patiently endure his sentence, he encouraged him: “No; come with me and I will show you what you need to do.” Persuaded, Abba Macarius the Alexandrian went with him. Abba Macarius the Egyptian spoke with him on familiar terms. He said to him, “Go, spend this year eating once a week.”
This was not an order that he bound him with since before Abba Macarius the Egyptian had even spoken it, it was already the ascetic practice of Abba Macarius the Alexandrian to eat once a week.