01 February 2009

St Macarius the Roman of Novgorod (†1550)

Among the other Macarii commemorated today, I’d like to mention St Macarius the Roman of Novgorod (†1550), also commemorated 15 August it seems (The Northern Thebaid: Monastic Saints of the Russian North, compiled and trans. Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] and Hieromonk Herman [Podmoshensky] [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995], p. 140). This St Macarius was born into a wealthy family in Rome and was well educated. But between the religious turmoil of the Protestant Reformation and the decadence of the 16th-c. papal church in Rome, the young man was concerned for the salvation of his soul and searched the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers for guidance. Astonishingly, our Lord revealed to him that he needed to be Orthodox, and so St Macarius took a staff and left home as a literal pilgrim to Orthodoxy. He journeyed all the way to Novgorod and to the monastery of St Alexander of Svir. According to Nun Taisia, ‘There he was warmly received. St. Alexander united the newcomer to the Orthodox Church, accepted him into the brotherhood and, finally, tonsured him, giving him the name Macarius’ (‘Two Converts from Rome’, Orthodox America).

Soon, however, St Macarius was drawn to the life of the desert-dwelling anchorites. He withdrew into the forests and settled on a small island in the river Lezna, 45 miles from Novgorod, where he built a cell, dug a spring, and gave himself to ceaseless prayer and ascetic struggle.

Although the venerable one tried to conceal himself, the Lord led the faithful to him, and sometimes fiery pillars or fragrant clouds were seen over his hermitage. Eventually, people began to ask him for guidance, and a church and monastery dedicated to the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos were built. St Macarius was ordained and enthroned as abbot of the monastery around the year 1540. He worked many miracles and had the gift of clairvoyance. Many people were healed by drinking water from the spring he had dug. He fell asleep in the Lord on the feastday of the monastery, 15 August 1550. According to Nun Taisia, ‘In his testament, St. Macarius enjoined the monks to adhere strictly to the monastic rule, to spread the Gospel and take care for the spiritual enlightenment and the needs of the local people.’ She concludes:

St Macarius’ Hermitage was always poor and small in number. Over the years it suffered many misfortunes and by the mid-19th century there remained little but ruins. Local inhabitants, however, piously recalled its holy founder. They continued to take holy water from the spring and, on the days of his commemoration, gathered by the thousand. Finally, in 1894, the hermitage was restored by a missionary abbot, Arsenius, and became a missionary monastery with a strict Athonite typicon. It belonged to those numerous but little-known, small monasteries which had such a great influence on their surrounding populations.

One can see a picture of the Dormition Monastery church and another of the pathway to St Macarius’s island through the marshes of that region in Northern Thebaid, p. 141. Here is St Macarius’s Life told briefly in Russian.

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