“It was said about Abba Macarius…” This is how most of the sayings about Abba Macarius begin. One saying is about a time when God spoke to him and said that he had not yet reached the level of spiritual maturity that two laywomen in a nearby town had reached.
Early the next morning, Abba Macarius left his cell to walk to the town. Led by an angel, Abba Macarius found the house and knocked on the door. The two women opened the door; and when they figured out who was standing there, they made a prostration and asked for his blessing. The old man explained to them why he had come and asked them to reveal to him their way of life so that he might benefit from it.
Really, we have to stop here and make a few comments. Abba Macarius was a very famous ascetic and holy man. This is why the two women bowed before him and asked his blessing. He was the sort of man whose name weaker brothers would drop to make themselves seem important: “The last time I saw Abba Mararius I heard him say….” Here was the man of God standing on the door step of these two women’s home asking to know how they lived their lives. No wonder they respond, “Why do you inquire about the way of life of those who are defiled?” Abba Macarius asks their forgiveness, but insists that they tell him how they live, “for it is God who has sent me.”
Now the women are really shaken. The text says, “They became fearful and revealed everything to him.”
These two women were unrelated, but together had decided to leave their husbands and begin a life of virginity and prayer (in a monastery, apparently). However, their husbands would not allow it. So the two women agreed that for the rest of their lives they would never speak of anything worldly, but would direct their thoughts to God and the saints at all times devoting themselves unceasingly to “prayers and fastings and acts of charity.” The story doesn’t tell us what happened to their husbands. We don’t know if they are sharing the house as two married couples, or if the husbands live in different houses or if the husbands have died or left them. We don’t know.
What we know, what the women tell us, is that for fifteen years “we do not recall that we have ever quarrelled with one another or that one of us has ever said an idle word to her companion. On the contrary, we are always at peace and of one mind.”
Hearing this, Abba Macarius says, “Truly, it is not the name ‘monk’ or ‘layperson’ or ‘wife and husband’ but an upright disposition that God seeks, and he give his Holy Spirit to all of these people.”
“And after the old man had profited from meeting the two women, he returned to his cell… saying, ‘I have not been at peace with my brothers like these lay women have with one another.'” And here the saying ends.
According to the teaching of the Church and this particular saying from Abba Macarius, holiness is not the result of a particular calling or mode of life. Monks can be saints, and monks can be wicked. Married people can be holy, and they can be selfish and manipulative. Each of us in whatever condition we find ourselves in may begin RIGHT NOW to devote ourselves completely to God. We can direct our thoughts to God at all times and just not speak about worldly things. We can not quarrel. We can say prayers as we are able, fast as we are able, and do acts of charity as we are able. We don’t have to be something else somewhere else to begin to be holy.