A Hermit Community in the Desert

The web site of the Monastery of St Macarius, originally established in approximately 360 AD by Saint Macarius of Egypt, and restored after 1969 under the spiritual leadership of Father Matta El Meskeen (1919-2006), seems to have remained unchanged since the death of Father Matta: http://www.stmacariusmonastery.org/eabout.htm
Matthew 4
It expressed a unique approach to a monastic community that is, essentially, a community of Hermits in the tradition of the Desert Fathers. The impression is of an anarchistic community of individuals united not by rules and regulations but by a common, but individually adapted, life, following a primitive (in the historical sense) monastic tradition. It is unclear as to the extent that the tradition of the Monastery may have changed after the loss of Father Matta.
“The single requirement the spiritual father lays down for the acceptance of a postulant is that he should have sensed within his heart, even though it be only once, a feeling of love for God, for it is the love of God which unites and rules our community day by day. We have no other law than submission to the will of God through loving Him. And as the will of God is declared principally in the Bible, attention to God’s Word, in both the Old and New Testaments, has become our main work and the source from which we continually satisfy our thirst for Him and nourish our love towards all mankind.
The only law of the monastery is love, without rules or limitations, as it was revealed to us on the cross. This love is at once the motive and aim of all our actions, efforts and sacrifices, and most of the monks have acquired a profound experience of the divine love.
The spiritual father, who has spent 35 years in the monastic life, is the director of the whole community and of each monk individually. It is he who helps each one of us discern the plan of God for his life, and it is he who, as it were, takes the place of a monastic rule. He is a living rule which is adapted to each life, to each monk, to each vocation, and which is itself constantly renewed, progressing with each monk along the path that leads to God. The spiritual father is himself being continually renewed in his inner life, and this renewal overflows to the whole community. We are not guided by predetermined principles, but by the Spirit of God in us and especially in the spiritual father, who guides us. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (II Cor. 3:17). The aim of the spiritual father is first to live according to the Spirit himself, through inner illumination, taking care to maintain conformity with the tradition of the early Fathers of the Church and the monastic life. He then leaves to the Lord the task of communicating this inward experience to his spiritual sons by a special grace, so that they too may live in the inner liberty of the Spirit. He is therefore careful never to impose his own personality, but to leave each man to develop freely in his own vocation, fulfilling his own spiritual character. Any perceptive visitor notices the united spirit of all the monks as well as the clear personality of each. In this way spiritual men are formed among us, who have acquired an experience of God and know how to be spontaneously led by the inner light of the Spirit. It is men of this kind that the world needs.
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We have no rules of penance or set methods of chastisement, for love is more effective than any disciplinary measure. Our sense of being pilgrims in the world makes it easy for us to submit to each other out of love for Christ.
We have no very precise timetable; each monk arranges most of his own time under the guidance of the spiritual father. But a bell wakes us at three in the morning for private devotions, each monk in his own cell saying the midnight office, mak ing prostrations and saying personal prayers. A second bell at four o’clock summons us to the church where we chant together in Coptic the midnight hymns of praise. These are mostly of biblical canticles (Ex. 15, Ps. 135, Dn. 3, Ps. 148-150) in praise of God, the Creator and Saviour of the universe. These are the most beautiful moments of the day in the monastery. We have taken great care to perfect our liturgical chanting and have been helped by the oldest and most authoritative canters in the Coptic Church.
macarius mon 3
We attain such harmony in the singing of these melodies that our voices are blended together, expressing the unity of our spirits. We do indeed sing the praise of the Lord with one heart and one voice (Rom. 15:6). All the monks are aware that by participating in this daily worship and sharing the common meal we receive a daily foretaste of the blessedness of the Kingdom to come. At about six o’clock this service of praise ends and we say matins.
After matins each monk takes up the task assigned to him by the spiritual father, which usually corresponds with the profession he followed in the world, while his spirit is uplifted by the atmosphere of worship in which he has spent the first few hours of the day in church. In this way the monks begin to experience the mysterious unity that can exist between work and the worship of God, and with perseverance their work is spontaneously transformed from a source of fatigue, a burden and a curse (“You will eat your bread through the sweat of your brow”), into an expression of unceasing praise of God and love for the brethren….
We never divide the material and spiritual. Our whole life, even in its most material details, must contribute towards the spiritual progress of each monk and the whole community towards the worship of God, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). It is our deep conviction that we attain our heavenly vocation through the carrying out of these commonplace tasks on earth.
A Coptic Monastery in Egypt
This unity between the material and the spiritual in our lives is an important principle in our spirituality, and is the reason why the spiritual father’s direction is not restricted to the inner life, but extends to every detail of material, psychological and physical life. It is also the reason why we have no strict timetable separating times for prayer from times for work. However diverse our occupations during the day, we believe that we all have before us one essential task to which we must constantly address ourselves, whether we be at work, in our cells or in church, and that is to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice of love to the Lord Jesus, lifting up our hearts in unceasing prayer, and remaining continuously at peace, even in the midst of hard work, with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).
monastere_stmacaire3 monks
Following the tradition of the desert fathers, we celebrate the eucharistic liturgy only once a week, on Sunday morning. It begins with an office of praise at two o ‘clock, ends a t about eight o’clock and is followed by an agape meal. Our community is transformed by this celebration of the eucharist from a purely human gathering into the actualization of the Body of Christ. This is why the liturgy, for us, cannot be said by an individual, or even by a section of the community; it is essentially the meeting of the whole community, gathered together as the Church around the Lamb offered at His wedding feast (Rev. 19:9).”

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