Become a dead man

A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, ‘Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.’ So the old man said, ‘Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.’ The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, ‘Didn’t they say anything to you?’ He replied, ‘No.’ The old man said, ‘Go back tomorrow and praise them.’ So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, ‘Apostles, saints and righteous men.’ He returned to the old man and said to him, ‘I have complimented them.’ And the old man said to him, ‘You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too if you wish to be saved must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.’

Abba Macarius the Great, saying 23, p. 132, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.


  1. Thanks, Kevin! I also know this story, but from an entirely different source – it shows up in Odo of Cheriton’s fables and, as often, he pairs the story about human beings (abbot and monk) with a story about animals – the animal story that parallels this story being the one about the cat who wants to eat fish but doesn’t want to get his feet wet (a famous proverb in its own right!) – the stork who ignores the words of the cat is the animal equivalent of the monk. Here are Odo’s stories – I’ve got them online at

    Odo of Cheriton 71-72

    Quod per quod uocatur, nec laudibus, nec uituperiis mouetur aliquis.
    Melius est assimulari Ciconie, que anguillam sibi et pullis suis ad uescendum portauit. Quod uidens Catus qui libenter comedit pisces, licet non uelit humectare pedes, ait: O auis pulcherrima, rostrum habes rubeum et plumas albissimas, nunquid rostrum tuum ita rubeum est interius ut exterius. Ciconia noluit aliquid respondere, nec rostrum aperire, quia noluit anguillam dimittere. Iratus murilegus uituperabat Ciconiam: Vel es surda uel muta. Non poteris respondere, miserrima? Nonne quandoque comedis serpentes que sunt animalia uenenosa et inmundissima? Quodlibet animal mundum munda diligit, et tu, turpia et inmunda. Igitur es inter ceteras aues inmundissima. Ciconia, nihil respondens, cum anguilla tenuit uiam suam.
    Sic uir iustus nec in laudibus extollitur, nec in uituperiis deicitur. Dicant homines quod uoluerint; anguillam non dimittas; caritatem, pacienciam teneas, cum silentio procedas, et saluus eris.

    Quidam uoluit claustralem uitam ducere. Dixit Abbas: Laudes hec ossa et benedicas, demonstrato aceruo ossium mortuorum. Laudauit igitur et benedixit. Quo facto, ait Abbas: Benedixisti ossibus? Respondit: Benedixi. Querebat Abbas: Quid responderunt? Dixit Iuuenis: Nichil. Iterum Abbas: Maledicas et uituperes. Qui sic fecit quantum potuit. Et ait Abbas: Maledixisti? Et ait Iuuenis: Maledixi. Et quesiuit Abbas: Quid responderunt? Et ait Iuuenis: Nichil. Ait Abbas: Frater, talem te oportet esse ut, si uerus monachus vis fieri, ita quod benedictionibus et maledictionibus nichil rsepondeas, quoniam enim dicit Isaias (30.15): In silentio et spe erit fortitudo uestra.
    Amos [5.13]: Ideo prudens in tempore illo tacebit, quia tempus malum est; quoniam tempus uite nostre malum est. Vnde quidam: / Ve mihi nascenti! Ve nato! Ve morienti! / Ve mihi, quod sum! Ve! Non uiuit filius Eue! / Boetius: Quis ita est composite felicitatis, ut non ex aliqua parte cum status sui qualitate rixetur? Quantum est in me, singulis diebus uideo, audio que mihi displicent.

  2. I’m glad you both liked it. I thought it sounded familiar, too, but I’ve read that Sayings… book several times now, so the bell was no longer ringing.

    Boy, Laura, you’ll make me drag out the Lewis & Short! Getting all classical!

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