Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Marcian, Anchoret and Confessor
THE CITY of Cyrus, in Syria, was the birth-place of St. Marcian; his father was of a patrician family, and enjoyed several honourable posts in the empire. Marcian himself was educated at the court; but, in the flower of his age, took a resolution to renounce the world, in which he saw nothing but emptiness, folly, and snares. He considered that those who seem blessed with the greatest share of worldly enjoyments are strangers to true happiness, and by flying from object to object, and relieving the disappointment of success in one by the novelty of some other pursuit, as incapable of satisfying their hearts, or giving them true contentment or rest as the former, justify their levity and inconstancy by proclaiming the falsehood of all their boasted enjoyments; but, at the same time, condemn their erroneous and dangerous choice, in seeking happiness where they are sure to find only affliction of spirit, and bitterness of heart, and generally the loss of their virtue. He therefore said to himself, with the royal prophet: Be converted, my soul, into thy rest. Seek thy happiness in God thy centre: by the mastery over thy own passions settle a lasting calm and peace within thyself, or thy domestic kingdom, and establish in thy heart the reign of divine love and grace. Animated with this noble and truly heroic desire, he forsook his friends and country, and that he might not do things by halves, took his measures that he might entirely both forget and be forgotten by the world. He retired secretly into the desert of Chalcis, in Syria, upon the borders of Arabia, and chose in it the most remote and secret part. Here he shut himself up in a small inclosure, which he never went out of, and in the midst of which he built himself a cell so narrow and low, that he could neither stand nor lie in it without bending his body. This solitude was to him a paradise, and he had in it no communication but with heaven. His whole employment was to sing psalms, read, pray, and work. Bread was all his subsistence, and this in a small quantity, that he might be always hungry: but he never fasted above a day without taking some food, lest he should not have strength to do what God required of him. He received such a gift of sublime contemplation that, in this exercise, days seemed to him hours, and hours scarce more than minutes. The supernatural light which he received in his secret communications with heaven, gave him a feeling knowledge of the great truths and mysteries of faith; and God poured down his sweetest consolations, as it were, in torrents into the heart of his servant, which was filled with him alone.
Notwithstanding the saints care to live unknown to men, the reputation of his sanctity discovered him, and he was prevailed upon to admit first two disciples, Eusebius and Agapetus, who lived in a cell near his, sang psalms with him in the day, and had frequent spiritual conferences with him. He afterwards suffered a numerous monastery to be erected near his enclosure, appointed Eusebius abbot, and himself gave the plan of the institute, and frequent instructions to the monks who resorted to him. Once St. Flavian, patriarch of Antioch, Acacius of Bera, Isidore of Cyrus, Eusebius of Chalcis, and Theodorus of Hieropolis, at that time the most renowned bishops in Syria, with the chief officers and magistrates of the country, paid him a visit together, and standing before the door of his cell, begged he would give them some spiritual instructions according to his custom. The dignity of this numerous company alarmed his humility, and he stood some time silent. Being importuned to speak, he said sighing: Alas! God speaks to us every day by his creatures, and this universe which we behold: he speaks to us by his gospel; he teaches us what we ought to do both for ourselves and others. He terrifies and he encourages us. Yet we make no advantage of all these lessons. What can Marcian say that can be of use, who does not improve himself by all these excellent instructions? The bishops proposed among themselves to ordain him priest; but perceiving how grievous a mortification this suggestion was to his humility, they dropped the design to his great joy. Several miracles which the saint wrought increased the veneration which every one had for his sanctity; and several built chapels in different places in hopes to procure his body to bury it in one of them after his death. This gave him extreme trouble, and he made his two disciples promise to bury his body in some unknown secret place. He died about the year 337; and they did as he had enjoined them. His grave was discovered soon after, and his body, with great solemnity, removed and put into a stone coffin. His tomb became a place of great devotion, and famed for miracles. See Theodorets Philothea, or Religious History, c. 2, and the Roman Martyrology on this day.