Once when Abba Macarius was praying in his cell, he heard a voice which said: “Macarius, you have not yet reached the standard of two women in that city.” On his arrival, he found the house and knocked at the door. A woman opened it, and welcomed him to her house. He sat down, and called them to sit down with him. Then he said to them: “It is for you that I have taken this long journey. Tell me how you live a religious life.” They said: “Indeed, how can we lead a religious life? We were with our husbands last night.” But the old man persuaded them to tell him their way of life.

Then they said: “We are both foreigners, in the world’s eyes. But we accepted in marriage two brothers. Today we have been sharing this house for fifteen years. We do not know whether we have quarrelled or said rude words to each other; but the whole of this time we have lived peaceably together. We thought we would enter a convent, and asked our husbands for permission, but they refused it. So since we could not get this permission, we have made a covenant between ourselves and God that a worldly word shall not pass our lips during the rest of our lives.”

When Macarius heard it, he said: “Truly, it is not whether you are a virgin or a married woman, a monk or a man in the world: God gives his Holy Spirit to everyone, according to their earnestness of purpose.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 20.17

People of true sincerity and purity, like the two women in this story, are rare. It seems that careless words are far too common, and sincere people are often pariahs, never feeling that they fit. It can be disarming to meet a person who does not laugh at all the same snarky comments as everyone else. And living peaceably is rare too. How often do people prefer to one-up each other? How often do we, in seeking our own victory, forfeit our opportunity for virtue? Continue reading