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The Feast Day of St. Macrina the Younger, Monastic and Teacher, 379 AD

July 19, 2010

I remember well learning about Macrina when I was in seminary; her story was greatly fascinating to me and I am glad she is remembered when she could as easily have been swallowed up by the fame of her sainted family.  She is sister to St. Basil the Great, St. Peter of Sebaste, and St. Gregory of Nyssa and dear friend of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, which three make up the better known “Cappadocian Fathers.”  But those three would not be where they were if it were not for the efforts, theological mind, humble spirit, and guiding hand of blessed Macrina (called the Younger as she was named for her grandmother).

Macrina, at a young age, convinced her mother Emmelia to give up their wealthy way of life and to found a monastery on their family’s estate in the Cappadocian city of Pontus.  The emphasis of this community was care of the poor, the sick, and the starving.  While there, her brothers and friends sought out her advice, for St. Gregory of Nyssa (probably just “Greg” to her!) said that it was Macrina’s spiritual and theological mind that were the foundation of his and his brother’s careers in the church.  Both Basil and Gregory, along with Gregory of Nazianzus learned their orthodox theology from Macrina, as well as methods of prayer.  But it was perhaps her humility from which they took their greatest lessons.  Macrina served as the vice within which she squeezed their heads back down to size after they obtained any measure of fame!  She was well renowned for challenging her brothers when they became too puffed up with their own sense of rhetorical skill or academic importance.  In no small part thanks to Macrina’s teaching and guidance, Basil, Peter, Gregory and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus all went on to become bishops and leading defenders, in writing and preaching, of the orthodox and Nicene faith.  The unspoken shame of the church is that her brothers all received fame and position because of her teaching and guiding, but because of her gender, Macrina was in danger of being forgotten.  Thanks be to God that her brothers never let this happen, but always gave credit where credit was due.

The Collect for St. Macrina

Merciful God, thou didst call thy servant Macrina to reveal in her life and her teaching the riches of thy grace and truth:  May we, following her example, seek after thy wisdom and life according to her way; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Gregory came to Macrina in her last days and found her lying on some wooden planks on the floor.  He recorded her last words and prayers in his Life of St. Macrina.  These beautiful words and prayers are enough to bring tears to your eyes and hope to your soul.  I encourage you to read them out loud; they can be found in the “Read More” section below, just click the red link.

Fr. Ryan+

From the Life of St. Macrina, by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Most of the day had now passed, and the sun was declining towards the West. Her eagerness did not diminish, but as she approached her end, as if she discerned the beauty of the Bridegroom more clearly, she hastened towards the Beloved with the greater eagerness. Such thoughts as these did she utter, no longer to us who were present, but to Him in person on Whom she gazed fixedly. Her couch had been turned towards the East; and, ceasing to converse with us, she spoke henceforward to God in prayer, making supplication with her hands and whispering with a low voice, so that we could just hear what was said. Such was the prayer; we need not doubt that it reached God and that she, too, was hearing His voice.

“Thou, O Lord, hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning to us of true life. Thou for a season restest our bodies in sleep and awakest them again at the last trump. Thou givest our earth, which Thou hast fashioned with Thy hands, to the earth to keep in safety. One day Thou wilt take again what Thou hast given, transfiguring with immortality and grace our mortal and unsightly remains. Thou hast saved us from the curse and from sin, having become both for our sakes. Thou hast broken the heads of the dragon who had seized us with his jaws, in the yawning gulf of disobedience. Thou hast shown us the way of resurrection, having broken the gates of .hell, and brought to nought him who had the power of death—-the devil. Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross,  to destroy the adversary and save our life.  O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother’s womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now—-do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the Slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. O Thou Who hast power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me, that I may be refreshed and may be found before Thee when I put off my body, without defilement on my soul. But may my soul be received into Thy hands spotless and undefiled, as an offering before Thee.”

As she said these words she sealed her eyes and mouth and heart with the cross. And gradually her tongue dried up with the fever, she could articulate her words no longer, and her voice died away, and only by the trembling of her lips and the motion of her hands did we recognise that she was praying.

Meanwhile evening had come and a lamp was brought in. All at once she opened the orb of her eyes and looked towards the light, clearly wanting to repeat the thanksgiving sung at the Lighting of the Lamps. But her voice failed and she fulfilled her intention in the heart and by moving her hands, while her lips stirred in sympathy with her inward desire. But when she had finished the thanksgiving, and her hand brought to her face to make the Sign had signified the end of the prayer, she drew a great deep breath and closed her life and her prayer together.

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