Saint of the Month - St. Macrina the Younger
St. Macrina the Younger-July 19
Basil the Great is remembered as the founder of Eastern monasticism. All Eastern Orthodox monks are Basilian monks and follow a variation of the monastic rule that he outlined. However, it is often overlooked that the community of monks organized by Basil was preceded and inspired by a community of nuns organized by his sister, Macrina.
Her grandmother, Macrina the Elder, lived in the days of the Emperor Diocletian, who made a determined effort to destroy the Christian faith. She and her husband fled into hiding, and survived into the time of Constantine. One of their sons, Basil the Elder, and his wife Emmelia, had several distinguished sons, including Basil the Great (see 14 June), Gregory of Nyssa (see 9 March), Peter of Sebastea, Naucratios, and (according to one ambiguously worded communication) Dios of Antioch.
Their oldest offspring, however, was their daughter Macrina (called Macrina the Younger to distinguish her from her grandmother). She was betrothed at the age of twelve, as was the custom of the day, but when her fiance died, she determined to devote her life to prayer, contemplation, and works of charity. After the death of her father, Saint Macrina convinced her mother, Saint Emilia, to leave the world, to set their slaves free, and to settle in a women’s monastery. Several of their servants followed their example. Having taken monastic vows, they lived together as one family, they prayed together, they worked together, they possessed everything in common, and in this manner of life nothing distinguished one from another. She often brought poor and hungry women home to be fed, clothed, nursed, or otherwise taken care of, and many eventually joined the community, as did many women of means.
After the death of their parents, Macrina was chiefly responsible for the upbringing of her ten younger brothers. When they were disposed to be conceited about their intellectual accomplishments, she deflated them with affectionate but pointed jibes. Her example encouraged some of them to pursue the monastic ideal, and to found monastic communities for men. (Dios founded one of the most celebrated monasteries in Constantinople.) Two of them, Basil and Gregory (of Nyssa), along with their close friend Gregory (of Nazianzus) became known as the Cappadocian Fathers, who were leading contenders for the faith of Nicea against the Arians.
The inestimable influence of the Cappadocian brothers is owed in great part to their older (and unfortunately, overlooked) sister and teacher, Macrina. Historian Justo González notes that when speaking of the Cappadocians, “justice requires that we deal with another person just as worthy, although often forgotten by historians who tend to ignore the work of women.” Macrina deserves to be called the Fourth Cappadocian, given her role as teacher and role model to her siblings. Her brother Gregory’s most famous work On the Soul and Resurrection is a dialogue with Macrina based on their conversations at that time. She appears as “the teacher,” a theologian in her own right, with insights so deep, clear, and uplifting that she speaks, by his estimation, “as if she were inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
When Macrina died, the nuns in her convent erupted into wailing so great that her brother Gregory had to shout over them to make himself heard, and crowds flooded in from neighboring districts to share their grief. Gregory’s words still ring true: “she who had raised herself through philosophy to the highest limit of human virtue should not pass along this way veiled and in silence.”
St. Macrina’s Final Prayer, as recorded by St. Gregory on her Deathbed
You have released us, O Lord, from the fear of death.
You have made the end of life here on earth
a beginning of true life for us.
You let our bodies rest in sleep in due season
and you awaken them again
at the sound of the last trumpet.
You entrust to the earth our bodies of earth
which you fashioned with your own hands
and you restore again what you have given,
transforming with incorruptibility and grace
what is mortal and deformed in us.
You redeemed us from the curse and from sin,
having become both on our behalf.
You have crushed the heads of the serpent
Who had seized the man in his jaws
because of the abyss of our disobedience.
You have opened up for us a path
to the resurrection,
having broken down the gates of hell
and reduced to impotence
the one who had power over death.
You have given to those who fear you
a visible token, the sign of the holy cross,
for the destruction of the Adversary
and for the protection of our life.
Upon whom I have cast myself from my mother’s womb,
Whom my soul has loved with all its strength,
To whom I have consecrated flesh and soul
from my infancy up to this moment,
Put down beside me a shining angel
to lead me by the hand to the place of refreshment
where is the water of repose near the lap of the holy fathers.
You who have cut through the flame
of the fiery sword and brought to paradise
the man who was crucified with you,
who entreated your pity,
remember me also in your kingdom,
for I too have been crucified with you,
for I have nailed my flesh out of reverence for you
and have feared your judgments.
Let not the dreadful abyss separate me
from your chosen ones.
Let not the Slanderer stand against me on my journey.
Let not my sin be discovered before your eyes
if I have been overcome in any way
because of our nature’s weakness
and have sinned in word or deed or thought.
You who have on earth the power to forgive sins,
forgive me, so that I may draw breath again
and may be found before you
in the stripping off of my body
without stain or blemish in the beauty of my soul,
but may my soul be received
blameless and immaculate into your hands
as an incense offering before your face.
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