July 19: Macrina, Monastic and Teacher, 379

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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About this commemoration

Macrina

Macrina (340–379) was a monastic, theologian and teacher. She
founded one of the earliest Christian communities in the Cappadocian
city of Pontus. Macrina left no writings; we know of her through the
works of her brother St. Gregory of Nyssa (page 266). In his Life of
St. Macrina, Gregory describes her as both beautiful and brilliant, an
authoritative spiritual teacher.

Macrina persuaded her mother Emmelia to renounce their wealthy
lifestyle and to help her establish a monastery on the family’s estate.
Macrina’s ideal of community emphasized caring for the poor and
ministering to the wider community. She literally picked up young
women who lay in the road starving. Many joined her order.
Gregory credits Macrina as the spiritual and theological intelligence
behind her siblings’ notable careers in the Church. Gregory, and their
brothers St. Basil (page 426), St. Peter of Sebaste, and Naucratios went
to her often for theological counsel. Macrina frequently challenged
her celebrated brothers. She told Gregory his fame was not due to his
own merit, but to the prayers of his parents. She took Basil in hand
when he returned from Athens “monstrously conceited about his skill
in rhetoric.” Under her influence, Basil and Peter renounced material
possessions and turned away from secular academia to become monks
and theologians. Basil and Peter wrote a Rule for community life,
ensuring that Macrina’s ideas for Christian community would have
lasting authority. Basil, Gregory and Peter all became bishops, in no
small measure because of Macrina’s influence, and became leading
defenders of the Nicene faith.

Gregory visited Macrina as she lay dying on two planks on the floor.
He relates Macrina’s last words as a classical Greek farewell oration
imbued with Holy Scripture. In both his Life of St. Macrina and in his
later treatise of The Soul and Resurrection, Gregory presents Macrina
admiringly as a Christian Socrates, delivering beautiful deathbed
prayers and teachings about the resurrection.

Collects

I 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 live 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.

II Merciful God, you called your servant Macrina to reveal
in her life and her teaching the riches of your grace and
truth: May we, following her example, seek after your
wisdom and live according to her way; through Jesus
Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:13–22
Philippians 3:7–11
Matthew 11:27–30

Psalm 119:97-104

Preface of a Saint (2)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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Links related to Macrina

The Macrina Community in Marin, CA

Life of Macrina by Gregory of Nyssa

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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10 Responses to July 19: Macrina, Monastic and Teacher, 379

  1. Leonel Mitchell says:

    Macrina certainly deserves to be set along side her brothers and a great theologian, and remembered for her piety. The propers are good and the collect most appropriate,

  2. Leonel Mitchell says:

    It is difficult to be objective about people you actually remember (although I hardly knew her) I like the collect.
    What I do question is assigning two dissimilar commemoration to the same day. With prejudice, I choose to celebrate Macrina

    • Suzanne Sauter says:

      I think that Macrina and Adelaide Teague Case were put on the same day because they were both teachers. That is where the similarity seems to end. Macrina left no writings. We only know of her through the writings.of Gregory of Nyssa, her brother. I gather from the biography that Macrina’s lasting impact was on monasticism and not on teaching. So Macrina and Adeleaide Teague Cast do not really seem to fit together.

      Suzanne Sauter

  3. Leonel Mitchell says:

    What is the “Preface of God the Son” and where do I find it?

  4. Celinda Scott says:

    I gathered from James Kiefer’s bio of her that she was a pretty strong teacher, both in her bringing up of her brothers (I liked the “good natured jibes” part when they got too proud) and in the women’s order. However, what she saw as needing to be taught was a little different from Teague’s goals, which had to do, if I understand her bio correctly, with political social action–more to do with the reforming of society as a whole than with the conversion of the individual. I think monastic societies dealt with the latter type of education, and I think they eventually led to social action. –Here’s the excerpt I’m referring to: “After the death of her father, she and her mother formed a community of women who shared her goals. 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.) Three of them (Basil, Gregory, Peter) became bishops, and all of them were leading contenders for the faith of Nicea against the Arians.”

  5. Bill Petersen says:

    Editorial comment: in the bio, the antecedent of “their” in the sentence “Gregory, and their brothers St. Basil (page 426), St Peter of Sebaste, and Naucratios often went to her for theological counsel” is unclear. A better and less awkward construction would be: “Her brothers, Gregory, St. Basil…” (&c). Other wise, delighted to see Macrina honored at last!

  6. Nigel Renton says:

    In the biography of Macrina there are helpful cross references to the entries for the two of her brothers who are in our Calendar. I checked the entries for St. Gregory of Nyssa, and I note that there is no cross reference there to Macrina or Basil.

    I also looked at the biography for St. Basil, which naturally refers to Macrina, but gives no cross reference to the entry for her, nor is there one for the reference to his brother Gregory.

    For the sake of consistency, I suggest that all three biographies make reference to the pages of these famous siblings.

  7. Nigel Renton says:

    Addendum to my previous comment:

    Line 1, fourth paragraph: add “in 379” after “Macrina”.

  8. Pingback: July 19 – Macrina the Younger : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

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