19 July: St. Macrina

I see that out there in the blogosphere others, including the estemmed fellow patristoblogger Mike Aquilina, have mentioned that today is the feast of St. Macrina. However, we need to be sure about which woman named "Macrina" we are talking about!

You should know that "Macrina" and its masculine counterpart "Macrinos" were very common in the ancient world. Our handy prosopographies will tell us that we know about some 145 Macrinos and 50 Macrinas. Two of the most famous, however, should be clearly identified.

First, there is Macrina senior (+c. 340) who was a disciple of Gregory the Thaumaturge in Neocaesarea in Pontus. She suffered during a time of persecution of Christians and had to live in hiding with her family. She was the mother of a fellow named Basil who in turn with the father of Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. St. Basil talks about her in two letters, ep. 204.6 and ep. 223.3).

Then there is Macrina iunior (c. 327-379), virgin, who was the sister of Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory tells us about her life and attributed to her a platonizing dialogue on the resurrection. Basil mentions here not at all, which is a bit odd.

Today entry in the Martyrologium Romanum gives us this:

3. In monasterio Annesino apud flumen Irim in Ponto, sanctae Macrinae, virginis, sororis sanctorum Basilii Magni, Gregorii Nysseni et Petri Sebastensis, quae, Sacris Scripturis erudita, ad vitam solitariam se contuilt, mirum exemplum desiderii Dei discessusque a vanitate mundi.

Here is Gregory of Nyssa’s (her brother) description of Macrina iunior‘s death:

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.

And now that she was breathless and still, remembering the command that she had given at our first meeting, telling me she wished her hands laid on her eyes, and the accustomed offices done for the body by me, I brought her hands, all numb with the disease, on to her holy face, only that I might not seem to neglect her bidding. For her eyes needed none to compose them, being covered gracefully by the lids, just as happens in natural sleep; the lips were suitably closed and the hands laid reverently on the breast, and the whole body had automatically fallen into the right position, and in no way needed the help of the layers-out.


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