Thursday, July 19, 2007

Feast of St. Macrina

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.

Back in the early fourth century, in the province of Cappadocia, lived a family which produced three Saints of the Church. Two of the brothers became priests, and these two priests became bishops. But the eldest child, a girl, was the greatest saint of the entire family. Her name was Macrina, and she was named after her grandmother. Her brothers before were Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. They were both important saints in the church due to their defense of orthodoxy against the Arians, and because they were both bishops of important Sees, but both brothers recognized their sister Macrina as being important to the development of their own faith. Macrina was very unusual for her time, because she was a teacher of church doctrine, and she started one of the first monastic orders. In fact, her brothers Peter and Basil used her ideas when they created their own Monastic rule.

Macrina was born in the year 340, and grew up to be a beautiful and intelligent woman. She was betrothed to a young man who was chosen by her father, as this was the way things were done at that time, but the young man died a tragic and early death before they were married. Macrina took this to be a sign, and since she never really wanted to marry, told her parents that a betrothal was the same as marriage, therefore she would not “re-marry.” She had many suitors but she was adamant about not marrying. She did devote her life to staying with her mother, and since her mother was not a healthy woman, she cared for her throughout her mother’s life, especially after the death of her father. When Basil returned from University “monstrously conceited about his skill in rhetoric,” Macrina took him aside and showed him the error of his ways. She also convinced her youngest brother, along with Basil, to give up on materialism and to seek God as monks. If you remember when we heard the story of Basil, they had a brother named Naucratious, who was smarter and more athletic and better looking than the other boys in the family and had a great future ahead of him. Under Macrina’s influence he gave it all up and was seeking a life of contemplation when he and a servant died tragic deaths. This was a terrible blow to the family, but Macrina became the solid foundation of the family during that tragedy and remained so. She convinced her mother to sell the family estates and to set up a community for women which became the first convent, although it was actually the first monastery, since it was the first group of Christians living under the rules of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Macrina was very much devoted to the poor and she would literally take starving women off the streets and move them into her community. Macrina was a great influence on her brothers, she turned Basil and Peter away from academia and they turned towards monasticism and theology, and just as she turned Basil away from his conceit, she reminded Gregory that he was a bishop because of the prayers of his parents and not because of anything he had done.

As her brothers became bishops and theologians, Macrina and her mother established a monastery on the family estate, and it grew large with both men and women living there in their respective quarters. A few years after the death of their mother, Basil died, and after the funeral, Gregory felt a great need to visit his sister, When he got to the monastery, he learned that she was very ill. When he went in to see her in her cell,she was on the floor on a pallet of two planks.Gregory says,“By putting her hands on the floor and leaning over from the pallet as far as she could, she showed the respect due to my rank. I ran over to her, embraced her, and restored her to her usual position.” She tried to be cheerful and hid her groans while talking of the Holy Spirit. She then told Gregory to go and rest in the garden, as he must be tired after all he had been through. After his rest, he returned to her cell and realized that she was about to die.They spent her last hours together, in which she offered a long prayer of praise and thanksgiving. When evening arrived, some of the virgins brought in a lamp, and while gazing at the lamp, Macrina wanted to say the Phos Hilaron, but her voiced failed her so she said the following silently while moving her lips: “O Gracious Light, pure brightness of the ever living Father in Heaven. O Jesus Christ, holy and Blessed. Now as we come to the setting of the sun and behold the vesper light,we sing your praises, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds.” When she finished, she made the sign of the cross, drew a deep breath, and closed her life and prayer together. Gregory's story concludes with stories of miracle scars on her body, with miracles which happened at her funeral, and miracle stories he heard later, all involving the saintly Macrina.

I think that Macrina is a great role model for Christians because she was very faithful to the idea of caring for the sick and the poor. She came from a family of brilliant people, and she was no slouch herself; she was able to convince her brother Basil, through her use of reason and logic, to give up the glory of the academic world and find peace as a monk and theologian. Macrina came from a wealthy family but was able to convince them all to sell many of their estates and to build a monastery on the remaining estate. Her example was enough to convince Basil to leave the city of Cesarea an entire city for the poor. She convinced her entire family to leave material things and to concentrate on the spiritual. She understood the fact that God is revealed to us in Community, that where two or three are gathered, Jesus is in their midst, and because she understood this she created a Christian Community which became the model for all Monastic Orders to come. But what is most important is her devotion to Jesus and his commandment to love one another.

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