St Macrina the Elder

Celebrated on May 30th (and January 14th)

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St Macrina the Elder was the family root of a distinguished lineage of Saints that included St Macrina the Younger, St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nyssa. She was born in Neocaesarea in Pontus, Asia Minor, to pagan parents sometime before 270 AD. She married and became Christian through the teachings of St Gregory the Wonderworker. Because of their faith, Macrina and her husband were persecuted under Emperor Maximian around 305-306 AD, and escaped into the Pontian mountains. They lived in-hiding there for seven years, protected and sustained by the grace of God. Macrina is believed to have lived until around 340 AD.

Of Macrina’s children, the names of two have survived: Basil and Gregory. Basil married Emmelia and had ten children. The eldest became St Macrina the Younger, sister to St Basil the Great, St Naucratius and St Gregory of Nyssa, who each made substantial contributions to the monastic, patristic and theological traditions of the Church as bishops and monastics.

St Basil the Great wrote lovingly in two of his letters about his grandmother, the one who first taught him about God.

[1] In his letter to the Neocaesareans, he expressed how it was “the illustrious Macrina” who “guarded… and formed and moulded me, still a child, in doctrines of piety”.[2]

Whilst history may present a hazy biography of St Macrina the Elder, with detail of the facts of her life lost over time, the true legacy of the life she led – her orthodoxy and orthopraxy – is alive in the theology and tradition of the Church. Macrina perfectly embodied the espousal of mother, ascetic and teacher – a role that inspired generations of greatness. She was the bridge between the last of the Christian persecutions in the fourth century, and the theological advancements that followed. Macrina’s wisdom, humility and strength in faith are reflected in her holy descendants and their contributions.

[1] Basil (Ep. 223: 3), Letters; The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 28:2, trans. Sr Agens Clare Way (1955), The Catholic University of America Press, pp. 130.

[2] Basil (Ep. 204:6), Letters; The Fathers of the Church, pp. 77.


Source: AprilMay 2015 Lychnos Edition