Saint Macrina

Reproduced in part from https://www.pemptousia.gr

By Metropolitan Dionysios of Kozani (†),

“Living Icons” – Apostoliki Diakonia publications



Both recorded History and the history of the Church have preserved the names not only of great men, but also of great women.  Equally applicable here are the words of the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to Galatians (3:28), that:  “... there is neither male nor female...”;   that is, there is no distinction of male – female in the presence of Christ.  Both genders have the same worth, and man and woman are equally important and admirable.

Saint Macrina

A woman, whose name and life’s work are extensively known and deeply respected in the history of the Church, is Saint Macrina.

Saint Macrina is the sister of Saint Basil the Great and the first-born in a family of nine children, which provided the Church with three bishops.  Her place of birth was Cappadocia, an eparchy with a rich and extensive ecclesiastic tradition, home to many saints and major hierarchs of the Church.  Her family was one of the most distinctive families of Cappadocia, with ancestors who were holy martyrs during the years of the persecutions and with Saint Gregory the Wonderworker as their teacher.

Saint Gregory, bishop of Nyssa and brother of Saint Macrina had recorded her life, but her other brother, Saint Basil the Great, has also provided us with information, as a result of which, we have learnt many and accurate details about her life. Saint Gregory of Nyssa begins the biography of his sister with the following: “The things that I write are trustworthy, because I did not read them, but because experience taught them to me; and for whatever I tell you in detail, I shall not invoke the testimony of others.”

Macrina was the first child of her family and was brought up by her parents very diligently:  “...and nor was she ignorant of the chanted writings”; in other words, apart from everything else, she knew by heart the entire Book of Psalms.

While still at a young age, her father betrothed her to a nice young man, but he died before it was time for their marriage. This event sufficed for Macrina: by reacting as if that marriage had actually taken place, she remained loyal to her father’s opinion and dedicated herself to helping her mother with the upbringing of her brothers.  At home, all the boys in the family respected her as their second mother; she was actually the one who managed to convince Basil to abandon the legal profession and become a monk.  In fact, after her father died, Macrina undertook the rearing and education of her ninth brother Peter - and later on bishop of Sevastia:  “leading him to the highest level of education.”

However, Saint Macrina was not only a “life tutor” (aka “life coach” in our time) and “the mother after their mother” to her family, but also an important saint and nun.  When her brothers became of age and each had taken his separate path, Macrina retired to the family estates in Pontus where she founded a large and exemplary coenobitic nunnery. This is what St Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, writes about that tuition centre of virtue, as he calls it: “Numerous was the chorus of virgins around her, to which she had given birth through spiritual birth pangs, and had promoted towards perfection with every diligence, emulating the life of the angels in a human body …”.  Saintly women, who gave up their own life in order to earn eternal life... .

The blessed Macrina died a year after the death of her brother, Saint Basil the Great, that is, in 380 AD. Saint Gregory, who was present at the time of her death and had closed her eyes, describes for us her last moments very emotionally.  He recorded for us that blessed woman’s prayer before she gave up her spirit - a prayer full of faith and hope, which began with the words: “You freed us, o Lord, from the fear of death; You made for us the beginning of true life the end of this here life.”  With the expectation of the resurrection, the blessed Macrina transitioned “from death, to life”.

She used to pray in a very low voice while signing herself with the sign of the Cross: “She would place the sign (of the Cross) over the eyes and the mouth and the heart”. 




                                                        Prepared by: R.I. and F.A.