I can’t say how inspired and filled with the Glory of God I feel when I read these amazing stories. Stories of women whose work has been mostly unrecorded or credited to brothers and uncles simply because they were the wrong gender. Amazing stories of conviction, persecution and endurance. Macrina the Younger was one of the young women of her day who chose not to disguise herself as a man in order to pursue an ascetic life and was honored by many men and women as herself. I’d like to summarize her story as I first read it from the book The Forgotten Desert Mothers by Laura Swan-
Macrina the Younger inherited a great legacy from her grandmother Macrina the Elder, the woman who first inspired her to a monastic life. She was born in 327 C.E into an aristocratic family with estates primarily in Cappadocia. Her father and mother led powerful prayer lives and believed in serving the poor and so Macrina, the eldest of the family, was naturally involved in these efforts from an early age. When her father passed, Macrina became a leader in the household. She was educated and well versed in the economics and business of her family and she and her mother took on the responsibilities together INCLUDING those of pastoring their household. (to put the idea of a “household” in the proper context – Macrina’s family was very wealthy. She managed several estates with numerous family members, servants and slaves and all those employees who served in the family affairs).
With the support of her entire family Macrina led the household to become a monastic community, one of the first of it’s size and influence. While history books credit her younger brother, Basil the Great, with the founding of Eastern Monasticism, it was in fact Macrina who started the movement and led Basil to Christ. She and her mother converted many of her younger siblings, none of whom ever challenged her authority and leadership in their growing community. Macrina became known as “The Teacher” and her brothers Peter and Gregory eventually joined her movement and lived and taught with her. It would be through the influence of Gregory and Basil that the Council of Nicaea would gain support. Who was their counselor and spiritual supporter? Their older sister Macrina. In her letters to Gregory she exhorts him to take a stand for right and to take up the mission begun by their parents.
Macrina would become an influential leader in the church, providing guidance through many major political and spiritual disputes (pg 132). In her city and the surrounding areas she was known for her generosity, her wisdom and credited with providing the solutions for a major famine. Her brother Gregory, ever faithful, did her the honor of recording a portion of her teachings “…in a document called On the Soul and the Resurrection.” When she died the funeral lasted all day as people in her community and family and extended community in the church mourned her passing.
This amazing woman was revered by her fellow theologians and monastics. She was honored and given the utmost respect for her leadership, courage and profound conviction to purity and pursuit of the heart of Christ. The most powerful moves of Christianity in history have occurred when men and women worked side by side. I want to be a Macrina. And I want my children to learn the WHOLE of history, not just what their culture deems appropriate. I want to share this beautiful photograph of my daughter as a statement to her God given image, an image of beauty and innocence, an image of His authority and strength as well as His gentleness and faithfulness. An image which I believe was supported and taught by our Biblical teachers and by Christ himself. Whether she be a Macrina, a public leader and teacher of the faith, or a Theodora or a Syncletica and choose to live a life of solitude in the desert, may she learn to devote her entire being to the service of Christ and take up her cross and follow him.
story taken from The Forgotten Desert Mothers: sayings, lives and stories of early christian women. Published in 1954, copyright 2001 by St. Placid Priory. Paulist Press, NJ.