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St Macrina the Younger
Virgin (entered heaven in 379)
It’s nice to know that you are becoming an expert in modern Catholic literature. What pleases me most about this new passion of yours is its ability to keep you from wasting time. (I am convinced that this is one of the greatest sins of your generation; in a world brimming over with time saving devices, too many people fritter away their valuable days in fruitless busy-ness.) I only hope that this most recent fascination doesn’t eclipse the most important books of all, the ones you should never stop studying and meditating on – the books of the Bible. Today’s saint can serve as a reminder of the power and importance of the Holy Scriptures.
Macrina was the daughter of St Emmelia and St Basil, and the older sister of St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Sebaste. Her grandmother was St Macrina the Elder. Quite a family, eh? They lived in Caesarea, Cappadocia (modern day Turkey). Her mother gave her a solid education, both in book learning and in running a household. At age 14 she was betrothed to a prosperous young lawyer, who fell ill and died before the wedding. She refused subsequent proposals, desiring to serve God solely, by serving her family.
This she did fabulously. We all have cause to thank her for helping her brothers become the pillars of the Church that they became. When they were young their father sent them to the best schools in the Mediterranean to receive a superlative education. When they returned home they tended to have a rather self-important view of their achievements, which Macrina would deflate through good-humored jibes and irony. Her brothers matured, and went off to become monks, priests, bishops, and Fathers of the Church.
Meanwhile, she and her mother responded to her father’s death with an act of Christ-like humility: they decided to live at the same economic level as their servants. They liquidated their property, moved to the country’s family estate, and made their living with their own work. Macrina would often come home with poor, sick, or hungry women in tow, whom the little community she and her mother had formed would feed and care for until they were able to return to normal life in society. Many of these ended up staying on and forming part of the growing community.
Macrina and Emmelia also attracted companions from women of their own class, and Macrina drew up a rule of life that they followed, forming one of the first communities of religious women. This rule became the basis of St Basil’s rule for monasteries in the East, still in use today. Macrina’s deep spiritual insights and practical piety also gave her brothers plenty of fodder for their many writings, and her superior wisdom helped keep them humble as they soared to positions of power and influence in the Church and the Eastern Empire. She died when she was only in her early fifties, eager to go and meet the Lord she had served so faithfully and joyfully during her earthly pilgrimage.
And how did this remarkable life of sanctity and happiness begin? Where did it get its direction and sustenance? You guessed it – the Holy Scriptures. There were no schools for girls back then, so her mother taught her to read and write by using the Wisdom Books of the Bible, which she came to know almost by heart, and which served as her guiding light from here to eternity. May they always be so bright for you as well.
Your loving uncle,