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Little is known of St. Macrina except that which was written about her by her grandchildren, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa and by the panegyric of their friend, St. Gregory Nazianzus on St. Basil the Great (Gregory Naz., Oratio 43). St. Macrina the Elder is an incredible example of a woman who lived "in the world" but was not "of the world." She was a loving wife, a good mother, and a good grandmother. She is considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be one of the patron saints of widows.
It is rather incredible to contemplate the life of a woman who was the wife of a saint (St. Basil), the mother of a saint (St. Basil the elder), the mother-in-law of a saint (St. Emilia, wife of St. Basil the Elder) and the grandmother of 4 saints (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Macrina the Younger, and St. Peter of Sebaste)! Saints ran in this family, due mostly to the strong influence of the women, particularly that of St. Macrina the Elder.
St. Macrina was the daughter of wealthy parents and lived in the third century at Neocaesarea in Pontus, Asia Minor. In her childhood she was acquainted with St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (St. Gregory the Wonderworker), first bishop of her native town. When this venerable doctor arrived in the territory, it was said, there were only seventeen Christians in the town of Neo-Caesarea; when he died, there were only seventeen pagans. As he died between 270 and 275, St. Macrina must have been born before 270. It was the faith of this ardent apostle that became the way of life for her family.
She and her husband were staunch Christians and endured a great deal of persecution because of their faith in Christ Jesus. Macrina and her husband learned the high price of being true to their Christian beliefs. At one period, during the Diocletian persecution, probably the first decade of the 4th century, Macrina fled from her native town with her husband, Basil. They suffered in exile in the wooded hills of Pontus, on the shores of the Black Sea, for seven years. Somehow they managed to escape their persecutors. They were often without food and feared capture, but they would not give up their faith. Instead, they patiently waited and prayed for the persecution to end. They hunted for food and ate the wild vegetation and somehow survived. By God' providence, goats descended from the mountains and offered themselves to them and so they were nourished. They had to endure many privations. Later, during another persecution, their property was seized by agents of the emperor, and they lived in almost total destitution. They were left with nothing but their faith and trust in God's care for them.When the persecution ended, they were honored as confessors of the faith, a much revered title among the Christians of that time. She was thus a confessor of the Faith during the last violent storm that burst over the early Church.
It was St. Macrina and her husband who founded the faith of the family and passed it on as a splendid treasure to her children and grandchildren. That faith was born of suffering and persecution. Through it they succeeded in rearing up one of the most saintly families in Cappadocia and, perhaps, in Christendom. She must have passed on this faith to her son, Basil the elder, in a very impressionable way because as history shows us Basil and his wife lived very saintly lives and gave birth to ten children, four of whom, would later also become saints of the Church. On the intellectual and religious training of St. Basil and his elder brothers and sisters, St. Macrina exercised a great influence, implanting in their minds those seeds of piety and that ardent desire for Christisn perfection which were later to attain so glorious a growth. It was at his grandmother's knee that Basil received his first instructions in the Christian faith, and it was from her that he and his family were nourished in that Christian discipline that made them saints. As an adult, St. Basil the Great praised his grandmother for all the good she had done for him. He especially thanked her openly for having taught him to love the Christian faith from the time he was very small. Macrina was known to have treasured and read the writings of Gregory the Wonderworker, and it was the fire and zeal of his writings that was passed on to Basil, and his brothers and sisters.
St. Macrina survived her husband but the exact year of each of their deaths is not recorded. They both died peacefully in the fourth century. It is believed that St. Macrina died around 340.
Macrina was known for her great sense of justice and the faith with which she and her husband endured their sufferings during the persecutions under Galerius and Diocletian. Macrina's strength of character and faithfulness to the Christian way of life is shown to us not through biography, but by the example of her children and grandchildren. St. Macrina was a loving grandmother. She made Christianity beautiful to Basil and the rest of her family because she really lived what she talked about. Today we honor this rather obscure woman because, her goodness and holiness of life gave birth to that same goodness and holiness in her children and grandchildren.
Saint Macrina is often portrayed as a recluse with two stags near her or with two hinds.
Many saints have become saints because of the teaching and example of a parent or grandparent. Thus, the power of a living example. Holiness and Christian living are taught chiefly by personal influence, and it is the living instruction that flows from a holy life that leads others to holiness. Would that we might have that same reputation in our own families. As the old Latin maxim has it: Verbum sonat; exemplum tonat ("Words make a noise, but example thunders")
The above information was adapted from information found at the following locations:
The Bishop Nicholas Library
No longer on the Web :-(
The Prologue from Ochrid by Blessed Nikolai Velimirovich
(You will be prompted to enter a date. Enter May 30)
Saints of the Day from St. Patrick's Church: January 14 (scroll down about 2/3 of the page)
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
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Electronic version copyright © 1996 by New Advent, Inc.
'The Catholic One Year Bible':
"I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wary as serpents and harmless as doves."- Matthew 10:16
Taken from "The One Year Book of Saints" by Rev. Clifford Stevens
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