IVP - Strangely Dim - St. Macrina the Younger (AD 330-390)

March 19, 2009

St. Macrina the Younger (AD 330-390)

To continue our celebration of Christian women throughout history, we've chosen someone many people have never heard of: St. Macrina the Younger. Despite her relative obscurity, she greatly influenced people who helped to shape the course of Christian history and theology. We've included a very brief introduction to Macrina, followed by her deathbed prayer. All of the quotations, including the prayer recorded by Gregory of Nyssa (with many other sources), can be found online at the Medieval Sourcebook: www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/macrina.html#life.


Macrina the Younger is the little-known elder sister of two of the Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great. When she was twelve years old, she was, at her father's discretion, betrothed to a man who died before they could be married. Upon his death, Macrina considered herself to be a widow, vowed to remain a virgin and refused to marry. Instead, she spent much of her life as a devoted helper to her mother in the raising of her many brothers and sisters. Some time after her father's death, and "when the cares of bringing up a family and the anxieties of their education and settling in life had come to an end," Macrina persuaded her mother to join her in a life of asceticism and poverty, serving and living with the poor. Over time, they established a community of like-minded women which became a monastery that included both male and female adherents. After her mother's death, Macrina assumed oversight of the women of the order.

Due to her excellent spiritual education at the hand of her mother, Emmelia, Macrina was highly influential in the religious training of her brothers, especially Peter (later, St. Peter of Sebaste), who was a great help to Macrina and Emmelia in the years after her father's death. Eventually, Peter assisted with oversight of the men of the monastery, was ordained to the priesthood, and later stood with his brothers, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great, against the Arians.

St. Macrina the Younger is remembered by several Christian traditions, including Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic, for her humility, piety, chastity and charitable work.

A prayer uttered by Macrina shortly before her death was recorded by Gregory of Nyssa in "Life of Macrina," and is included below. 

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Macrina's Dying Prayer

Thou, O Lord, hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning to us o£ true life. Thou for a season restest our bodies in sleep and awakest them again at the last trump. Thou givest our earth, which Thou hast fashioned with Thy hands, to the earth to keep in safety. One day Thou wilt take again what Thou hast given, transfiguring with immortality and grace our mortal and unsightly remains. Thou hast saved us from the curse and from sin, having become both for our sakes. Thou hast broken the heads of the dragon who had seized us with his jaws, in the yawning gulf of disobedience. Thou hast shown us the way of resurrection, having broken the gates of hell, and brought to nought him who had the power of death--the devil. Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross, to destroy the adversary and save our life. O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother's womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now--do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. O Thou Who hast power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me, that I may be refreshed and may be found before Thee when I put off my body, without defilement on my soul. But may my soul be received into Thy hands spotless and undefiled, as an offering before Thee.

Posted by Christa Countryman at March 19, 2009 1:29 PM Bookmark and Share

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Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

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