« Macrina, the Elder Macrina, the Younger Magnentius, Flavius Popilius, emperor »

Macrina, the Younger

Macrina (2), the Younger, the eldest child of her parents Basil and Emmelia, by her position in the family and still more by her force of character, high intellectual gifts, and earnest piety, proved the well-spring of good to the whole household, and so contributed largely to form the characters of her brothers. To her brother Basil in particular she was ever a wise and loving counsellor. Basil was born c. 329, and Macrina probably c. 327. She received her name from her paternal grandmother. She was very carefully educated by her mother, who was more anxious that she should be familiar with the sacred writers than with heathen poets. Macrina committed to memory the moral and ethical portion of the books of Solomon and the whole of the Psalter. Before her twelfth year she was ready at each hour of the day with the Psalm liturgically belonging to it (Greg. Nys. de Vita S. Macr. ii. 179). Her personal beauty, which, according to her brother Gregory, surpassed that of all of her age and country, and her large fortune, attracted many suitors. Of these her father selected a young advocate, of good birth and position, and when he was cut off by a premature death, Macrina resolutely refused any further proposals of marriage (ib. 180). After her father's death (c. 349) she devoted herself to the care of her widowed mother, the bringing up of her infant brother Peter, and the supervision of the interests of her family. Emmelia was left burdened with a large and extensive property, and the maintenance of and provision for nine children. Of the greater part of this load Macrina relieved her. They resided then, or soon afterwards, on the paternal estate near the village of Annesi, on the banks of the Iris, near Neocaesarea, which Macrina never left. Basil returned from Athens c. 355 elated with his university successes. Macrina taught him the enthusiastic love for an ascetic life which she herself felt (ib. 181). Brother and sister settled on their paternal estate on opposite banks of the Iris. The premature death of her most dearly loved brother Naucratius, on a hunting expedition, 357, strengthened her resolution to separate from the world, and she persuaded her mother also, who was nearly broken-hearted at their loss, to embrace the ascetic life. The nucleus of the sisterhood was formed by their female servants and slaves. Devout women, some of high rank, soon gathered round them, while the birth and high connexions of Macrina and her mother attracted the daughters of the most aristocratic families in Pontus and Cappadocia to the community (ib. 184, 186). Among its members were a widow of high rank and wealth, named Vestiana, and a virgin named Lampadia, who is described as the chief of the band (ib. 197). Macrina took to her retreat her youngest brother Peter (ib. 186). The elevation of her brother Basil to the see of Caesarea, 370, became a stimulus to a higher pitch of asceticism. Peter was ordained presbyter by his brother (ib. 187), probably in 371. In 373 Emmelia died, holding the hands of Macrina and Peter and offering them to God with her dying breath, as the first-fruits and tenths of her womb, and was buried by them in her husband's grave at the chapel of the "Forty Martyrs." Macrina sustained her third great sorrow in the death (Jan. 1, 379) of Basil, whom she had long regarded with reverential affection. Nine months after, her brother Gregory Nyssen paid her a visit. Owing to his banishment under Valens and other persecutions it was eight or nine years since they had met. He found the aged invalid, parched with fever, stretched on planks on the ground, the wood barely covered with a bit of sackcloth. The pallet was carefully arranged to face the east. On her brother's approach she made a vain effort to rise to do him honour as a bishop; Gregory prevented her, and had her placed on her bed (ib. 189). With great self-command Macrina, ἡ μεγάλη, as he delights to call her, restrained her groans, checked her asthmatic pantings, and putting on a cheerful countenance endeavoured to divert him from the present sorrow. She ventured to speak of Basil's death; Gregory completely broke down; and when her consolations proved unavailing, she rebuked him for sorrowing like those who had no hope for one fallen asleep in Christ. Gregory defending himself, she bid him argue out the point with her. After a somewhat prolix controversy, Macrina, as though under divine inspiration—καθάπερ θεοφορουμένη τῷ ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι—her words pouring out without stay, like water from a fountain (ib. 189), delivered the long discourse on the resurrection and immortality of the soul which Gregory has recorded—more probably in his own than his dying sister's words—in the de Anima ac Resurrectione Dialogus, entitled τὰ Μακρίνια (Opp. t. iii. pp. 181–260). On the conclusion of this remarkable discourse (in which the purificatory nature of the fire of hell is 680unmistakably set forth, the anguish being in exact proportion to the rootedness of the sinful habits—μέτρον τῆς ἀλγηδόνης ἡ τῆς κακίας ἐν ἑκάστῳ ποσότης ἐστίν, p. 227), she noticed that her brother was weary and sent him to rest awhile in an arbour in the garden. Towards the close of the same day he revisited her bedside. She began a thankful review of her past life, recounting God's mercies to her (ib. 191, 192). At last her voice failed, and only by the motion of her lips and her outspread hands—διαστολὴ τῶν χειρῶν—was she known to be praying. She signed her eyes, mouth, and breast with the cross. Dusk came on; lights were brought in; she immediately attempted to chant the ἐπιλύχνιος εύχαριστία—but "silently with her hands and with her heart." She once more signed her self on the face with the cross, gave a deep sigh, and finished her life and her prayers together (ib. 195). Round her neck was found an iron cross, and a ring containing a particle of the true cross (ib. 198). She was buried by her brother in the grave of her parents in the chapel of the "Forty Martyrs," about a mile from her monastery. Gregory was assisted in carrying the bier by Araxius the bishop of the diocese (probably Ibora), and two of the leading clergy. After her death many miracles said to have been performed by her were reported to Gregory (ib. 199, 202–204) Tillem. Mém. eccles. ix. 564–573.

[E.V.]

« Macrina, the Elder Macrina, the Younger Magnentius, Flavius Popilius, emperor »





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