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Mother Macrina

This week we meet two of the great maternal figures of the patristic age. Yesterday, in the story of Pambo, we encountered Melania, the companion of St. Jerome. Today, July 19, is the memorial of St. Macrina, the big sister of two of the Cappadocian Fathers and three canonized saints: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste.

When she was twelve, her father had already arranged a marriage for her with a young lawyer. Her fiance died suddenly, however, and Macrina dedicated her life to virginity and the pursuit of Christian perfection. She exercised great influence over the religious training of her younger brothers. When her father died, she retired with their mother to a family estate on the River Iris, in Pontus, where they created a small monastic community. Macrina eventually became the head of this community, and she grew in renown for her holiness and spiritual wisdom. Many Christians came to seek her counsel. Shortly before her death in 379 A.D., she received a visit from her brother Gregory, who recorded their dialogues for posterity. Gregory’s Life of Macrina, available in translation at The Tertullian Project, is a must-read.

CLARIFICATION: Father Z has posted, as usual, an excellent profile of the day’s saint. He brings up a good point about the proliferation of Marcrinas in the rosters of the saints. I hope I made it clear which Macrina I’m dealing with. My headline is a curveball, since Macrina’s sainted grandma was also named Macrina. I wished only to emphasize the younger Macrina’s spiritual motherhood among the Fathers of the Church — and, of course, suggest the song “Mother Macree.”