Dancing on the Head of a Pin

There is a legend of St Thomas Aquinas asking "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" At this blog we ask all questions dealing with our faith and spirituality. Some are down to earth, rubber meets the road questions, while others are more lofty...like, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

St Macrina

Macrina (340-379) was a monastic, theologian and teacher. She founded one of the earliest Christian communities in the Cappadocian city of Pontus. Macrina left no writings; we know of her through the works of her brother St. Gregory of Nyssa (page 181). In his Life of St. Macrina, Gregory describes her as both beautiful and brilliant, an authoritative spiritual teacher. Macrina persuaded her mother Emmelia to renounce their wealthy lifestyle and to help her establish a monastery on the family’s estate. Macrina’s ideal of community emphasized caring for the poor and
ministering to the wider community. She literally picked up young women who lay in the road starving. Many joined her order. Gregory credits Macrina as the spiritual and theological intelligence behind her siblings’ notable careers in the Church. Gregory, and their brothers St. Basil (page 269), St. Peter of Sebaste, and Naucratios went to her often for theological counsel. Macrina frequently challenged her celebrated brothers. She told Gregory his fame was not due to his own merit, but to the prayers of his parents. She took Basil in hand when he returned from Athens “monstrously conceited about his skill in rhetoric.” Under her influence, Basil and Peter renounced material possessions and turned away from secular academia to become monks and theologians. Basil and Peter wrote a Rule for community life, ensuring that Macrina’s ideas for Christian community would have lasting authority. Basil, Gregory and Peter all became bishops, in no small measure because of Macrina’s influence, and became leading defenders of the Nicene faith. Gregory visited Macrina as she lay dying on two planks on the floor. He relates Macrina’s last words as a classical Greek farewell oration imbued with Holy Scripture. In both his Life of St. Macrina and in his later treatise of The Soul and Resurrection, Gregory presents Macrina
admiringly as a Christian Socrates, delivering beautiful deathbed prayers and teachings about the resurrection.

Merciful God, you called your servant Macrina to reveal in her life and her teaching the riches of your grace and truth: May we, following her example, seek after your wisdom and live according to her way; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

- Lesser Feasts and Fasts, July 19


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