Thursday, January 26, 2012

Saint Macrina's influence on her brother Saint Basil

By Sr. Teresa Forcades (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Un Manament Nou

NOTE: These current columns by Sr. Teresa, which we will be gradually translating into English, are extracts from her most recent book, published in Catalan in 2011 by the Abadía de Montserrat, Ser persona, avui: estudi del concepte de ‘persona’ en la teologia trinitària clàssica i de la seva relació amb la noció moderna de llibertat ["Being a person today: a study in the concept of 'person' in classic Trinitarian theology and its relationship to the modern notion of freedom"].

At the end of this study of the Trinitarian theology of Basil, I will go into some aspects of life relevant to this issue such as the influence of Saint Macrina the Younger (327-379). In recent years there have been several studies that examine the extent to which the conversion of Basil and his love for the Scriptures were the result of the example and influence of his older sister, Macrina, founder of the dual monastery (women and men) of Annisa and abbess of the same until her death, and how we must recognize the responsibility of St. Macrina for the monastic rule called the Rule of St. Basil.

Saint Macrina was the oldest of what was perhaps the most notable family in the history of Christianity. Her paternal grandmother was Saint Macrina the Elder, disciple of the disciples of Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, evangelist of Cappadocia, whose master was the great Origen. Her parents were Saint Basil of Pontus and Saint Emmelia of Caesarea, and among her siblings we find Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, Naucratis the ascetic, Saint Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, and the monk Peter, bishop of Sebaste. The parents of this family belonged to the first generation of Christians in the Constantine era, but Macrina the Younger was raised by her grandmother Macrina the Elder, who still belonged to the generation of pre-Constantinian Christians, a generation of martyrs and confessors, accustomed to suffering persecution as members of an illegal religion.

When Macrina the Younger was twelve years old she was engaged to a young lawyer working in the office of her father, but her intended died soon after. Surprising and even scandalizing her family, Macrina then flatly refused to consider any other proposal of marriage and decided to devote herself to God as a virgin widow, starting in the family home a life dedicated to prayer, study of the Scriptures, and works of charity.

From age ten to seventeen, Basil lived in the family home with his ascetic sister, who was only two years older than him. From seventeen to twenty-seven, Basil studied in Caesarea, Constantinople and Athens. During these ten years, the family home, under the guidance and inspiration of Macrina, gradually transformed itself into one of the earliest Christian monasteries that - unlike the groups of ascetics in the Thebaid desert - included women, men and children and was structured as a real alternative society, as a steady prophetic sign in the world, in full communion with the bishop and the local Church. Macrina's monastery held properties and administered them for the benefit of the poor. It also had animals and craft workshops. Everyone took part in the manual labor and functions that were necessary for the maintenance of the house. They lived with simplicity and order and a life of faith structured around the recitation of psalms, which they chanted together several times a day.

Photo: Icon of St. Macrina with her brothers St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa and Peter, bishop of Sebaste.

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