Saint Macrina the Younger was a member of a very large and saintly family:
- Her grandmother (known as Macrina the Elder) is remembered as a Saint, and had studied under Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus.
- Her father was Saint Basil the Elder, a virtuous lawyer and rhetorician.
- Her mother was Saint Emmelia, who ran the household with a monastic-like mood of constant prayer.
- Two of her brothers (Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa) are among the “Cappadocian Fathers” – bishops and theologians who were giants of Early Church theology, most notable for their contributions to the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, as finalized in the revision of the Nicene Creed at the First Council of Constantinople (in 381).
- Another of her brothers, Saint Peter of Sebaste, also went on to be a bishop and a participant in the Council of Constantinople in 381.
Macrina was taught to read, and she studied the Scriptures long and hard throughout her life, growing alongside her younger brothers Basil and Gregory and even personally tutoring her brothers Peter and Naucratius. (She had nine siblings in all.)
Early on, Macrina was betrothed to be married, but her fiancé died before the wedding. Although free to marry someone else, she elected to become a nun, favoring her mystical marriage to Christ over an earthly husband. After this, she and her mother gradually transformed the family house in Pontus, on the Black Sea, into a monastery and convent.
She is not remembered quite as famously as her brothers Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great, for she did not produce any writings of her own that we know of. Yet, her contribution to their continued learning throughout their lives was noted and celebrated after her death in Gregory’s book, The Macrinia: Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection. Modeled after a literary style in Plato, this book was written as a conversation between Gregory and Macrina on her deathbed.
In a period of history where women rarely directly contributed to politics, religion, or society, Macrina shines as a brilliant example of an influential woman. Because of her, the Cappadocian Fathers had markedly more positive views of women. Because of her, Gregory of Nyssa was able to write some ideals for holy living as a woman, rather than just for men. We don’t know to what extent she continued to contribute to the theological work of the Cappadocian Fathers, and by extension, the form of the Nicene Creed used to this day, but her influence was there, and appreciated by her brothers and friends.
Saint Macrina the Younger is commemorated on the day of her death, the 19th of July; or on the 18th in some provinces of the Church.