Feast of St. Macrina the Elder, Her Family, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (January 14)   1 comment

holy-family

Above:  A Family Tree

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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SAINT MACRINA THE ELDER (CIRCA 270-CIRCA 340)

Bridge of Faith

Her feast = January 14

mother of

SAINT BASIL THE ELDER (300S)

Attorney and Teacher of Rhetoric

His feast transferred from May 30

husband of

SAINT EMILIA OF CAESAREA (DIED MAY 30, 375)

Abbess

Also known as Saint Emmelia of Caesarea and Saint Emily of Caesara

Her feast transferred from January 11, May 8, and May 30

mother of

SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER (CIRCA 327-379)

Abbess and Theologian

Her feast transferred from July 19

sister of

SAINT NAUCRATIUS (300S)

Hermit

brother of

SAINT PETER OF SEBASTE (CIRCA 340-391)

Bishop of Sebaste and Theologian 

His feast transferred from January 9

brother of 

SAINT GREGORY OF NYSSA (CIRCA 335-CIRCA 395)

Bishop of Nyssa and Theologian

His feast transferred from March 9

brother of 

SAINT BASIL THE GREAT (CIRCA 330-JANUARY 1, 379)

Bishop of Caesarea and Theologian

Father of Eastern Communal Monasticism

His feast transferred from January 2 and June 14

friend of

SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER (CIRCA 329-389)

Archbishop of Constantinople and Theologian

His feast transferred from January 25

Alternative feast date on this calendar = February 25

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A HISTORY OF FAITH, FAMILY, AND FRIENDSHIP

In this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I transfer feast days frequently.  The most common reason for doing so is to facilitate the telling of narratives of holy men and women who have influenced each other and worked together.  Retaining ecclesiastically approved feast days obstructs that purpose sometimes.  With this post I move some feast days write about nine saints, with an emphasis on intergenerational influences.

For the purposes of this post I choose to begin with St. Macrina the Elder, although I could easily back up a few generations before her.  That, however, would create a post quite difficult to follow.  Focusing on three generations of one family and adding one friend, who came from a holy family also suffices.

I have covered St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger in the context of his family is a separate post.

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Our story begins in Neocaesarea, Cappadocia, in modern-day Turkey.

For nearly 30 years the bishop there was St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (circa 213-268), whose relics St. Macrina the Elder (circa 270-circa 340) kept.  She and her husband had converted from paganism to Christianity in that city, where the late bishop had kept the flame of Christian faith alive in his small flock during times of pestilence and persecution.  St. Macrina the Elder and her husband, whose name has not survived the ravages of the passage of time, endured many hardships for their faith.  Galerius, Caesar of the East (293-305) and Maximinus II Daia, Caesar of the East (305-310) and Augustus of the East (310-313), persecuted Christianity severely.  During this time St. Macrina the Elder and her husband had to live in the woods and forage for seven years.  The couple returned to Neocaesarea after the death of Maximinus II Daia, but the local authorities seized their property and forced them to beg on the streets of the city.  Eventually circumstances improved for the couple, who had a son, St. Basil the Elder.  His father died when he was young, so St. Macrina the Elder, a widow and a single mother, had to raise him.

St. Basil the Elder became an attorney and a respected teacher of rhetoric, a prominent position in that culture.  He, educated at Caesarea and Athens, settled down at Caesarea and declined an opportunity to teach in his hometown.  He married St. Emilia (a.k.a. Emmelia or Emily) of Caesarea (died in 375), who came from a wealthy family.  Her father was also a martyr.  St. Basil the Elder and Emilia had ten children, nine of whom lived to adulthood and five of whom became canonized saints.  The sainted children were:

  1. St. Macrina the Younger (circa 327-379),
  2. St. Basil the Great (circa 330-January 1, 379),
  3. St. Gregory of Nyssa (circa 335-circa 395),
  4. St. Peter of Sebaste (circa 340-391), and
  5. St. Naucratius.

Sts. Basil the Elder and Emilia raised their family in luxury.  Some of their children developed an unhealthy relationship with wealth, but the eldest child, St. Macrina the Younger, seemed not to have done so.  While St. Basil the Elder instructed his sons in rhetoric St. Emilia made sure that her eldest child received a fine education.  For St. Macrina the Younger, with her cultivated mind made possible by money, wealth was a tool, not an idol; she was willing use that tool for the glory of God while she lived ascetically.  She paid close attention to the education of her brothers, whom she encouraged to pursue religious vocations, urged to live ascetically, and influenced theologically.  St. Macrina the Younger also encouraged her widowed mother to help her found to abbeys–a convent and a monastery–on the family estate.  St. Emilia served as the first abbess of the convent.  St. Macrina the Younger succeeded her in 375.

Of the canonized children the least famous was St. Naucratius.  At the age of 21 years he turned his back on his legal career to become a hermit living near his family.  He cared actively for the poor and helped to take care of his mother, who had to bury him after he died suddenly at the age of 27 years.

St. Macrina the Younger professed monastic life and preceded her brothers in it.  When she was 12 years old St. Basil the Elder had arranged a marriage for her, but the intended groom died before the wedding date.  St. Macrina the Younger decided to renounce marriage, remain by her mother’s side, live simply, and help the poor.  She followed that path faithfully.  In 379, the same year her brother St. Basil the Great died, she also died.  Another brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, rushed to her bedside, her bed being two boards.  He wrote:

She was uplifted as she discoursed to us on the nature of the soul and explained the reason of life in the flesh, and why man was made, and how he was mortal, and the origin of death and nature of the journey from death to life again….All of this seemed to me more than human.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 308

The Cappadocian Fathers were Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger.  Two of the three were brothers.  St. Basil the Great (circa 330-January 1, 379) became the Father of Eastern Communal Monasticism, for he wrote the Rule of St. Basil (358-364).  First, however, he studied at Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens.  At Athens, he met and befriended St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (circa 329-389), who also came from a holy family.  These two saints became theological colleagues.

St. Basil the Great became a Doctor of the Church.  He, influenced by the example of his mother and sister, visited the chief monasteries in the East circa 357.  Then, in 358, he became a monk at the monastery on his family’s estate.  There he remained for five years.  St. Basil, ordained a priest in 364, was largely responsible for the administration of the Diocese of Caesarea from 365 to 370.  Then, in 370, he became the Bishop of Caesarea.  St. Basil resisted the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens (reigned 364-378), an Arian who persecuted orthodox Christianity.  The saint, holding his own as he confronted an astonished prefect fearlessly, said,

Perhaps you have never before had to deal with a proper bishop.

Valens, who feared St. Basil the Great, divided the Diocese of Caesarea in an effort to reduce the proper bishop’s influence.  So, circa 371, St. Basil ordained St. Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, as the Bishop of Nyssa.  St. Gregory did not want the job, for which he knew he was not suited.  The incident created a rift between the brothers.  In time, however, St. Gregory grew into the position.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (329-389), son of St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder, Bishop of Nazianzus, also became a bishop against his will.  The Younger met St. Basil the Great Athens, where they were classmates.  He and St. Basil the Great collaborated on a major work, a selection of writings by Origen (185-254).  The Younger’s true calling was to be a monk spending his life in contemplation, but people kept placing him in leadership roles.  In 362 his father ordained him to the priesthood.  Ten years later St. Basil the Great, in a move related to the politics of Valens and the consecration of St. Gregory of Nyssa, forced the Younger to become the Bishop of Sasima.  This created tension in the relationship between the two friends.  The Younger even refused to serve as the Bishop of Sasima, for, he considered Sasima to be

a detestable little place without water or grass or any mark of civilization.

The incident caused the Younger to feel like

a bone flung to the dogs.

He went to Nazianzus and assisted his father instead.  After a few years the Younger became a monk in Seleucia.  By the time St. Basil the Great died the Younger had made peace with his old friend, at whose funeral he presided in 379.  Later that year he relocated to Constantinople, where he preached against Arianism.  Then, in 381, the Younger served as Archbishop of Constantinople for a few weeks before returning to his family estate.  There he spent the rest of his life in contemplation.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger, a Doctor of the Church, helped the Church to formulate its rebuttal of Arianism, the proposition that the Second Person of the Trinity is a created being.  His partners in this work included the other two Cappadocian Fathers, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa.  The Younger also argued against the Apollinarian heresy, the idea that Jesus was fully divine and partially human.

St. Basil the Great and his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, knew who they were, for good and for ill.  Both of them were sometimes tactless men who created and contributed to their problems.  As St. Basil wrote confessionally,

For my sins, I seem to fail in everything.

Sometimes this tendency to make enemies needlessly frustrated attempts to argue against heresies, as when St. Basil antagonized Pope St. Damasus I (reigned 366-384), his fellow opponent of Arianism.

Nevertheless, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, some of whose writings survive, cared deeply about the poor and acted to help them.  St. Basil condemned the wealthy who did not do all they could to help the less fortunate:

You refuse to give on the pretext that you haven’t enough for your own needs.  But while your tongue makes excuses, your hand convicts you–that ring shining on your finger silently declares you to be a liar.  How many debtors could be released from prison with one of those rings?

–Quoted in Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), page 260

St. Basil acted on his convictions.  On the outskirts of Caesarea he organized a new community and social services complex.  There the poor found health care and travelers and the poor found lodging.  They also had a church building in which to worship.  He lived in the community, for which he provided in his will.

St. Basil, a Doctor of the Church, fought the good fight.  He opposed simony, contributed to or wrote the influential Liturgy of St. Basil, and shaped the course of Christian theology.  He was also an outlier regarding classical pagan literature; he advised his nephews to use it as a tool for deepening their Christian faith.  This opinion put him in line with St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215).

St. Basil died on January 1, 379.  As he lay dying a crown waited outside.  When they heard that he had died, they proclaimed him a saint immediately.

St. Gregory of Nyssa followed in his father’s footsteps at first; he married and taught rhetoric.  (His wife was Theosebeia.)  Then he pursued a religious vocation.  As I have written in this post, St. Basil the Great ordained the Bishop of Nyssa circa 371.  St. Gregory did not seek this office.  In fact, he knew himself to be unsuited for it; he had difficulties being tactful and did not know the value of money.  False accusations of embezzlement provided a cover story for Arians to depose St. Gregory in 376.  He returned two years later, after the death of Valens.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, a mystic and an ascetic, came into his own and grew into his office after the death of St. Basil the Great in 379.  St. Gregory became a leading opponent of Arianism and, according to the First Council of Constantinople (381), a “pillar of orthodoxy.”  He died in 395.

St. Peter of Sebaste (circa 340-391) also defended Nicene doctrine.  He, like St. Gregory of Nyssa, had been an academic, but St. Macrina the Younger convinced him to pursue a religious vocation.  The youngest child of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emilia of Caesarea became a solitary ascetic.  Then, in 370, St. Basil the Great ordained him to the priesthood.  Ten years later St. Peter became the Bishop of Sebaste, in Armenia.  Although he did not write theological treatises, he did encourage St. Gregory of Nyssa to do so.

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I realize that you, O reader, have had to follow the proverbial bouncing ball.  I have led you on a journey through three generations that included two Macrinas, two Basils, and three Gregories.  Yet, given the frequent overlapping of the saints’ lives, I have decided that combining their stories into one post was the preferable method of writing about them.

This post is the successor to five posts, which I deleted shortly prior to taking notes for what you have read.  All of this has been part of an effort to renovate the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, starting with posts for January 1 and working all the way through to posts for December 31.  My progress so far has been encouraging, but, as you, O reader, can tell, January 14 is closer to January 1 than to December 31.  The possibilities of what await me have caused me to anticipate the intellectual and spiritual journey that will take me to the end of the renovation project.

I hope that you, O reader, will find reading about saints–in this case, the nine for this post–at least as edifying as the process of creating this post has been for me.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church.

Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace.

Where it is corrupt, purify it;

where it is in error, direct it;

where in anything it is amiss, reform it.

Where it is right, strengthen it;

where it is in want, provide for it;

where it is divided, reunite it;

for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior,

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:1-6, 20-22

Psalm 12:1-7

Acts 22:30-23:10

Matthew 21:12-16

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 735

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One response to “Feast of St. Macrina the Elder, Her Family, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (January 14)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Sts. Jerome, Paula of Rome, Eustochium, Blaesilla, Marcella, and Lea of Rome (January 27) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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