Macrina – 19 July 2021
Here is a holy woman – see she has a halo. She wears a white underdress, a symbol of her virginity. She is holding up her hands as she prays. Her head is veiled as she lives to a discilined life of prayer in a monastic community she established at her family estate. There her daily pattern included singing the whole of the Psalter.
The fresco here is degraded and faded, so that as Macrina looks out at the viewer, she herself is more difficult to discern. As in art, so in life. This important saint is not so well known in the West, and her significance could easily pass us by.
Macrina was the older sister of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, these two named as Cappadocian Fathers, together with Gregory of Nazianzus. Macrina is a ‘Cappadocian Mother’ of the faith, a theologian, and woman of great prayer. Her holiness and rule of life were exemplary, setting a pattern for generations of women religious to follow.
The image is a fresco, St Macrina the Younger, Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev, 11thC.
Her brother Gregory recorded her final prayer, as below, said on her death bed.
you have taken the fear of death away from us. The end of our life here you have made the beginning of true life. For a little while you will let our bodies rest in sleep, and then with the last trumpet you will wake them from their sleep.
You give to the Earth to keep for you this earth of ours, which you shaped with your own hands; and you will take it back again, and from a mortal, formless lump transform it into a thing of immortal beauty.
To free us from sin and from the curse laid upon us, you took both sin and the curse upon yourself.
You crushed the head of the dragon that had seized men by the throat and thrust it into the gulf prepared for the disobedient.
When you shattered the gates of hell and trampled the devil, death’s lord, beneath your feet, you cleared the way for our resurrection.
To us who fear you, you gave a sign, the sign of your holy cross, to destroy the enemy and infuse new vigor into our lives.
O eternal God, you have been my refuge since I left my mother’s womb; I love you with all my inmost strength; I have devoted myself, body and soul, to you from my childhood onwards.
Set now an angel of light beside me and bid him take my hand and lead me to the resting-place where there is water for refreshment, beside the dwellings of the holy fathers.
The flaming sword you snapped in two; the man who hung upon the cross with you and implored your great mercy you restored to paradise. Remember me, too, now that you are back in your kingdom, since I also have hung upon the cross with you and the nails have pierced my flesh; for I have always feared your judgment. May the dread gulf not divide me from your elect or the Slanderer stand in my way; may your eyes not rest on my sins.
If out of the weakness of human nature I have fallen and sinned in word or deed or thought, forgive it me; for you have power to forgive sins on Earth. When I am divested of my body, may I stand before you with my soul unspotted; receive it, blameless and faultless, with your own hands.