Truth and Life
Her grandson, Basil wrote admiringly of his grandmother’s mentoring. “What clearer proof of our faith could there be than that we were brought up by our grandmother, a blessed woman. I am speaking of the illustrious Macrina, by whom we were taught the words of the most blessed Gregory (Thaumaturgus), which, having preserved until her time by uninterrupted tradition, she also guarded, and she formed and molded me, still a child, to the doctrines of piety.”[ii]
What a fascinating concluding phrase, “formed and molded me . . . to the doctrines of piety.” Macrina’s discipleship model focused not just on doctrine, not just on piety, but on both—truth and life. In this, she followed in the heritage of the Apostle Paul who passed on the faith to Timothy with these words: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them . . .” (1 Timothy 4:16a, emphasis added).
Like Macrina the Elder, her daughter Emmelia took an active role in the spiritual formation of her children, particularly her firstborn, Macrina the Younger. Gregory of Nyssa tells us in his vita of his sister: “The education of the child was her mother’s task; she did not, however, employ the usual worldly method of education . . . but such parts of inspired Scripture as you would think were incomprehensible to young children were the subject of the girl’s studies; in particular the Wisdom of Solomon, and those parts of it especially which have an ethical bearing. Nor was she ignorant of any part of the Psalter, but at stated times she recited every part of it.” Indeed, “When she rose from bed, or engaged in household duties, or rested, or partook of food, or retired from table, when she went to bed or rose in the night for prayer, the Psalter was her constant companion, like a good fellow-traveler that never deserted her.”[iii]
Like mother, like daughter. Emmelia’s guiding emphasized truth and life by inculcating the “ethical bearing” of Proverbs. She also followed the pedagogical insight and teaching methodology of Deuteronomy 6:7, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, when you lied down and when you get up.”From Generation to Generation
Her life lessons stuck. Macrina the Younger discipled her younger brother, Peter. She “took him soon after birth from the nurse’s breast and reared him herself and educated him on a lofty system of training, practicing him from infancy in his holy studies” and eventually became “all things to the lad—father, teacher, tutor, mother, giver of all good advice.”[iv]
In turn, Peter applied well his sister’s life lessons. “Scorning to occupy his time with worldly studies, and having in nature a sufficient instructor in all good knowledge, and always looking to his sister as the model of all good, he advanced to such a height of virtue that in his subsequent life he seemed in no whit inferior to the great Basil. But at this time he was all in all to his sister and mother, co-operating with them in the pursuit of the angelic life.”[v] In later years, Peter and Macrina the Younger administered the double monastery at Annesi, discipling yet another generation of young believers.
Again, Macrina’s family followed the discipleship model of the Apostle Paul who exhorted Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Macrina the Elder’s family mentored four generations and beyond. Macrina the Elder provided guidance to Emmelia; Emmelia provided spiritual direction to Macrina the Younger; Macrina the Younger discipled Peter; Peter mentored those at the double monastery; and those at the monasteries passed the torch of truth to still others.[i]Ranft, p. 26.
[iii]Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Saint Macrina, paragraphs 962c-964a.
[iv]Ibid., paragraph 972c.
[v]Ibid., paragraph 972d.