In the fourth century, there was a Christian Roman woman who was very significant in her lifetime. She was named Macrina. Now, we have to make a distinction. This woman is known as Macrina the Younger to distinguish her from her grandmother, Macrina the Elder. They were very wealthy, aristocratic Romans. And they were devoted Christians, very committed to the church and very committed to the Christian faith. Macrina the Younger was born in 330, but her grandmother—a very godly woman—lived before the reign of Constantine, at a time when Rome was persecuting the church. So, this was a family that experienced persecution, and then, all through Macrina the Younger’s lifetime, grew up in that post-persecution Constantinian Roman world. Macrina is interesting in her own right, but she is also interesting because of her brothers.
Macrina came from a very large family. There seems to be a consensus that there were ten children in the family, of which she was the oldest. When she was a young lady, she was betrothed to be married, but her fiancé died. She never fell in love again and never sought marriage again. She felt that her betrothal was almost a marriage, and so she considered herself to be still married. At various times, she would say that her husband was on a journey far away from her and she was making her way to him. Consequently, she committed her life to service and turned the family’s large estate into a monastery and a convent.
So, we have her contribution in her own right, but what’s also interesting is her brothers. She had two brothers who were very significant. One of them was Basil, who went on to be bishop of Caesarea, and the other brother was Gregory. There are a lot of Gregories in the early church, but this one is Gregory of Nyssa. He was a bishop too. Basil and Gregory are two of the three theologians known as the Three Cappadocians.
Gregory wrote of Macrina and her death. He wrote as if she were sharing her testimony at her death. He reports that she said:
You, God, did break the flaming sword and did restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with you and implored your mercy. Remember me too in your kingdom because I too was crucified with you, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of thee, and of thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from the elect, nor let the slander stand against me in the way, nor let my sin be found before thine eyes. If in anything I have sinned in word, or deed, or thought, or have been led astray by the weakness of our nature.
She then pleaded for God’s mercy.
I find that first line fascinating: “You did break the flaming sword.” Of course, this is a reference to the angel who is keeping us from Paradise after Adam and Eve fell and were expelled from the garden. But God, through what Christ has done, has broken that flaming sword and has restored us to Paradise.