of you receive that--though all welcome--and yet I think it could
be of general interest
Today, as I am reminded by an entry in the journal of punkass_1
is the day of Saint Macrina the Younger,330-379. She was a very interesting
person in herself, as one of the creators of community religious life,and as
a person whose strength of character had great influence on her family and
brilliant brothers through whom the world was deeply intluenced and changed.
Her brothers were St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, a profound philosopher
and mystic, and St Peter of Sebaste, and she was herself something of a philosopher
and we have a dialogue in the Socratic style attributed to her as being a
transcription by Gregory. In point of fact it is likely fairly comletely by
Gregory but must be of the sort of thing that she, as well as he, would have
said and based on conversations near the end of her life. She felt from a dream
which her mother had that her mystical name was Thecla, after a coworker with
St. Paul. However interesting as her life is, I am not really interested to
provide it here--you can find it without difficulty on the internet.
But thinking of that dream, and of her family, makes me think that it would be
interesting to trace back through her parents and beyond through the generations
as far as we can go, the formative influence, that led to four saints being
recongnized (saints it should be said for those who dont think easily
in these terms, are not perfect people who never did anything ambiguous or were
never confused or sad or something, nor yet are they only ones who are good people,
but they are those recognized by others as having led lives which were both remarkable
and somehow exemplary and in some way large or small perhaps even heroic)
four saints in one generation of one family, and at that four whose influence
will touch the whole world and partly make the world we live in today... from what
stream of influence can such a phenomenon come?
In fact it proves possible to follow the path back a number of generations and it
is an interesting one, or so it seems to me, leading to a man I had never really
considered before. Come with me then on another journey in community but this time
through Time, clicking to the right
Macrina was the first child of a man named Basil, as would be named one
of her brothers, and Emmelia. Emmelia dreamed that her daughter's real name
was Thekla, but the family chose instead the name Macrina after the
grandmother Macrina, who is known as St Macrina the Elder. The parents
had endured exile for their faith in the time of Emperor Maximinus but later
returned to Caesarea in Cappadocia, central Turkey we would say, where
the family home was.
St MACRINA THE ELDER was however apparantly the more formative of the family
having lived with her husband and then after his death by herself and
having a reputation for wisdom and sense of justice and strength of faith.
She and her husband suffered during the persecution of Gallerius and then
spent six years in hiding on the Black Sea Coast during the persecution of
Now this Macrina the Elder was in her youth a disciple of St Gregory of
Caesarea called Gregory Thaumaturgus(GREGORY THE WONDERWORKER) she died
in the year 340, when her granddaughter Macrina was 10.
Going back then a stage we come to Gregory the Wonderworker 213-270, who
had come to north central Turkey as a missionary from Palestine and so
was met by Macrina the Elder. In his time he saw plague and war and
persecution, once hiding for a time in the desert accompanied by a deacon.
He is called Wonder Worker because, well apparantly that is something he
did...in his life which was written by people of learning and judgment
perhaps not less than that of any other historians of any time there are
stories of power exercised through him over the elements, moving a great
rock, turning a river, healing many. I do not know what is the truth of
all that but in any case he was the sort of man about whom that sort of
thing was said, as it was not of any of the other saints we are speaking
of in this particular journey. He himself was an educated man, in letters
and law, who as a youth came under the influence of the great teacher
Origen (about the year 230) and was baptized.
This brings us to ORIGEN of Alexandria, 185-232. Origen was one of the
great minds of the time, indeed of all time really, a founder of the
study of theology, and of Biblical studies, a philosopher who had one
of those speculative minds which can leave no question unconsidered
and who had the gift of seeing things from every side, and with it also
a man of deep faith and mystical inwardness. He is sometimes considered
to have been eccentric in his teachings or even "heretical" but he was not
so judged in his time and never considered himself other than an ordinary
Christian...he was not an "esotericist"...all his teaching is open, complex
as it may be, thought not all his writing survive...but he taught in the
great Catechetical School of Alexandria. He knew and had studied with
Plotinus under the teacher Ammonius Saccas, and when he entered a classroom
where Plotinus was speaking, the latter deferred to him as master
(not that one or the other need be, but they were of a level perhaps as
Eliot who calls Pound "the greater worker" in courtesy at the beginning of
Wasteland). Origen was first to write a book on prayer, and he wrote also
on martyrdom and suffered himself. But his father before him had been a martyr
and it is to the father as formative influence now of Origen that our journey
St LEONIDES father of Origen was imprisoned and martyred during the persecution
by Severus in the year 202. He seems to have been a Roman citizen, since we
know that he was beheaded a form of execution used for citizens, and perhaps
preferrable to some of the alternatives, and a teacher of literature and a
man of some rank, who taught his son in both Biblical and Classical learning.
It is said that when Leonides was imprisoned, the 17 year old Origen intended
to rush to the police to join him but his mother, whose name we do not know,
had hidden his clothing so that he could not do so. It is at least a good
anecdote and we know Origen's later honor to martyrs which began with his own
father. This is all we have on Leonides, and I do not think we can easily go
back before him, thought this does bring us back to the time of the beginning
of the catechetical school under Pantaneus and then Clement 190, Clement
was apparantly born in Athens in 150... But from Leonides to Macrina there
is a sort of current of inheritance and influence which includes an openness
to culture and learning and a depth of faith and commitment even to death,
and from Macrina and her younger and great brothers, particularly Basil
and Gregory the current continues , of course passing through many others
and after a time the names blending one into another in historical memory...
but continues to our day.
Well.. this little journey today... and perhaps I might say that as I read of
the Catechetical Schools , I think of my friend and coworker Andrey Cherniak
a scientist, perhaps like one of the ancients with a pagan learning so he
from Soviet schools, baptized by Fr Alexander Men and who became his chief
catechist...preparing others for baptism, as he does in a great parish in
central Moscow to this day with a class each year of perhaps 200.
The first time Andrey was to teach catechism Fr Men introduced him and
then ("he could be a very impish man" Andrey says) briefly covered all the
material he had prepared himself and then said "after a break Andrey will
tell you about..."(things he had not at all prepared) and yet it worked
and he found himself speaking freely about things he had not been aware
and from Fr Men one could go back to his mother, and then to an underground
priest and ...and it is another flow of course but maybe of the same river in
And thinking of Leonides and of his death, I wonder what he dreamed the
night before his death...if anything of course...but I am remembering
the dream of the priest about to be executed in twentieth century Mexico
at a time when the Church was outlawed by the reds there, and it is in
Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory...let this dream then also
be that of Leonides and let the girl (who must have a place in the Greene
novel I have forgotten) by Macrina who comes later in Time of course
as for the tapping...
the tapping goes on to our day....
He dreamed he was sitting at a cafe table in front of the high altar
of the cathedral. about six dishes were spread before him and he was
eating and there was the smell of incense and an odd wense of elation...
he had the sense that when he had finished them he would have the best
dish of all.
then the glass beside his plate began to fill with wine and he looked
up and saw the child from the banana station was erving him...
it is very good of you he said, I had forgotten the code. what did you
that was it Morse ..three long taps and one short.
immediately the taps began, a priest by the altar tapped
a whole invisible congregation tapped along the aisles three long
and one short.
He said what is it?
"News" the girl said watching him with a stern responsible gaze...
Today just these for the festival of St Macrina the younger,
yours, as always welcoming alll thought
and conversation, todays a bit heavy but conversation need not be, all
questions and shared thoguht welcome...
Gregory the Wonderworker
Macrina the Elder
Saint Macrina the Younger.