She Shines: the story of Macrina (a guest post by Rev. Carla Sunberg)

CarlaRev. Carla Sunberg, PhD, is one of the coauthors for the upcoming book Reclaiming Eve (March 2014), a District Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, and an enthusiastic student of the Cappadocian Mothers, living examples of the holy life. Find her on twitter @CarlaSun.

She was a beautiful girl, the eldest daughter from a wealthy family, and the whole world lay before her. Of course, there were many suitors, and finally there was the handsome young lawyer who asked for her hand in marriage. The whole family was pleased with the arrangement and the wedding plans were being made when suddenly everything came to a screeching halt. The handsome young man, the love of Macrina’s life, unexpectedly passed away, and now, everything would change. 

Her family comforted her through the time of mourning—but after a proper period of time, they encouraged her to again look for someone to marry. Macrina would have none of it, she felt that God had given her the man that she should love in this lifetime but now she wanted to live her life in total service to God. Could this possibly be the fulfillment of the vision her mother had the night she was born? On that night a stranger had entered the room and told her that this child would be special and she would have a secret name, Thekla, a name that had belonged to a female leader who gave her entire life in service to God.

She declared to her father and brothers that she would live the remainder of her life “alone”—that is, in a relationship with Jesus Christ and in service to him alone. Macrina had been well educated in the Scriptures by her grandmother and mother and went on to become the chief teacher of the younger siblings. Eventually nine children in the family would reach adulthood and this oldest sister would have a profound impact on each and every single one of them.

Not only did she help to form her siblings, she became her mother’s spiritual leader. Soon after the birth of the 10th child their father died and Macrina’s mother was overwhelmed with the administration and management of their large estates. Macrina encouraged her mother to divest of most of their material goods—sell the big house in the city—and move to the family’s country estate and set-up a family monastery.

The family invested their personal fortune in ministry to the poor and needy. Even those who had previously been servants in the household were now considered brothers and sisters. Macrina would personally labor in the kitchen baking bread for her mother and other members of the community, while retaining her daily responsibility as teacher, only now the numbers of those benefitting from her vast knowledge expanded beyond those in the household to the surrounding community.

Macrina’s entire life became one in which she gave up her earthly bridegroom for a heavenly one. What she may have lost in earthly love she gained as she fell more and more desperately in love with Jesus Christ. He became the passion and direction of her life as her behaviors seemed to reflect him more and more. She became engaged in feeding the poor and healing the sick. People traveled for days to visit this holy woman of God and experience God’s presence in the family monastery. With complete and total humility Macrina never allowed anyone to praise her, but only to praise Jesus, the one who’s loved flowed through her.

Her brother describes the very final moments of Macrina’s life. In that moment she becomes a type of living mirror and as she faces her Beloved with her entire surface, all of the beauty of his form is reflected in her.[1] She says wholeheartedly, “I to my beloved, and my beloved to me.” [2] She receives his beauty and the result, according to her brother Gregory, is “true holiness, purity, incorruptibility, light, truth, and all the rest.”[3] In life and in death, Macrina shone with the reflection of the glory of God.To read more about Macrina, visit this site.

[1] Nyssen, CC, Homily15 (PG 44:1093c-1096d) (GNO VI), trans. Musurillo, 282. [2] Song of Songs 6:20 [3] Nyssen, CC, Homily15 (PG 44:1093c-1096d) (GNO VI), trans. Musurillo, 283. Psalm 109:3