Macrina the Elder and Macrina the Younger

Two Saints

St. Basil's Cathedral
St. Basil's Cathedral: grandson and brother of the Macrinas. Salvator Barki / Getty Images

Macrina the Elder Facts

Known for: teacher and grandmother of St. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina the Younger and their siblings; also the mother of St. Basil the Elder
Dates: probably born before 270, died about 340
Feast Day: January 14

Macrina the Elder Biography

Macrina the Elder, a Byzantine Christian, lived in Neocaesaria. She was associated with Gregory Thaumaturgus, a follower of the church father Origen, who is credited with converting the city of Neocaesaria to Christianity.

She fled with her husband (whose name is not known) and lived in the forest during the persecution of Christians by the emperors Galerius and Diocletian. After the persecution ended, having lost their property, the family settled in Pontus on the Black Sea. Her son was Saint Basil the Elder.

She had a major role in the raising of her grandchildren, who included: Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Peter of Sebastea (Basil and Gregory are known as the Cappadocian Fathers), Naucratios, Saint Macrina the Younger, and, possibly, Dios of Antioch

Saint Basil the Great credited her with having "formed and molded me" in doctrine, passing on to her grandchildren the teachings of Gregory Thaumaturgus.

Because she lived much of her life as a widow, she is known as the patron saint of widows.

We know of St. Macrina the Elder primarily through the writings of her two grandsons, Basil and Gregory, and also of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus.

Macrina the Younger Facts

Known for: Macrina the Younger is credited with influencing her brothers Peter and Basil to go into a religious vocation
Occupation: ascetic, teacher, spiritual director
Dates: about 327 or 330 to 379 or 380
Also known as: Macrinia; she took Thecla as her baptismal name
Feast Day: July 19

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Saint Emmelia
  • Father: Saint Basil
  • Grandmother: Macrina the Elder
  • Nine or ten younger brothers include: Saint Basil the Great , Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Peter of Sebastea (Basil and Gregory are two of the church theological leaders known as the Cappadocian Fathers), Naucratios and, possibly, Dios of Antioch

Macrina the Younger Biography:

Macrina, the eldest of her siblings, was promised to be married by the time she was twelve, but the man died before the wedding, and Macrina chose a life of chastity and prayer, considering herself a widow and hoping for her eventual reunion in the afterlife with her fiance.

Macrina was educated at home, and helped educate her younger brothers.

After Macrina's father died in about 350, Macrina, with her mother and, later, her younger brother Peter, turned their home into a women's religious community. The women servants of the family became members of the community, and others soon were attracted to the house. Her brother Peter later founded a men's community connected with the women's community. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Eustathius of Sebastea were also connected with the Christian community there.

Macrina's mother Emmelia died in about 373 and Basil the Great in 379.

Soon after, her brother Gregory visited her one last time, and she died shortly after.

Another of her brothers, Basil the Great, is credited as a founder of monasticism in the East, and modeled his community of monks after the community founded by Macrina.

Her brother, Gregory of Nyssa, wrote her biography (hagiography). He also wrote "On the Soul and Resurrection." The latter represents a dialogue between Gregory and Macrina as he made his last visit to her and she was dying. Macrina, in the dialogue, is represented as a teacher describing her views on heaven and salvation. Later Universalists pointed to this essay where she asserts that all will ultimately be saved ("universal restoration").

Later church scholars have sometimes rejected that the Teacher in Gregory's dialogue is Macrina, though Gregory clearly states that in the work.

They claim that it must have been St. Basil instead, apparently on no other grounds than disbelief that it could have referred to a woman.