St. Macrina and the Healing of the Soldier’s Daughter

St. Macrina the Younger (ca. AD 327 – July 379), was the older sister of three Cappadocian Saints and Bishops: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste. She was also friends with St. Gregory of Nanzianzus. Macrina transformed one of her family’s rural estates in Pontus (modern Turkey) into a monastery for ascetic virgins who came from both an aristocratic and non-aristocratic backgrounds.  All members, including those from her own household, were free and ex-slaves received the same rights and obligations as their former masters. St. Basil established a men’s monastery nearby. Macrina was so well respected and loved by her younger brother, Gregory, that he wrote two books about her virtues, holiness, and intellect soon after her death in AD 379: The Life of Saint Macrina and On the Soul and the Resurrection. The post below is an excerpt from The Life of Saint Macrina, written in about AD 381.

“Along the way [from Macrina’s funeral], a distinguished military man who had command of a garrison in a little town of the district of Pontus, called Sebastopolis, and who lived there with his subordinates, came with the kindly intentions to meet me [Gregory of Nyssa] when I arrived there. He had heard of our misfortune [the death of Macrina] and he took it badly (for, in fact, he was related to our family by kinship and also by close friendship). He gave me an account of a miracle worked by Macrina; and this will be the last event I shall record in my story before concluding my narrative. When we stopped weeping and were standing in conversation, he said to me, “Hear what a great good has departed from human life.” And with this he stated his story.

“It happened that my wife and I once desired to visit that powerhouse of virtue; for that’s what I think that place should be called in which the blessed soul spent her life. Our little daughter was also with us and she suffered from an eye ailment as a result of an infectious disease. And it was a hideous and pitiful sight, since the membrane around the pupil was swollen and because of the disease had taken on a whitish tinge. As we entered that divine place, we separated, my wife and I, to make our visit to those who lived a life of philosophy1 therein, I going to the monks’ enclosure where your brother, Peter [of Sebaste], was abbot, and my wife entering the convent to be with the holy one. After a suitable interval had passed, we decided it was time to leave the monastery retreat and we were already getting ready to go when the same, friendly invitation came to us from both quarters. Your brother asked me to stay and take part in the philosophic table, and the blessed Macrina would not permit my wife to leave, but she held our little daughter in her arms and said that she would not give her back until she had given them a meal and offered them the wealth of philosophy; and, as you might have expected, she kissed the little girl and was putting her lips to the girl’s eyes, when she noticed the infection around the pupil and said, “If you do me the favor of sharing our table with us, I will give you in return a reward to match your courtesy.” The little girl’s mother asked what it might be and the great Macrina replied, “It is an ointment I have that has the power to heal the eye infection.” When after this a message reached me from the women’s quarters telling me of Macrina’s promise, we gladly stayed, counting of little consequence the necessity which pressed us to make our way back home.

Finally the feasting was over and our souls were full. The great Peter with his own hands had entertained and cheered us royally, and the holy Macrina took leave of my wife with every courtesy one could wish for. And so, bright and joyful, we started back home along the same road, each of us telling the other what happened to each as we went along. And I recounted all I had seen and heard in the men’s enclosure, while she told me every little thing in detail, like a history book, and thought that she should omit nothing, not even the least significant details. On she went telling me about everything in order, as if in a narrative, and when she came to the part where a promise of a cure for the eye had been made, she interrupted the narrative to exclaim, “What’s the matter with us! How did we forget the promise she made us, the special eye ointment?” And I was angry about our negligence and summoned some one to run back quickly to ask for the medicine, when our baby, who was in her nurse’s arms, looked, as it happened, towards her mother. And the mother gazed intently at the child’s eyes and then loudly exclaimed with joy and surprise, “Stop being angry at our negligence! Look! There’s nothing missing of what she promised us, but the true medicine with which she heals diseases, the healing which comes from prayer, she has given us and it has already done its work, there’s nothing whatsoever left of the eye disease, all healed by that divine medicine!” And as she was saying this, she picked the child up in her arms and put her down in mine. And then I too understood the incredible miracles of the gospel, which I had not believed in, and exclaimed: “What a great thing it is when the hand of God restores sight to the blind, when today his servant heals such sicknesses by her faith in Him, an event no less impressive than those miracles!” All the while he was saying this, his voice was choked with emotion and the tears flowed into his story. This then is what I heard from the soldier.”

~ from The Life of Saint Macrina, by St. Gregory of Nyssa


1 Philosophy as the ideal of the Christian monastic life plays a central role in The Life of Saint Macrina (LSM) and will undoubtedly seem strange, even alien, to modern ears long accustomed to the scholasticism and secularization of academic disciplines. However, the essential and organic unity of the spiritual, intellectual, and physical ways of life, central to the monastic Rule of St. Basil, even yields such a remarkable phrase in the LSM as “the philosophic table”. This usage accurately reflects St. Gregory’s fourth-century Christian understanding of “philosophy”, i.e., love of wisdom, passion for the truth, care of the soul, contemplation (theoria), and ascetic physical discipline which spurns attachment to material things while recognizing that the body will be restored to its true God-created stature by the resurrection.

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