[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Macrina was born the eldest child of a fairly wealthy family. Instead of giving her highly intelligent daughter what is known as a classical education,* her mother, Emmelia of Caesarea, educated her using Christian scripture. She was betrothed at age 12, but refused to marry anyone after her betrothed died. Instead she decided to stay with her mother. Once her father died, Macrina and her mother took the administration of the family properties on their own shoulders.
It was during this time period that Macrina, her mother, and her youngest brother collected a large number of men and women from many walks of life around them and founded one of the earliest known double monasteries. This may have then become the model for her brother Basil the Great’s Rule for double monasteries.** When their mother died, Macrina took charge and became abbess. Gregory claims that many of the nuns were women Macrina took from the streets and brought into her community.
She was known to be a highly intelligent woman who took it upon herself to teach others. She taught both monks and nuns in her monastery and in his “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection,” Gregory claims to recount a conversation he had with his sister on her deathbed, casting her as the Teacher and himself as her Student. She also frequently advised her brothers on the proper course of action and punctured their egos when they became too self-important.
Macrina the Younger is mostly known for being a nun who was related to important men. She was (like all women) more than that. She showed herself to be an intelligent and determined woman who he helped found one of the first double monasteries and proved herself a competent teacher and administrator. All of this shines through in her brother’s descriptions of her, even despite his Early Christian emphasis on humility.
*That is, teaching using the works of well-respected poets and rhetoricians.
**He, of course, has since received the credit for the idea of double monasticism, despite the prior actions of his mother, sister, and brother.
Life of Macrina the Younger, Gregory of Nyssa - Tertullian.org
Life of Macrina the Younger, Gregory of Nyssa - Internet History Sourcebooks Project
Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection, Gregory of Nyssa - Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Macrina the Younger - Catholic Encyclopedia
Macrina the Younger - Wikipedia
The Life of St. Macrina the Younger - The St. Nina Quarterly