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St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)

Biographical sources tell us that St. Gregory’s wife, Theosebia, was a woman deacon.  Here Gregory writes about his sister, Macrina, who spent most of her life in her mother’s home. After her mother’s death, she converted the family estate into a monastic community. I print here a brief excerpt from Gregory’s description of Macrina’s life, in which he mentions the local woman deacon who helped him arrange for Macrina’s funeral.

On the life of St. Macrina.  There was a woman in charge of the choir of virgins [= nuns]. She was in the order of the diaconate [εν τωι της διακονιας βαθμωι]. Her name was Lampadia. She declared that she knew Macrina’s wishes in the matter of burial exactly. When I asked her about them, she said with tears: ‘The saint had made up her mind that a pure life should be her adornment, that this should cover her body in life and her grave in death. But so far as clothes to adorn the body go, she procured none when she was alive, nor did she store them for the present purpose. So that not even if we want it, will there be anything more than what we have here, since no preparation is made for this need.’

‘Is it not possible’, I answered, ‘to find in  her cupboard anything to provide for a fitting funeral?’  ‘What cupboard?’, she told me. ‘You have in front of you all her treasure. There is the cloak, there is the head­covering, there the well­worn shoes on the feet. This is all her wealth, these are her riches. There is nothing stored away in secret places beyond what you see, or put away safely in boxes or in her bedroom. She knew of one store­house alone for her wealth: her treasure in heaven. There she had stored her all, nothing was laid up on earth’   .   .   .

When our work [of preparing Macrina’s body] came to an end and the deceased had been covered with the best we had on the spot, the woman deacon [‘η διακονος] spoke again, pointing out that it was not fitting that [the deceased] should be seen by the eyes of the virgins robed like a bride [= in a rich, colourful dress]. ‘But I have kept one of your mother’s dark­coloured robes’, she said. ‘This I think would do well laid out over her, that her saintly beauty be not decked out with the unnecessary splendour of clothing.’  Her counsel prevailed, and the robe was laid upon the body.[1]


1. On the Life of St.Macrina; Migne, Patrologia Latina, Vol. 46, cols. 960-1000;; here cols. 988-90; English translation by W.K.Lowther Clarke, The Life of St.Macrina, London n1916; P.Wilson-Kastner, ‘Macrina: virgin and teacher’, Andrews University Seminary Studies 17 (1979), pp. 105-17.

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