The Church today honors two saints who were bishops in Cappadocia, which is now part of Turkey. St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen, along with Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa went to school together first in Alexandria, then in Athens. They often puzzled over what the Scriptures had to say about the inner life of the Blessed Trinity.
Gregory of Nyssa and Basil had an older sister named Makrina who is also counted among the saints of the Church. A wealthy woman who had inherited the family property, Makrina invited the three priest friends to settle in at her estate to work and pray full time over the mystery of the Trinity.
Using every passage in the writings of St. Paul and St. John, they clarified our understanding of many matters. They pointed out that the Bible teaches us that the Son is of one substance with the Father, not just of a similar substance. They corrected the idea of Bishop Appolinaris who was saying Jesus was not truly human. They are particularly remembered for showing us that the inner life of the Trinity, consisting of an endless exchange of love, can be thought of as a three-person dance. The Greek version of that dance was called a perichoresus.
I had never taken any interest in St. Basil and the two Gregories. Their Greek language and customs were so distant for us. But when I read about big sister St. Makrina setting the three of them up in a theological think-tank it struck a familiar note with me. Back in the mid eighteen hundreds Lady Gregory, the widow of an English lord with an estate in Galway became interested in preserving older strains of Irish folk literature; and she began inviting impoverished Irish writers to stay on at her estate, giving themselves to writing Irish stories in English.I visited lady Gregory’s estate some years ago, and I was delighted in finding an old tree where the greats of Irish writing had carved their names. There was W.B.Yeats John Millington Singe, Sean O’Casey whose names I recognized. Their productive comradeship brought me to see what a fine thing St. Makrina had done for Christianity.