Archive for September, 2012

The first three centuries of the Church are generally characterized by historians as a time of persecution and martyrdom. You can read about Blandina, Eulalia, Felicitas, Marcella, and Perpetua and her friend Felicitas, elsewhere on this blog. There were many courageous women who died for their faith.

In 313 AD Constantine, the Roman Emperor, created the Edict of Milan that signaled the end of the great persecutions and a new era in the Church would begin. In the next two centuries godly mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters would begin to edify the world with their faith, genius, and learning in a tremendous way.

When you read a history of the early church you will no doubt read about famous men like St. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazienzen, Peter of Sebaste, St. John Chrysostom, and Augustine. With the exception of Monica, mother of Augustine, (see my post from February, 2011), you probably won’t read about the pious women in the lives of these famous saints, women who did so much to influence them and therefore the Christian church.

There are very few church history books that talk about the lives of the female saints. One might almost get the idea that they didn’t do anything but hide out in their houses and cook and clean. But you really don’t have to look very hard to find the stories of women who did much more than that.

One of the saints who left her mark in history was Macrina. (c. 330 to July 19, 379 AD). She is often called Macrina the Younger because her grandmother, St. Macrina the Elder was also renowned for her piety and courage. Grandmother Macrina and her husband lived during the time of one of the worst persecutions of the Christians. In 311 AD, they lost all of their estates by confiscation. They hid in the woods of Pontus for seven years. They had a son, St. Basil, who had ten children, the oldest of these being the Macrina of our story.

Macrina helped to raise her younger siblings. Three of these were three of the men mentioned above, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste, all celebrated for their learning and all died as bishops of the Church. All owed much to their sister.

Macrina was taught the Scriptures as a child and loved them. She had an intelligent mind and she contemplated spiritual things all of her life. She desired to follow Christ only. She was given the opportunity to lead a pious and retired life after the deaths of both her father and the man she was betrothed to. She took her betrothal seriously, and did not wish to find another husband. She was a beautiful young woman and had many offers, but she declined them all. At this point she was more than content to see her situation as God’s will and decided to follow a different path.

She talked her mother Emmelia into helping her found two monasteries – one for men, the other for women. These were built on their own estate near Ibora in Pontus. The beautiful river Iris flowed between these homes, and the monasteries were surrounded by lovely plains, valleys, and hills. This was a perfect place for a life of solitude and prayer.

During this time Macrina had much influence on her brothers. Her brother Basil had studied abroad for many years and came home with his head all swelled up with his own wisdom. Macrina told him bluntly that he had become vain and would do well to learn from humbler Christian men. At this point Basil ignored her.

Later though, the unexpected death of their brother, Naucratius, shook Basil to his core. He and Naucratius had been very close. This event caused Basil to do a complete about face. He not only resigned his prestigious teaching position, but he asked Macrina to teach him the secrets of religious life.

Basil followed Macrina’s advice and left for Egypt to learn more about the monastic life. He eventually became famous as the great teacher of monasticism in the Greek Church.

After Emmelia died, Macrina sold off the rest of the estate and used the money to help the poor. She lived by the labor of her own hands. Some of the women who came to join her were freed slaves. Together they served the Lord with one mind, sharing all things. They prayed, ate, fasted, and worked together. This monastery would become a model for later ones.

Some years later, Basil became the bishop of Caesarea. Their brother Gregory, whom Macrina had also persuaded to abandon selfish pursuits in order to follow Christ, had become bishop of Nyssa. Their brother Peter became bishop of Sebaste.

Basil, worn out in his fight against the heresy of Arianism and partly because of his own ascetism, died before the age of fifty and Macrina could not restrain her grief. Her brother Gregory visited her. They were saddened by their loss, but mourned more for the loss of a great man in the Church. They had some consolation in their belief in the immortality of the soul and knew they would see him again.

Nine months later Gregory decided to take a detour to visit Macrina during one of his travels. Her fame had become so great that she was now known as “The Teacher”. He was saddened to find that she was so sick that she could barely sit up. She was in pain and it was evident that she was near death. In spite of this, she tried to cheer him up. They spent what few hours they had rejoicing in their faith and the hope of the resurrection.

Later after her death, Gregory wrote a story about this visit, On the Soul and the Resurrection; the main arguments of the discourse being attributed to Macrina. Her arguments were so skillfully presented that she even impressed convinced skeptics. She spoke of God’s love, providence, man’s purpose in this world, and the believer’s eventual departure to glory.
Gregory opened the work with, “Basil, great among the saints, had departed from this life and gone to God, and all the churches mourned his death. But his sister the Teacher still lived and therefore I visited her.” Gregory gave her high praise. He recorded her philosophical discourse so that others could benefit from her wisdom.

Macrina died in great peace. Gregory buried her in the grave of their parents in the family chapel in Annesi. She had lived such a selfless life of poverty that she had no burial clothes. Gregory used his own bishop’s cloak to cover her as her body was carried to the grave.

Besides the discourse on resurrection referred to above, Gregory also published a work entitled, Life of Macrina, in which he tells of her pious life. She is especially honored today in the Eastern Church.

What can we learn from Macrina’s life? Above all else it is important to follow your calling from God to serve Christ. As she taught her brothers and many others, true happiness is not found in the things of this world, but in service to God.


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Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death (II Samuel 6:23).

What a sad thing to happen to a married woman. What brought this about? Was it all Michal’s fault?

Michal was a princess. She was the daughter of King Saul and her mother was Ahinoam. She lived in Israel at the time of the beginning of the monarchy around 1050 BC. Her brother was Jonathan the great friend of the shepherd boy, David, who would later be king.

The story of David and Goliath is a very familiar one. We all know what a hero David was and how he went on to defeat more and more Philistines. Saul became jealous of David when the Israelites began to sing higher praises for David than himself. At this point in our story, Saul does not wish to raise a hand against David himself, but hopes that the Philistines will get rid of David for him. He offers David his older daughter, Merab, to be his wife, but David humbly refuses. Later Saul gives Merab to another man and offers his younger daughter, Michal, to be David’s wife.

Here is where the story gets interesting (I Samuel 18ff). It could be a real romantic story, for Michal loves David. Like the knights in another era, David accomplishes a hard task in order to win Michal’s hand, because she is after all a princess and he is only a shepherd.

Saul is really hoping that the Philistines will kill David when he sets him out to get a dowry for his daughter. Saul asks for one hundred foreskins of the Philistines. David is happy to go and accomplish this task, and he outdoes the bidding by bringing back two hundred foreskins. Now he feels like he is good enough to be the king’s son-in-law.

David and Michal are wedded and it seems to have been a happy marriage for as long as they were together, until Saul again began to persecute David. Now Saul is afraid that this couple will supplant him, becoming the rulers in his place.

So once again Saul plots to kill David. Michal learned about this and helped David escape from their house (I Samuel 19:9ff). Michal went so far as to deceive Saul’s messengers when they came to get David. Now here is something interesting to take note of: Michal used a household idol to put in the bed and cover up to fool the messengers. What was she doing with an idol in her house? This is a clue to Michal’s problem. By the end of our story we will learn that Michal never really honored God as she should have.

Many have condemned Michal for lying to protect David. All kinds of things have been written about her moral dilemma- the choice between  the lesser of two evils. Is it ok to lie to save a life? Both lying and murder are sins. How do you solve this problem?

Michal would not be the first one we see in the Bible who lied. The midwives lied to Pharaoh. Rahab lied to protect the two spies. Even Michal’s brother, Jonathan, will lie to Saul later to protect David. These are things that only the individual before God can decide. What this story shows us is that Michal, David, Saul, and Jonathan were real people just like us living in a sinful world who have to make decisions and live with the consequences.

Here though Michal lies to protect herself and she slanders David in the process. Again we see that she is not honoring God.

Back to the story – Saul gives Michal away to another man, Palti. Of course this was illegal since Michal and David were not divorced. How did she feel about this? The Bible doesn’t really say, but here is where she gets a lot of sympathy. It seems that King Saul just used his daughter like a pawn doing to her whatever he wished. Saul was very cruel. Even in ancient times, daughters were not forced to marry someone that they really didn’t like. We do not know if Michal protested or not, but we get a hint of her feelings later when she returns to David.

Michal and David live apart for many years while he was on the run from Saul. David takes two wives during this time, Abigail and Ahinoam. But when Saul is dead, and David becomes king in Judah, he wants the woman whom he still considers to be his wife to be returned to him. Of Saul’s sons, only Ish-bosheth remains alive and he is reigning in the rest of Israel. Ish-bosheth sent and took Michal from Paltiel and sent her to David. She apparently received the news coldly and unemotionally returned to David. We are only told that her husband, Paltiel went with her part of the way weeping the whole time. Here is another clue as to her haughty personality.

David continued to wage war with Philistines. Two traitorous men murdered Ish-bosheth and the way was cleared for David to reign over all Israel. David was appalled at their treachery and had them put to death for the murder of the rightful king. Then all the people of Israel made David king over them.

David grew stronger and stronger and took a whole lot more wives and concubines. Many sons and daughters were born to him. Today, it is hard for us to understand how Michal or Abigail or Ahinoam felt about this. I guess it was just part of the culture and they accepted it as the way kings lived.

Anyway, for purposes of our story we cannot assume that what happened next was due to jealousy on Michal’s part. We have already seen that she is cold and calculating. She was very proud. She wanted prestige, not holiness. She was an idol worshiper not a faithful Israelite. When David was young, she loved him as a good-looking hero. Now that they are older, she despises David for his piety and humbleness.

David decided it was time to bring the Ark of God back to Jerusalem. We are familiar with the tragic part of the story when Uzzah reached out to keep the ark from falling and God struck him dead for his irreverence. David left the ark with Obed-edom for awhile, but eventually went to retrieve it (II Samuel 6).

What a joyous day that was. David came in ahead of the people dancing and wearing only a linen ephod. He had set his royal robes aside and put on a simple garment and was rejoicing with the people as one of them.

Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart (II Samuel 6:16).

How sad that her love for her husband had turned to hatred. When he approaches his house she comes out and nags at him about the way he was dressed. Is she really concerned with David, or is she concerned with her own status as a queen married to someone she considers foolish? Why isn’t she rejoicing with the others that the ark of God is back and that the Israelites are enjoying relative peace for awhile?

David responds that he was worshiping the Lord and that it is too bad that Michal will not show him the esteem that he is due as king. I think that he was probably also sad that she was not a woman after God’s own heart the way that he was a man after God’s own heart.

And so, Michal continued to live in the king’s house until the day of her death, but they had no marital relations and she never had a child. The story could have had a different ending if Michal had loved God more and herself less. How tragic that she let the bitterness in her heart ruin her life.

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But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, God has chosen, and the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, that no man may boast before God.   (I Corinthians 1:27-29).

One of God’s special children who proved these words to be true was Pandita Ramabai Dongre Medhavi. When we study her life we see how wonderfully the Lord works in the lives of His children; how He blesses and saves others through their testimonies; how the Holy Spirit uses them to minister to others; and how He providentially cares for them.

Ramabai was born in 1858 in India to Hindu parents. Her father, unlike the other Hindu men in India, believed that women should be educated. Though doubtful that Ananta Shatri Dongree, a wealthy Hindu guru, was ever a Christian, God used him as an instrument for His providential purpose of raising up Ramabai for a great Christian work. Ananta educated his wife and daughter. By the time Ramabai was twenty years old she had memorized 18,000 verses of the Puranas, the Hindu holy book. God would use her remarkable abilities in her later life to start a school for women. (You can read a little more detail on Ramabai’s life in an earlier blog posting – December 2011).

Today I want to further explain how we can learn from her faithfulness. There are many important characteristics that we all need to cultivate, and Pandita (a title that means “learned” or “wise one”) Ramabai displayed more than a few. I would like to concentrate on three: reliance on the Holy Spirit, patience, and humility.

All through her life, Pandita Ramabai gave the glory to God for the things that He did through her. She never sought fame, but only to give to others what God had given her – peace and joy through salvation in Jesus Christ.

An early incident shows her humble attitude as she sought to change the cruel conditions for women in India. Ramabai was offered a government job teaching high caste Hindu women, but she chose to open a small school where she could work with the women herself. Her first school had only two pupils but she was overjoyed that God had answered her prayers and allowed her to realize her long cherished dream.

Ramabai’s work was not easy. She firmly believed that the way to reach the Hindu women was to keep her school “neutral” religiously. That way the Hindu fathers would trust her with their daughters. She made it plain that they would study the Bible, but she would not proselytize. Of course, the Lord used her work to convert many girls to Christianity anyway. But because of her methods, she received criticism from the people in her country as well as from the missionaries who thought she should just join a mission group and preach the way they did. The problem was that the Indian populace did not trust Westerners. Ramabai knew this and she kept her Hindu customs in dress and her strict vegetarian diet. She knew that God had given her the opportunity and she wasn’t budging. Of course, time would prove her right.

A remarkable incident that shows the spiritual maturity of Ramabai was centered around her desire to reach more girls for Christ. Ramabai had attended a camp meeting with fifteen of her girls. These girls were converted Christians and were very serious about learning the things of God. They attended with pencils and notebooks and showed that they understood the teaching. This warmed Ramabai’s heart because it was further proof that women can be taught.

One morning while praying in the woods and enjoying the sunrise, Ramabai felt overwhelmed with gratitude to God for the fifteen young women and girls and wished with all her heart that more of her people would open their eyes to the Gospel and be filled with the knowledge and the joy of salvation. She was led to pray that God would “square” the number of her spiritual children and give her two hundred and twenty-five before the next camp meeting took place.

This was a really bold move on her part. At this time there were lots of reasons against increasing the number of girls in the school. The total number of girls in the school was only forty-nine and the summer break was about to begin. She did not know if there would even be fifty girls in the fall. But she was compelled to pray and trust in God.

Some of Ramabai’s friends tried to encourage her to give up the school and become a full time evangelist. She was willing to do whatever God wanted her to do, but she still felt convinced that He had led her in the right direction so far.

The enrollment in the school stayed low for many months. Ramabai gave up her salary and lived a life of poverty to keep the school going. Enrollment dropped to forty-one. But God was preparing her for the fulfillment of her dreams; just not like she expected.

A famine had been going on in central India. Thousands were starving to death. Many widows were especially destitute.

I must put in a word here about the widows in India. When we think of widows here in America, we think of older women primarily. But in India, in the high caste system, the widows could be as young as babies. The girls were sold into marriage by their parents whenever their parents could get a good price for them. Sometimes the “husbands” died before the girls got married or consummated the marriage and they were considered widows. They were then at the mercy of the husband’s family, including other jealous wives, or cruel mothers-in law. During the famine many were just turned out of the house. Ramabai thought that the system was cruel and heartless and she longed to change it.

And so, Ramabai went on a journey during the famine and gathered three hundred widows to bring home to her school to feed and care for. This was even more than the two hundred and twenty-five that she asked God for. Many of these were as young as five years old. Before she left on her journey, God sent the money from many unexpected places.

Just getting them home was a big challenge, but then she had to feed them and care for them. Here again, God showed His love and providence by providing enough money for Ramabai to purchase some land and plant fruit trees. She also raised animals. This provided work for the widows and of course nourishing food. During the drought she was able to dig some wells and obtain that most precious of commodities during a drought – water. It wasn’t a huge amount, but because of her poor, struggling childhood, Ramabai knew how to conserve and there was enough to meet the pressing need.

During this time of hardship the girls learned the Christian principles of work, caring, praying, and giving. So many would become serious, devout Christians that Ramabai would be able to send out groups of twenty at a time to the surrounding towns to evangelize.

From two pupils to over 25,000 at a time! Ramabai was surely blessed by God to help people in India. Yet one further anecdote shows her tremendous humbleness in spite of her fame throughout India, England, and the United States.

When she knew that she had only a few years left to serve the Lord she began to make plans for her work to be carried on by others. An organization was formed with highly respected trustees to oversee it. She insisted that her name not be used as the title of the organization. “Ramabai is dead,” she said. Her work was to be God’s alone as the work continued. Many of the women and girls that she raised up, including her own daughter, carried on the evangelization that she so earnestly desired.

The Mukti Mission is still active today providing housing, education, medicine, and vocational training to widows, orphans, and the blind.

How amazing what one little woman can do while serving God with patience and humility! Ramabai is a great example to us of faithfulness to the Lord, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and courage to follow a dream. May this be an encouragement to us as we seek to follow the Lord.

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