Archive for April, 2019


The stories of women have been erased in much of church history. It is not because there have been fewer women in history. Half of the population is female. Male-authored church history books have left women out because patriarchal men believe that women’s stories are irrelevant.

Women have made important contributions to history. On this blog we have posted nearly 300 stories of women. For the last few weeks we have concentrated on women who served Christ during the Patristic era. Some of these women were born poor, others renounced great wealth to follow in the steps of Christ. Martyrs, Mothers, Scholars, Theologians, Writers, Disciples, Queens, Empresses, Pilgrims, and Monastery founders are among them. The world would not be the same without the influence of these women. They achieved great things while maintaining lives of piety, fortitude, and courage.

We began this series on Patristic women in our first post, February 5, 2019 “Thecla – 1st Century Disciple and Missionary”. Thecla’s life was to influence many men and women for the next few centuries, including Egeria the famous fourth century pilgrim in this post.

We continued with the stories of women who gave their lives as martyrs rather than deny their Lord Jesus – Blandina (martyred 177 AD) and Perpetua (martyred 203 AD – along with her servant Felicitas).

We then recounted the stories of two famous Mothers – Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine and Monica the mother of Augustine. Besides martyrs, and mothers, there were many female Disciples of Christ, such as Marcella of Rome. In our last post we told the stories of two educated, brilliant female scholars during the Patristic Age – Paula and Macrina the Younger.

This week we will look at Pilgrimage as a Christian activity as seen in the life of Egeria. Many men and women would follow in her footsteps as they sought the blessings that came with visiting Christians in other lands.


Egeria (Fourth Century)


Egeria and other pilgrims were influenced by Thecla (See post 2/5/19). They admired Thecla very much and sought to imitate her life. Many men and women chose celibacy as Thecla did so that they could serve Christ with their whole lives (I Corinthians 7:32-35). Many believers also desired to travel to the Holy Land. The difference between Thecla and pilgrims like Egeria, was that Thecla was an itinerant preacher. The pilgrims also wanted to travel to the Holy Land, but their emphasis was on visiting the shrines of people like Thecla. By the late fourth or early fifth centuries they also wanted to visit monasteries and cathedrals and be with other monks and nuns for spiritual edification. They believed that a special blessing came from the places where saints or martyrs lived and/or died. By this time there was also a growing fascination for relics.  Going on a pilgrimage and bringing back a relic gave the believer who went on the pilgrimage some special status.

We are especially grateful that Egeria wrote a firsthand account of her pilgrimage in a journal. Her manuscript had been copied and widely circulated by other religious pilgrims during the Patristic age but was then put aside for centuries, forgotten until discovered by an Italian scholar in the late 1800’s. Historians recognized its value and this marvelous account of fourth century Christian life is now available.[1]

To go on a three to four-year journey as Egeria did would have required some financial availability. It is believed that Egeria came from a merchant family. This seems probable because not only would funds have been available, but she would have a network of people across Europe and the Holy Land to help her. While traveling could be risky, it would not have seemed as threatening to Egeria. Many other people were going on pilgrimages. Some had left earlier because Christians were fleeing persecution in Rome. When Constantine ended the persecutions, believers took advantage of the freedom as well as the fine Roman roads and traveled to the Biblical sites.

Egeria’s journey was probably taken around 380 AD. We are not sure why Egeria went on the Pilgrimage since the first part of her diary is lost. Was she traveling on a combined business/spiritual journey? We’ll have to wait until we get to heaven and ask her.

Egeria’s account is in two parts. Part one is the description of the places and people she visited. In Part two Egeria writes about her stay in Jerusalem for a year. The diary tells of the liturgy and practices in the churches. Among others, Egeria visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Holy Sepulchre, and the Mount of Olives.

Egeria wrote this account for her “sisters”. It is unclear if the women were her biological sisters, spiritual sisters, or nuns. The term “sisters” was already in use for Christian women who were close companions. In any event, Egeria wanted her “sisters” who couldn’t also travel to share in the excitement and beauty of the places that she visited.

Thanks to the details in her work we know a lot about the development of monasteries during that time. We also get a picture of the growing veneration of the saints. Egeria describes the churches she visited and the rituals that were performed there. She said, “Whenever we were empowered to reach our destination, it was always our custom first to say a prayer, then to read a passage from the Bible, sing a Psalm fitting the occasion, and finally say a second prayer.”[2]

Egeria’s journey was typical of the fourth century pilgrims. She visited Old Testament and New Testament sites. One such site was Clysma, where it is thought that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea in the exodus. From there she would have gone to Mount Sinai. She was especially enthralled with the place where Moses prayed, prophesied and died.

The highlight for most travelers was Jerusalem. Egeria went there but she also went to other places such as Mount Nebo and Job’s tomb. In the company of several holy men Egeria went to Arabia.

During her journey Egeria wanted to stand in the places where God’s saints had stood. She sought out the places where Melchizedek lived, the cave of the prophet Elijah, the abode of Jephthah, and the place where Elijah stayed during the famine when he received food from a crow and water from a stream. Egeria sought to combine the special feeling of “being there” with a chance to go deeper into the stories of the Bible. She related the connection between the places that she visited and their significance in the Bible for her readers in her journal.

In her writings she emphasized the lives of the holy men and women at the various sites. Pilgrims were common in her day and Egeria enjoyed fellowship with many during her travels. There were so many pilgrims that Christian networks were developing. At St. Thecla’s shrine Egeria enjoyed meeting up with a deaconess named Marthana, whom she had met earlier in Jerusalem. Pilgrims were invited to worship in Thecla’s church, and to read the Acts of Thecla out loud together. This gave the Christians a bond. They could share Scripture, prayer and stories of their journeys.

Egeria’s diary is important for church history. Egeria was the first to develop a style of writing for pilgrims that would influence scholars into the medieval period and beyond. Her diary is a primary source for Christian life in the fourth century. The fact that Egeria’s “sisters” were eager to read her story and learn about the Bible, geography, and culture from her writings demonstrates clearly that women were educated in the fourth century. We have seen in our story about Paula that women formed study circles as did the men. (See post on Patristic Women Scholars, April 2, 2019).

Clearly in the Early Church period, Christian history was being made by women like Egeria. Thankfully, more and more manuscripts are being discovered each year containing the writings of these called and gifted servants of God.











[1]You can read a translation of Egeria’s Travels at: http://www.ccel.org/m/mcclure/etheria/etheria.htm

[2]In a translation by  George E. Gingras. Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage. ACW 38. New York: Newman, 1970. page 66.

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The stories of women from the Patristic Age need to be told because women in all ages need to see that God has called and gifted them for service in His kingdom. Most people are only aware of the female martyrs that were thrown to the lions or beheaded, but the early Christian women encompassed all walks of life.

Some of these women were born poor, others renounced great wealth to follow in the steps of Christ. Martyrs, Mothers, Theologians, Writers, Disciples, Queens, Empresses, Pilgrims, and Monastery founders are among them. And though left out of most church history books, women were influential as colleagues of monks and male leaders in the early church. The world would not be the same without the influence of these women. They showed great scholarly achievement, piety, fortitude, and courage.

We began this series on Patristic women in our first post, February 5, 2019 “Thecla – 1st Century Disciple and Missionary”. Thecla was a disciple of Christ and Paul and her life was to influence many men and women for the next few centuries.

We continued with the stories of women who gave their lives as martyrs rather than deny their Lord Jesus. There were many men and women who suffered persecution and death, but 2 whose stories have come down to us thanks to the preservation of early manuscripts are Blandina (martyred 177 AD) and Perpetua (martyred 203 AD – along with her servant Felicitas).

We then continued with the stories of two famous Mothers – Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine and Monica the mother of Augustine. We could also tell the stories of godly grandmothers such as Macrina the Elder, grandmother of Macrina the Younger who features in this post. Besides martyrs, mothers and grandmothers there were many female disciples of Christ. In our post last time we look at the life of Marcella of Rome.

It may come as a surprise to many, but there were many educated, brilliant female scholars during the Patristic Age. Among the more famous were Paula and Macrina the Younger.


Paula (May 5, 347 – January 26, 404)


In most history textbooks today the name Jerome is very prominent. His translation of the Bible into Latin is admired and his theology provides endless hours of study for Christian scholars. What has been ignored until recently is the fact that Jerome himself gave much credit to female scholars who helped him in his work. In our last post we saw that Marcella is remembered as a disciple of the famous bishop, Jerome. He admired her very much, but another Christian friend, Paula, was very special to Jerome as a source of help and inspiration.

Paula became Jerome’s closest companion while he was in Rome. The two maintained their friendship until Paula’s death in 404. After her death Jerome wrote in a letter to Paula’s daughter, Eustochium (pious scholar and disciple in her own right):

If all the members of my body were to be converted into tongues, and if each of my limbs were to be gifted with a human voice, I could still do no justice to the virtues of the holy and venerable Paula.

Paula was born on Mary 5, 347 in Rome. She was a member of a privileged, wealthy family. She married Julius Toxotius and had four daughters, Blaesilla, Pauline, Julia Eustochium, and Rufina, and a son, Toxotius. After her husband died, Paul committed to a life of celibacy, voluntary poverty, and good works. Jerome became Paula’s spiritual director during her new life of ascetism. She followed him to the Holy Land in 385. She landed first at Cyprus where they distributed alms to the local monasteries. From there they went to Antioch and eventually to Jerusalem. She stayed at the monastery run by Melania the Elder (look for a post in a few weeks on this “Desert Mother”) and then Paula went on an extensive pilgrimage enjoying visiting the many sites that were named in the Bible, from the Old and New Testaments.

Paula founded several monastic establishments where women could spend a life of devotion, chastity, and charity. This monastic life demonstrated Paula’s change from her aristocratic life filled with worldliness to a life of asceticism focused on heavenly things.

Paula was exemplary in her memorization of the Scriptures and Bible study. She was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Not only could Paula read the Bible in its original languages, but her exegetical skills placed her in a class of top biblical scholars. Jerome records that her life was always filled with quotations from the Bible even up until her death on January 26, 404 at the age of fifty-six. Paula died peacefully and was buried near a favorite pilgrimage tour. Her tomb became a popular site for pilgrims.


Macrina the Younger, also known as “The Teacher” (330 – 379 AD)

There are very few church history books that talk about the lives of the female saints. One might almost get the idea that women 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. Just as Jerome praised Paula for her erudition and piety, the famous Saint Gregory published the story of his remarkable sister, Macrina so that she would be remembered for her piety and love of Christ and the Bible. And just like Paula, Macrina used her gift of godly intelligence to influence men who would influence the church to this day.

Macrina was born around 330 AD and lived 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 men who are renowned through the centuries –  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 some soul searching. 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 Chur

After her mother 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 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.

What can we learn from the lives of Paul and Macrina? it is important for women to follow their callings even into areas that some say are only for men. Women are equally intelligent and gifted and we can be thankful for their example as so many unselfishly chose to follow Christ.













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