What does Edgar Degas, the French impressionist painter, have in common with the liturgy of the Church, life in general and St. Macrina, the monastic, theologian,and teacher of the fourth century who was also the sister of St.Gregory, St. Basil, St Peter of Sebaste, and Naucratios ? I have a priest friend who is fond of referring to the sacred liturgy as “our dance”. As time has gone on I have come to very much appreciate that characterization because liturgy involves the interplay of the human and the divine in a series of prayers and actions which at their climax opens a window into the divine mind for all to see. We dance in an almost suspended state until we reach that climax evermore moving toward the direction of the divine.
And, so it is in life. We interact with one another and in effect dance until we reach a climax in our relationships. That climax may take the form or consummating a business transaction, a friendship, or in some cases marriage, but the beginnings and middle are always a dance of ever shifting movement and unknowable possibilities.
So it was with St. Macrina. Most women with such illustrious brothers would have paled into obscurity, but not Macrina. Macrina frequently challenged her celebrated brothers as she danced with them. She took her brother Gregory, a most venerable and important bishop of the Church, aside and told him that his fame was not due to his own merit but rather to the prayers of his parents. She also similarly admonished her brother, Basil, a man of extreme oratorical skill, but a bit short on humility, to be more humble and not so monstrously arrogant because he was such an accomplished orator. Under her influence Basil and Peter renounced material possessions and turned away from secular academia to become monks and theologians. Her brothers showed enormous respect for her by embodying her ideals for Christian community in a Rule written by Basil and Peter to guide monastic life. And, her bishop brothers, Basil, Gregory and Peter, became bishops in no small measure because of her active influence in their lives.
In studying about women like Macrina, and conversing with my priest friend, and trading posts with my cousin, I have come to have a profound respect for the intellect and spirituality of the women who I have had the privilege of knowing in my life, in particular, and women, in general. From my wife, to my priest, to my cousin, to the Saint herself, they have all shown me a very wise and spiritually gifted perspective about things which has served to only deepen my faith and which has moved me to continue the dance joyfully and expectantly unto its ultimate end.
So ask yourself: In what ways do I dance, and to what end? Is the end solely for you to impress others and achieve material gain, or is there something more involved, something transcendent, something akin to the love Christ showed for us on the hardwood of cross ?