The Feast of Saint Scholastica
The story of St Scholastica is well-known from a passage in the Dialogues of St Gregory the Great. Her brother St Benedict used to visit her once a year, and they would talk about spiritual matters. On one occasion they had passed the time as usual in prayer and pious conversation until the evening. Scholastica begged her brother to remain until the next day. Benedict refused to spend the night outside his monastery. She had recourse to prayer and a furious thunderstorm burst so that Benedict could not return home. They spent the night in spiritual conferences. The next morning they parted to meet no more on earth. Three days later Scholastica died, and her brother saw her soul in a vision as it ascended into heaven.
What is not so well-known is that Scholastica has a counterpart in the Byzantine rite. St Macrina was the sister of St Basil the Great, who, like St Benedict, also wrote a monastic Rule. Like St Scholastica, St Macrina too dedicated her life to God. She lived a life of prayer and contemplation in a monastic community and became head of the community until her death. She died while conversing on the soul and immortality with another of her brothers, who became St Gregory of Nyssa. Her feast is kept on July 19.
There are a number of things we can learn from these two holy women. One is that talking is God’s gift to women. Little girls typically learn to speak about six months before their brothers, and as we see from these nuns, they’re still talking on or near the day of their death. And yet it was not useless chitchat. Both were instructing their brothers on spiritual matters which they had learned from a woman’s experience of the monastic life. Both had attained purity of heart, and as Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). The world would be better off if we had more of that kind of speech, and less of every other kind.
The other thing we can learn is what St Gregory writes about St Scholastica and St Benedict. He says, “It is not surprising that she was more effective than he; since, as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more”. The way to love more is summarized in the Byzantine Troparion of St Macrina, which is used on many other feasts of holy nuns:
“In you, venerable Mother Macrina, the faithful image of God shone forth, for you carried your cross and followed Christ. You taught by your deeds how to spurn the body, for it passes away, and how to value the soul, for it is immortal. Therefore your soul is forever in happiness with the angels”.