Jonathan Daniels vs. Macrina the Younger

February 14, 2013
Tim Schenck

Did you ever think you'd utter the phrase "Thank God It's Lent?" Well, thanks to today's kick-off of Lent Madness 2013, you'll probably be hearing people saying "T.G.I.L." all day. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised to see a restaurant chain spring up called T.G.I. Lent's.

In any case, we're delighted to welcome you to this year's Saintly Smackdown with a First Round battle between Jonathan Daniels and Macrina the Younger. Yes, it's a martyred 20th century civil rights advocate versus a 4th century teacher and monastic. Such is the "madness" of Lent Madness.

If you're new to Lent Madness, welcome! You may want to check out the Voting 101 video if you have any questions. Be sure to sign up for e-mail updates on our home page so you never miss a vote, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and encourage your friends to jump into the fray. While you are on our Facebook page today, please "Check In" to Lent Madness so all your friends will know you have gone to Lent Madness.

We can assure you this will be a wild, joyful, educational, ocassionally gut-wrenching ride. Let the madness begin!

JM Daniels with girlJonathan Myrick Daniels

On Sunday, March 7, 1965, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a second-year student at the Episcopal Theological School (ETS, now EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, watched as television newscasts showed Alabama State Troopers beating and tear-gassing civil rights marchers as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The next day, Martin Luther King, Jr. called for white clergy from the North and people of good will to stand with the protesters. Daniels and 10 other ETS students answered the call, flying to Atlanta and arriving late Monday night.

After traveling by bus from Atlanta to Selma, on Tuesday, March 9, Daniels and about 2,500 others participated in the second march to the Pettus Bridge and back. Later that day, three white ministers who had come for the march were beaten, one of them (who had traveled from Boston on the same flight as Daniels) dying two days later.

At the end of the weekend, Daniels and fellow seminarian Judith Upham missed the bus that would take them back to Atlanta and on to seminary. As they watched many of the white protesters leave, Daniels and Upham began to feel it wouldn’t be right to abandon those left in the struggle. Returning to ETS, they petitioned the seminary to let them go back to Selma for the semester.

Daniels and Upham returned to Selma on March 21 and joined the final march to Montgomery. Staying with a local family, they “just hung around, doing what we could to help,” according to Upham, including tutoring children, registering voters, and integrating St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

After taking his finals in Cambridge, Daniels returned to Alabama for the summer. On August 13, after picketing a whites-only store in Fort Deposit, Daniels and around 30 other protesters were arrested and jailed in Hayneville. Released a week later with no transportation back to Selma, Daniels, 17-year-old Ruby Sales and two others went to Varner’s Cash Store for Coca-Cola where they were confronted by an unpaid special deputy with a shotgun. The deputy threatened the group and took aim at Ruby Sales. Pushing Ruby out of the way, Daniels took the full brunt of the shotgun blast and died instantly. He was 26.

Ruby Sales, who was saved by Daniels’ actions that day, went on to attend EDS and founded the SpiritHouse Project and the Jonathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Institute. Judith Upham became a priest in 1977 and still serves at St. Alban’s, Arlington, TX. The Diocese of Alabama hosts a yearly pilgrimage to Hayneville in honor of Jonathan Myrick Daniels and the Martyrs of Alabama. In addition, Daniels’ alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute, has established a humanitarian award in his honor.

Collect for Jonathan Daniels
O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Laura Toepfer

4491378363_2db6696f8bMacrina the Younger

Macrina the Younger (to distinguish her from her granny, Macrina the Elder, in a time before surnames) was the oldest child of a wealthy Christian family in Caesarea, Cappadocia, in the Roman Empire. She was educated in Holy Scriptures, and had a particular interest in the Psalter and the Wisdom of Solomon and focused on ethics in the Bible. When her betrothed died (she was to be married at the ripe old age of 12), she decided to dedicate herself to a journey into Christian wisdom. Her theology, known to us through the writings of her brother Gregory, reminds us that a Christian’s journey is not an inconvenience simply to get to the destination; the journey is the joy itself, filled with the wealth of relationships good and bad, mistakes, successes, and moments that take our breath away and moments that leave us in tears. For Macrina, the journey with Christ is the destination.

Macrina’s journey may not have left us speeches, writings, or sermons, but her life was preached in a breathtaking way through her relationships. Two of her brothers, Gregory and Basil, became two-thirds of the Cappadocian Fathers, men who helped finalize the Nicene Creed and gave words to the great mystery of the Christian faith. Gregory and Basil were bishops, as well as another brother Peter, in part from their sister who refused to let them believe their own hype. She reminded them that Christian faith demanded humility, dedication, and service. She told Gregory his fame had nothing to do with his own merit, and when Basil returned from a successful preaching tour with the big head, we are told she dressed him down considerably (or, as we say in the South, took him out to the veranda for a talking to). She served as an example for Basil and Peter, who followed their sister’s lead and renounced material wealth and focused their education on theology and Holy Scripture. While her brothers may have been early church rock stars, Macrina frequently challenged them on their theology, spiritual practices, and opinions and often, they realized she was right.

She also converted her family’s large, wealthy estate in Pontus to a monastery that cared for the poor and provided a safe, peaceful shelter for study and meditation for women and men alike. Many who lived, studied, and prayed in her monastery were starving women she would find while walking on the roads around the city. Basil and Peter used her life as a monastic to write a Rule for community life; therefore, Macrina became the spiritual mother of monasticism.

Gregory of Nyssa visited his sister as she lay dying and later shared her last words, a mixture of a Greek farewell oration and reflections on Holy Scripture, in his writings. One of the great fathers of Christian theology, Gregory of Nyssa (a saint), and one of the great fathers of Christian spirituality, Basil the Great (a saint, too), called this woman, their sister, the greatest teacher of the faith they ever encountered. Macrina, in her faith, her intelligence, her deep humility, lived a gentle life, and the elements of strength, love, and mercy so mixed in her that the great Fathers of our faith would say to all the world, “This was a woman.”

Collect for Macrina the Younger
Merciful God, you called your servant Macrina to reveal in her life and her teaching the riches of your grace and truth: May we, following her example, seek after your wisdom and live according to her way; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Laurie Brock


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148 comments on “Jonathan Daniels vs. Macrina the Younger”

  1. Brilliant piece on the fourth Cappadocian, Laurie! She has no chance since she's up against a modern day martyr, but she's getting my vote since my specialty as a theologian is women in Christianity.

    Despite my grudge against the committee for dooming Macrina, I have to give them massive props for creating and maintaining the site. My ten year old daughter was seriously bummed that LM didn't start till today, though getting pulled out of school for Ash Wednesday mass cheered her wait. It's both great catechesis and a Spirit-filled invitation to claim her Christian identity more openly and engage in respectful evangelism, as she has been spontaneously sharing her joy in LM with school friends from atheist to Jewish! The latter led to especially wonderful interfaith dialogue and sharing, all on the fifth grade playground.

    1. Thanks! I didn't think Macrina stood much of a chance, but what a woman! I love the remarks that realize without a Macrina, we might not have so many of the future saints of the church. Girl Power!

  2. The first day and such a tough choice! I had not heard of Daniels' or his story before and was definitely leaning his direction. Then I read of Macrina and the incredible faith of her family and that her brothers gave her such respect.

    As I debated internally, I didn't want it to be so difficult to make a decision. Then I realized what a gift we have--two such inspirational people acting out their faith and to know that their stories are still with us speaking into our lives today from the recent past to distant church history.

    PS I went with Macrina, but my heart was torn.

  3. Fred fenton, rector of first parish i attended,had marched at selma, and that was one thing that drew me into Pecusa. That said, choice was hard because i've read pelikan's gifford lectures which helped to showcase Macrina in our day. (a hefty Lenten read)......chose the martyr. At least two friends have been martyred in recent years in Turkey and my heart goes with those who suffer for the faith.

  4. Two inspiring choices. But I'm going with Macrina, a lady who knew something about gently crossing boundaries, using tough love with her brothers (full disclosure: I have four brothers) in whom she saw great gifts for them to use in ways that she as a woman could not. In her humility, her teaching surely influenced the finalizing of the Creed? The Creed! Like a good seminary prof, she nurtured, formed, and taught.

  5. Cruel choice, but I think it's time Macrina gets some credit for shaping our theological world. Her brothers have had centuries of renown and I say her time has come now!

    1. Gotta go with Jonathan. Macrina may have shaped classic theology, and I honor that deeply. But we are a different church now thanks to Jonathan's witness (along with others, to be sure). Instead of being the 'frozen chosen', we have spent the half century since his death learning to live the gospel beyond the church walls and elitist cultural trappings.

      Besides, we did not get the chance to see what else he might have done had he lived. Tough call indeed. A millennium or two from now, maybe the choice will be easier.

      1. I went with Macrina because she spent her life living with God and teaching and exhorting others to do the same. Jonathan's example is certainly inspiring, like a fireworks display, but few of us are called to that sort of immolation for Christ. For most of us, Macrina's example of implacable endurance is far closer to the life we are called to live.

        1. I agree. I voted for Macrina for the same reasons, a life-long gift of herself to God and the good of the community.

  6. What a gift I have received on the first day of Lent Madness: Macrina the Younger! Both stories are stirring and compelling, but I think I have found a new friend and mentor in Macrina. I just returned from Cappadocia and loved the holy beauty of the cave churches and the odd shaped landscapes, yet I had never heard of Macrina. Her brothers are well known but I am looking forward to learning more about Macrina, based on the account here. Thank you to Laurie Brock for the touching historical account. Well done!

    1. You're welcome! She was an amazing woman. I wish we had more information on her, but then again, her life spoke enough.

  7. I've had the privilege of spending some time with Judy U, who went on from this experience to become one of the first women ordained (against the rules) in the Episcopal church. She has taken Jonathan's legacy and lived a life devoted to justice for all people, and continues to be an inspiration. To hear her talk about the experience of going to Selma with Jonathan, and her life after his death, is so moving. Jonathan deserves our votes!

  8. This was a tough one. I was already to vote for Jonathan Daniels and then read about Macrina the Younger. I suspect Jonathan will win this round without my help and I was truly inspired by Macrina's story. Go Macrina!

  9. Great write-ups for two compelling and worthy people. My rationale for voting for JD can be boiled down to three words: No. Greater. Love.

    1. Yes, yes, and yes, Heido. That love of all loves that enabled him to push Ruby out of the way and take the blast... For that he wins my vote. Macrina joins the clouds of saintly witnesses I'm happy to have met for the first time through Lent Madness.

  10. Echoing what everyone has said - This one is a doozy. Jonathan's story actually made me cry, so I was sure my vote was for him. But Macrina working diligently in the background... I have three brothers as well, and trying to keep them in line would be no small task! Actually, my vote would probably be with Macrina's mother (echoing Marguerite's statement). I too am still pondering. I'll keep checking back for more comments. Come on! Sway me, people!

  11. The first round of Lent Madness gave us two great choices. I already knew the story of Jonathan Daniels so I spent extra time reading about Macrina. In the end I could not escape the thoughts about one who could have stayed behind in safety and comfort but instead had the faith and courage to step in front of that shotgun.

  12. I was all set to vote for Jonathan, but reading about Macrina and her reducing the "big head" of her saintly brother made my decision a lot harder than I thought it would be. I still voted for Jonathan, a martyr of my time, but I send my utmost respect and appreciation to St. Macrina the Younger.

    1. Patsy said what I am feeling. And others also echoed the difficulty of the choice. A wonderful beginning to "the madness".

  13. I had to vote for Jonathan Daniels because he walked the walk, and also because ( no offence to Macrina, ) he is a contemporary witness, whose life should be a guide to us all.

  14. What a tough choice to kick off Lenten Madness! If there were ever two that deserved both our votes, it was these two. That said, while I loved the story of Macrina, the younger, and I definitely want to learn more about her, it was hard not to cast my vote for Jon Daniels, especially when his story revives the images of violence of my youth. He, like MLK, was martyred for his faith and his call to social justice for all. God bless them both!

  15. Another New Hampshirite who venerates Macrina but eventually decided to go with the hometown boy.

  16. Jonathan Daniels went to my school (Virginia Military Institute) and was an English major like me (before my time). He became a strong influnce on my future vocational journey. I studied in "the Daniels Den", a small library dedicated to his memory in Scott Shipp Hall at VMI, and often wondered about his life and times. Since about the 90s some excellent books and a documentary give one a glimpse into his life and motivations. I am happy to see he is better known these days and can influence future cadets and others through his Christian witness. His closing remarks as Veledictorian inspired me and many others beyond his classmates: "My colleagues and friends, I wish you the joy of a purposeful life. I wish you new worlds and the vision to see them. I wish you the decency and the nobility of which you are capable. These will come, with the maturity which it is now our job to acquire on far-flung fields. The only thing that we can do at this time - is to 'greet the unseen with a cheer.'" Win the Golden Halo or not, he's a contender in my book!

  17. My deceased husband, The Rev. Al Barnaby from the Diocese of RI spoke fondly of working with Jonathan while he was in Providence. We have worked on pilgrimages through South Providence to honor his memory. Both Al and I wrote icons in his honor for the pilgrimage. Jonathan Daniesls - a modern saint indeed.

  18. My goodness...what a tough opening round. I agonised over this one; both are deserving. Macrina seems to have wielded a lot of early (and sorely needed) influence on the church. Plus, it being Valentine's Day, I have a soft spot for monasticism...

  19. Marcina the Younger provides for all the saints the foundations of their faith. Selecting between these two is very difficulty. However, because of the fundamental nature of Marcina's theology, I voted for her.

  20. She won't likely win...and I'm compelled to vote for the modern day martyr who stepped into the breach...but a part of me wants to vote for the sister who kept her big-headd brothers from the pitfalls of bloated egos!

  21. I am inspired by both saints and their stories. I love Macrina's patience and persistence; the day by day faithfulness over a lifetime. I voted for Jonathan Daniels, not because he was a martyr but because he kept making decisions to do the right thing even though there was danger. And I voted for him because he is an example of how to live in this day & age. He is a saint that I might meet "in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea ... and I mean to be one too." Hymn 293

  22. Great start to LM! Despite a terrific write-up by Laurie B, I had to go with Jonathan. John15:13.