In the fourth century, prior to St. Macrina, monasticism was chiefly concerned with taking distance from the world. St. Macrina, together with her brothers St. Peter and St. Basil the Great, set up a new type of monasticism, one that was integrated into the world and served the needy. St. Macrina was the spiritual leader of this new community which was really a Christian “city” practicing the works of mercy. In it, men and women held all their property in common and lived in common, working to serve the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the orphan, the elderly, and the sick. They lived alongside their guests, in this way living alongside Christ. It was in every way a self-sufficient city, producing its own food and other basic requirements. It was also a place of learning, both of wisdom and of trades. A place of healing of both soul and body, it was actually the world’s first hospital. Out of the abundance of the community, healing poured over into the world, as those in need were invited to come and stay and participate in the healing. This city exemplifies the seamless fabric of Christian social consciousness, as all manner of love and healing were available to all. No person was without place in this city, except those who only wanted to live only for themselves.
Macrina’s vision had a powerful effect on Byzantine religious life. One fourth century canon records that “a house of hospitality should be founded for the poor in every city and every diocese.” By the mid to late Byzantine Empire, these houses of hospitality could be classified as belonging to one type or another: basilias, which were the world’s original hospitals, or xenodocheia, which were houses for refugees, strangers, and travelers, gerocomeia, homes for the elderly, orphanotropheion, orphanages, ptocheia, which were houses for the poor, xenotapheia, which were cemeteries for the poor and strangers, typhlocomion, or homes for the blind, and parthenones and cherotropheion, which were homes for women.
In the context of American Orthodoxy, today there are many houses of hospitality and similar ministries. These ministries serve a variety of populations and are as diverse as they were in Byzantium. St. Macrina’s Network is dedicated to raising awareness about these ministries, raising funds for their work, and connecting and equipping interested Orthodox Christians in continuing this venerable tradition.
As best we can calculate, currently there are 47 houses of hospitality or outreach in the US and Canada, including senior living facilities, domestic violence shelters, homes for the poor, homes for travelers, free clinics, and other various ministries of mercy.
Please contact us at [email protected] if you would like to volunteer at a ministry near you or start one of your own. If you would like to support this initiative, please donate through the donation page and mark your donation for Macrina’s Ministries.