Thursday, 30 April 2015

Nienke Vos: ‘Teach us to pray': Self-Understanding in Macrina's Final Prayer

Gregory of Nyssa, who composed the vita of his sister Macrina, was educated in the best traditions of ancient rhetoric, which aimed at teaching (docere), delighting (delectare), and moving (movere) the audience. The Vita Macrinae as a whole is defined by this triple goal, but it applies especially to Macrina's Final Prayer, encapsulating the ascetic theology of the author (teaching doctrine), beautifully arranged (including word repetition, parallellism, and inclusion - linguistic delight), with a view to inspiring the audience to appropriate, by way of imitatio, the prayer (the reader is moved to repeat the words). As such, the Final Prayer, packed with Biblical and liturgical references, functions as a microcosm mirroring the macrocosm of the vita. In my paper, I will analyze the theology of the prayer while also pointing out its envisaged communicative effects. In doing so, I take my cue from Derek Krueger, who explicates connections between the liturgy and (auto-)biographical activity, especially in terms of anamnesis and eucharistia (Writing and Holiness: The Practice of Authorship in the Early Christian East, 2004). While my focus is on pedagogy and mystagogy rather than on authorship as such, I believe that observing parallels between liturgical discourse and the narration of a life, including the notion of ‘life as prayer', is fruitful with a view to understanding the pedagogical and mystagogical potential of the Final Prayer. For as Macrina ‘inscribes her story into God's' (Krueger's terminology), the reader may do the same, both extending the act of anamnesis and desiring it.

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