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August 5, 2014

Saint Nonna as a Model for our Lives

St. Nonna (Feast Day - August 5)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Nonna was born in 304 in Arianzo of Cappadocia, which was near the city of Nazianzus. Her parents were named Philtatios and Gorgonia. Her husband Gregory was a pious man, but he had embraced the heresy of the Hypsistarians, who were called this because they believed the Most-High (Hypsistos) God was not Triune. Yet Saint Nonna, through patience, love and her fervent prayers, managed to bring him back to the Orthodox faith. He was baptized in 325, became a Cleric, and even became one of the best Bishops of the Church.

Saint Gregory and Saint Nonna had three children, namely Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint Caesarius and Saint Gorgonia. Thus they were a blessed family, all of whose members are saints of the Church.

Saint Nonna reposed in peace.

Her life and disposition gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, married women and mothers must have Saint Nonna as a model, because she was, indeed, a model wife and mother. She loved her husband with a love that came from the God who is Love. This is why her love was genuine, selfless and without an expiration date. Even for a moment she did not consider leaving her husband because he was dragged into heresy, but rather she showed him more love. Armed with faith and patience she prayed more fervently to God, that He would enlighten him to return to the Orthodox faith, which eventually happened. Moreover she helped her children with her love, bright example and prayers. For her children were the fruit of her pained prayers. She acquired them several years after her marriage, which is why Saint Gregory the Theologian affectionately called her Sarah. She would pray and plead with God to grant her a child. And like Saint Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel in the Old Testament, so she also dedicated him to God. That is, she promised to dedicate to Him the child He gave her. God heard her prayers and indeed He granted her three children. Her firstborn son was Saint Gregory the Theologian, who with his wonderful poetry expressed the longing of his mother to bear children, her prayers, her vow, as well as the achievement of her purpose. He writes:

"She longed to see a male child in her home
- the common desire of many -
and she prayed to God pleading to obtain what she desired.
And as unrestrained as she was,
she offered as a gift the one she longed to receive herself,
offering him with the same fervor that she requested him with."

Elsewhere he writes of his mother: "What time or what place did not see her praying? Prayer was her first occupation as soon as God sent a new day... She was completely dedicated to God and her reverence was not only for herself, but she imparted it to her children." Full of wonder and gratitude towards his mother, he exclaims: "There was no mother with more compassion. And I say this in order to consider it a law to honor your mothers... What mother was more sympathetic?"

At this point it should be known that she "owed her upbringing to her good parents". Here we see that there is a continuum. That is, a conveying of true reverence from generation to generation. In other words, we see an authentic Orthodox Christian family, a "house church", in which children receive the true faith and true love, and then, in turn, they transplant it to their own children.

Second, Saint Nonna was industrious and diligent. Despite having financial difficulties, she worked and thus became a shining example to those around her and especially her children. She did all the housework and cared for her family, all the while engaged with the distaff and spindle, as well as weaving loom for their own needs, and for the poor also. Her husband Saint Gregory studied legal science and worked as a higher officer. And later as Bishop he worked hard for the progress of his reasonable flock entrusted to him by the Church. Saint Gregory the Theologian, in the poem above dedicated to his mother, says the following:

"Some women are famous for their labors in the home,
others for their beauty, as well as their decency,
others for works of piety, or for diseases of the body,
or for tears, for prayer, for care for the poor.
But Nonna had the good fortune of them all."

Saint Nonna had no money apart from her husband. This blessed couple shared all things and each one tried to surpass the other in works of philanthropy. Both loved and cared for all those in need, with Saint Nonna especially being a protector of the poor and especially of tormented women and orphaned children, which made Saint Gregory the Theologian say: "Who became to such a great degree a protector of orphans and widows? Who stood by so much and truly consoled those who mourn?" Truly Nonna "considered wealth secure and abounding, if it was offered to the poor."

Surely, she is a model not only for wives and mothers, but for all women, who are called to imitate her virtues and her inner beauty. Because Saint Nonna - despite the fact that she was externally beautiful - was only truly interested in this and her inner beauty is what made her stand out. "One beauty she knew and tried to maintain in herself, and that was the beauty of the soul", which remains without corruption over time, since it is connected with authentic love, with which it "converses with the ages"

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Πρότυπο Συζύγου καί Μητέρας Αγία Νόννα", July 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.