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February 7, 2016

Saints Emmelia, Nonna and Anthousa - Mothers of the Three Hierarchs

On the Sunday after the Feast of the Reception of the Lord (Feb. 2), the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece has determined, that the memory of the three holy mothers of the Three Hierarchs be honored. They are Saint Emmelia, the mother of Basil the Great, who is also commemorated on May 30th; Saint Nonna, the mother of Gregory the Theologian, who is also commemorated on August 5th; and Saint Anthousa, the mother of John Chrysostom, for whom this is her primary feast.

Saint Nonna of Nazianzus, Mother of Gregory the Theologian

Saint Anthousa,
Mother of John Chrysostom
circa. 347-407

Anthousa was an intelligent woman living in the city of Antioch in the fourth century. She was a woman of means, being married to Secundus, an illustrious officer in the Imperial Army of Syria. The city of Antioch was the starting point of the Apostle Paul’s three missionary journeys and was one of the four chief cities of the Roman Empire. Of its population of about two hundred thousand, half were thought to have been Christian.

It was in this setting that Anthousa bore a son that she named John. While John was an infant, Secundus died, leaving her widowed when she was about twenty years old. Although she had the means to give her son a good education, she dreaded bringing him up amid the corruptions of Antioch and decided to teach him at home for a time. But the burden of rearing him, she later declared, was lightened for her by God’s support and the joy of seeing in him the image of his father.

Anthousa decided not to marry again, feeling that her child must come before her own happiness. She devoted her life to her son, who showed high intelligence and a love for virtue, and the service of the local Church. It was her goal to nurture in him the highest quality of Christian character. In his early years she taught him to love the Holy Scripture and encouraged him to study and learn it. She instilled in him an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures which served to help him later in life.

Anthousa herself was a highly educated woman and transmitted much of her classical knowledge to her son. When the time was right, she sent him to the celebrated orator Libanius to study further. As he grew into a man, she also encouraged him to pursue his desire to study classical knowledge and theology, inspiring him to study theology under the noted Diodore of Tarsus. While John did study under great men of his time period, the spiritual interpretations and the practical applications found in his great homilies on Genesis, Matthew, John, Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, Ephesians, Timothy, and Titus owe much to his mother’s early teachings

John went on to become one of the great Christian leaders of his time, earning the name Chrysostom, meaning “Golden-Mouthed”. Though he reveled in his classical education, it was the things of the Spirit he learned at his mother’s home that he credited for giving him the foundation he needed to succeed as a minister of the Gospel and becoming the man that he was.