May 30, 2017

Saint Emmelia, Mother of Saint Basil the Great

St. Emmelia (Feast Day - Slav. Jan. 1; Gr. May 30)

Saint Emmelia (also Emily, Emilia, Emelia), was part of a holy family and most famous for being the mother of Saint Basil the Great. There are very few descriptions of Saint Emmelia’s life. She was the daughter of a martyr and the daughter-in-law of Saint Macrina the Elder (260-340). Along with her husband, Saint Basil the Elder (+ 349), she gave birth to nine or ten children. She instilled the Orthodox faith in her children, teaching them to pray and devote their lives to the service of the Church. Among these were Saint Basil the Great (+ 379), his sister Saint Macrina the Younger (c.330–379) and his brothers Saints Gregory of Nyssa (334-394), Naukratios of Mount Nitria (332-358), and Peter of Sebaste (345/7-392). It is also a widely held tradition that Saint Theosevia (c. 335-c.385) was his youngest sister (though some claim she was the spouse of Saint Gregory of Nyssa), who is also a saint in the Church. There are also about four or five other girls, unknown sisters of Saint Basil. Therefore, Saint Emmelia is often called “the mother of saints.”

When her son, Naukratios, suddenly died at the age of twenty-seven, she was consoled by her eldest daughter, Macrina. Macrina reminded her that it was not befitting to a Christian to “mourn as those who have no hope” and inspired her to hope courageously in the resurrection bequeathed to us by the saving passion of the Lord.

After her children left home, Emmelia was persuaded by Macrina to forsake the world. Together they founded a monastery for women. Emmelia divided the family property among her children. Retaining only some meager possessions, she and Macrina withdrew to a secluded family property in Pontus, picturesquely located on the banks of the Iris River and not far from Saint Basil’s wilderness home. A number of liberated female slaves desired to join the pair, and a convent was formed. They lived under one roof and held everything in common: they ate, worked, and prayed together. They were so eager to advance in virtue that they regarded fasting as food and poverty as riches. The harmony of this model community of women was unspoiled by anger, jealousy, hatred, or pride. Indeed, as the Church sings of monastics, they lived like angels in the flesh.

Living in this manner for many years, Emmelia reached old age. When an illness signaled her departure from this world, her son Peter came to her side. Together with Macrina, he tended to his mother in her last days. As the oldest and the youngest, Macrina and Peter held a special place in Emmelia’s heart.

Before committing her soul to the Lord, she raised her voice to heaven, saying, “To you, O Lord, I give the first fruits and the tithe of the fruit of my womb. The first fruit is my first-born daughter, and the tithe is this, my youngest son. Let these be for you a rightly acceptable sacrifice, and let your holiness descend upon them!” Saint Emmelia reposed in 375 and was buried as she had requested, beside her husband in the chapel at their estate in Annesi, where Naukratios had also been laid.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Having lived your life prudently before God, you finished your course beforehand with revered Basil, all-revered Emmelia, and in the wilderness, you mutually went with your children, towards that which you longed for above, wherefore Christ most-glorified your household.