January 2011 - St. Emily
St. Emily [375 A.D.] ‘Mother of Saints’ January 1st
Born in the region of Pontius in Cappadocia during the persecutions of the early 4th century, St. Emily [Emilia] was surrounded by holiness her entire life. Both her father and mother were among the unnamed Holy Martyr’s who suffered under the emperor Diocletian. Following the death of her parents she married St. Basil the Elder, a renowned lawyer and rhetorician and the son of St. Macrina the Elder. The holy couple, St. Basil and St. Emily had ten children; five boys and five girls. Together with her husband, she instilled the Christian faith in her children, teaching them to pray and devote their lives to the service of the Church and their neighbor. As a result of her zealous maternal instruction, five of her children are commemorated as saints of the Church: St. Macrina, St. Basil the Great, St. Peter of Sebaste, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Theosebia the Deaconess. Therefore, Saint Emily is often, without exaggeration, referred to as "the mother of saints."
When her son Naucratius suddenly died at the age of twenty-seven, she was consoled by her eldest daughter St. Macrina. Her daughter reminded her that a Christian will not "mourn as those who have no hope" and inspired St. Emily to hope courageously in the new life revealed to us in the Resurrection of the Lord.
Following the death of her husband, St. Emily continued to raise her children until they were grown and able to leave home. Eventually, St. Emily was persuaded by her daughter St. Macrina to abandon her worldly life and retire to the wilderness in prayer and seclusion. Together they founded a monastery for women. St. Emily divided the family property among her children and freed her slaves. Retaining only some meager possessions, she and St. Macrina withdrew to a secluded family property in the countryside of Pontus, picturesquely located on the banks of the Iris River and not far from the wilderness abode of her son St. Basil. Out of loyalty to their benevolent mistress, a number of her liberated slaves soon joined the saintly pair and a convent was quickly formed. The new nuns lived together under one roof and held everything in common: they ate, worked, and prayed together, serving the Lord in all things with a singular purpose. 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 those who live the consecrated life, ‘they lived like angels in the flesh.’ Their pious example attracted many pilgrims and they became renowned for their hospitality and ministry to the poor and needy.
Living in this manner for many years, St. Emily reached old age. When an illness signaled her departure from this world, her son St. Peter came to be at her side. Together with his sister St. Macrina, he tended to his mother in her last days. As her oldest and the youngest children, St. Macrina and St. Peter held a special place in St. Emily'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 offering, and let your holiness descend upon them!" Saint Emily was buried as she had requested, with her husband in the chapel of their estate in Annesi, where their son Naucratius had also been laid to rest.