In Greece, the feast of the Presentation of Christ to the Temple, due to the praise to the Theotokos of the feast, has become the day on which they celebrate Mother's Day. Related to this, and also based on the fact that January is the month in which the Three Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers are celebrated (Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom), the Sunday after the Feast of the Presentation of Christ has come to be the common feast of their mothers. Sts. Nonna, Emmelia and Anthousa are perfect examples of Christian motherhood, and one can see the great virtue in their lives, and especially through their children, the fruits of their labors and faith. Below I inclue their lives, and also hymns from the joint feast of these Three Holy Mothers. May they intercede for us all and help us!
Life of St. Nonna
Saint Nonna, the mother of St Gregory the Theologian (January 25, 389), was the daughter of Christians named Philotatos and Gorgonia, who raised her in Christian piety. St Nonna was also an aunt of St Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium (November 23). St Nonna entered into marriage with Gregory of Arianzus (January 1), the rich landowner of an estate in the Arianzus and Nazianzos districts. The marriage was advantageous by earthly considerations, but grievous for the pious soul of Nonna. Her husband Gregory was a pagan, a follower of the sect of the Supremists (Hypsistarii), who venerated a supreme god and observed certain Jewish rituals, while at the same time they worshipped fire. St Nonna prayed that her spouse would turn to the holy truth. St Nonna’s son, St Gregory the Theologian, wrote about this: “She could not bear this, being half united to God, because he who was part of her remained apart from God. She wanted a spiritual union in addition to the bodily union. Day and night she turned to God with fasting and many tears, entreating Him to grant salvation to her husband.” Through the prayers of St Nonna, her husband Gregory had a vision in his sleep. “It seemed to my father,” writes St Gregory, “as though he was singing the following verse of David: ‘I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 121/122: 1). He had never done this before, though his wife had often offered her supplications and prayers for it.” The Psalm was strange to him, but along with its words, the desire also came to him to go to church. When she heard about this, St Nonna told her husband that the vision would bring the greatest pleasure if it were fulfilled. The elder Gregory went to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, where he made known his conversion to Christ. He was baptized, ordained presbyter, and then Bishop of Nazianzos devoting himself totally to the Church. At the same time as his consecration as bishop, his wife St Nonna was made a deaconness. With the same zeal with which she had raised her children, she now occupied herself in performing works of charity. “She knew,” says St Gregory the Theologian, “one thing to be truly noble: to be pious and to know from where we have come and where we are going; and that there is one innate and trusty wealth: to use one’s substance on God and on the poor, especially the impoverished kin. One woman may be distinguished for frugality, and another for piety, while she, difficult as it is to combine both qualities, excelled all others in both of them. In each she attained the height of perfection, and both were combined in her. She did not permit one duty to interfere with the other, but rather each supported the other. What time and place of prayer ever eluded her? She was drawn to this each day before anything else, and she had complete faith that her prayers would be answered. Although greatly moved by the sorrows of strangers, she never yielded to grief to the extent that she allowed any sound of woe to escape her lips before the Eucharist, or a tear to fall from her eye, or for any trace of mourning to remain on a Feast day, though she repeatedly endured many sorrows. She subjected every human thing to God. Her final years brought St Nonna many sorrows. In the year 368 her younger son Caesarios died, a young man of brilliant expectations; and in the following year, her daughter died. The brave old woman bore these losses submitting to the will of God. In the year 370 Bishop Gregory, then already an old man, participated in the consecration of St Basil the Great as Bishop of Caesarea. St Nonna, who was somewhat younger than her husband, was also ready to enter into the next life, but through the prayers of her beloved son her time on earth was prolonged. “My mother,” wrote her son, “ was always strong and vigorous, and free from sickness all her life, but then she became ill. Because of much distress... caused by her inability to eat, her life was in danger for many days, and no cure could be found. How then did God sustain her? He did not send down manna, as for Israel of old; He did not split open a rock, in order to provide water for the thirsty people; nor did He send food by ravens, as with Elias, nor did He feed her..., as He once fed Daniel, who felt hunger in the pit. But how?” It seemed to her that I, her favorite son (not even in dreams did she prefer anyone else), had appeared to her suddenly by night with a basket of the whitest bread. Then I blessed these loaves with the Sign of the Cross, as is my custom, and I gave her to eat, and with this her strength increased.”St Nonna believed the vision was real. She became stronger, and more like her old self. St Gregory visited her early the next morning and, as usual, asked what sort of night she had, and if she required anything. She replied, “My son, you have fed me and now you ask about my health. I am well.” At this moment her maids made signs to me that I should not contradict her, but to accept her words so that the actual truth should not distress her.” Early in the year 374 the hundred-year-old St Gregory the Elder reposed. After this, St Nonna almost never emerged from the church. Soon after his death, she died at prayer in the temple on August 5, 374. St Nonna was a model wife and mother, a remarkable woman who devoted her life to God and the Church without neglecting her other responsibilities. Because of her spiritual, social, and domestic concerns, St Nonna would be a most fitting patron for Orthodox women’s organizations.
Life of St. Emmelia
St Basil the Great’s mother St Emilia was the daughter of a martyr. On the Greek calendar, she is commemorated on May 30. St Basil’s father was also named Basil. He was a lawyer and renowned rhetorician, and lived at Caesarea. Ten children were born to the elder Basil and Emilia: five sons and five daughters. Five of them were later numbered among the saints: Basil the Great; Macrina (July 19) was an exemplar of ascetic life, and exerted strong influence on the life and character of St Basil; Gregory, afterwards Bishop of Nyssa (January 10); Peter, Bishop of Sebaste (January 9); and Theosebia, a deaconess (January 10).
See here for a brief life of St. Anthousa, the Mother of St. John Chrysostom.
Let us honor the memory of the Holy Mothers
Emmelia, Nonna and Anthousa.
They entreat the Infant Forty-days-old, together with God's Mother.
Exaposteilarion in the Third Tone.
The heaven in the stars.
In the Temple the Priest met the Infant Christ, and in the House of God, let us all praise in hymns and odes the virtues of Emmelia, Nonna and Anthousa, as is right.
In the Praises, Sticheron Prosomoion in the First Tone.
The heavenly ranks.
Come, all the faithful, let us celebrate the memory of the Mothers of the Great Hierarchs, Holy Emmelia with joy, who bore Basil, Nonna who bore Gregory, and the chaste Anthousa who sprouted forth the Chrysostom.
Doxastikon of the Praises, in the Plagal of the First Tone
Let us sound the trumpet in the clarion of song, skipping festally, and let us rejoice in the Spirit, hymning in God-inspired hymns, the light-bearing memory of the Holy Mothers of the Three Hierarchs, and let us say to them in praise: Rejoice, you who raised Basil the Priest, and were the tender-loving mother of ten children, Emmelia, all-praised, the prototype of the family. Rejoice, the chaste spouse of the sacred Gregory, who bore the second Theologian, together with Caesarios and Gorgonia, Nonna, all-blessed. Rejoice, the most-chaste wife of Sekoundos, who sprouted John the Chrysostom, and educated him to be the rhetor of Lebanon, Anthousa, the divine adornment. But, O Mothers, you rejoiced in your sons and daughters like fruitful olive trees, and you kept your spousal faith, and struggled tirelessly to love your children and your brethren, and you transmitted to your children all the virtues faithfully. Intercede with the Savior, that those who celebrate your memory might be shown mercy upon their souls.
Come O faithful, let us praise the sacred Mothers of the Great Hierarchs: Emmelia, Nonna, and the chaste Anthousa, crying out "Rejoice" to the godly ones in faith.
Translations from the Greek text of the service to the Saints here. See here for the Paraklesis, Akathist and Engomia to the Saints in Greek.
See here for the Akathist to the Three Holy Mothers.