For all the Saints: Nonna
Three major theologians of the church, called the Cappadocian Fathers, were Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus, called “The Theologian.” Basil and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers from a large family; another brother Peter also became a bishop and their sister Macrina is also considered a theologian. Gregory of Nazianzus, the other member of the famed trio, was the son of Gregory and Nonna. Together these families constituted a powerhouse of ancient Christian thought and life.
Nonna was a deaconess who was instrumental in converting her husband, Gregory, to the Christian faith. He was subsequently named bishop of Nazianzus. Apparently she did a good job!
While she was pregnant with Gregory the son, she promised she would raise him in the faith and dedicate him to service in the church. She gave Gregory his early education and he went off to other schooling, notably at Athens where he became close friends with Basil. Gregory credited his mother as the most important influence in his education in these words: “While some women excel in the management of their households and others in piety—for it is difficult to achieve both—she nevertheless surpassed all in both, because she was pre-eminent in each and because she alone combined the two. She increased the resources of her household by her care and practical foresight according to the standards and norms laid down by Solomon for the valiant woman.”
Gregory is one of the Doctors of the Church and subsequently took over the reigns of his father’s diocese in 374 upon his father’s demise.
Nonna’s other two children are also celebrated as saints of the church. Gorgonia, the daughter, raised a family of three. Caesarius, the other son, became a doctor and is numbered among the “unmercenaries,” an unusual category of saints who were healers and who refused payment for their services.
Nonna’s influence in her family is of incalculable value in the history of the church. She was the embodiment of the maxim, “behind every good man is a good woman,” and the church reveres her as a wonderworker. Her life is commemorated annually on August 5th.
The office she held in the church, that of deaconess, involved her in working with orphans, widows, and the poor. She died in 374, shortly after her husband and as her son Gregory was becoming Bishop of Nazianzus.
Published 09 September 2006