St. Nonna

(Fourth Century)

Let me introduce St. Nonna, a model Christian wife and mother.

Nonna was born around 290 AD in Cappadocia (now a part of Turkey). Her prominent Christian parents raised her in a firm Christian faith. It might seem odd, then, that she should have married a non-Christian. Her husband, Gregory, a magistrate in the city of Nazianzus, belonged to a small sect, half-pagan, half-Jewish, called the Hypsistarians. But even though the Church discourages such marriages as risky for the Catholic party, this particular mixed marriage turned out brilliantly.

Influenced by the good example of his wife, Gregory not only became a Christian, but a priest and bishop of Nazianzus. (In those days Church law still permitted married bishops.) Indeed, Gregory was so outstanding that today we venerate him as St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder.

Nonna and Gregory had three children: Gregory Junior, Gorgonia and Caesarius. Before young Gregory was born, his mother offered him to God as a special gift. God accepted. Gregory Junior became a monk, a priest, a bishop and as St. Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 330-390), one of the four great Eastern doctors of the Church. He won special fame as a defender of the divinity of Christ against Arius of Alexandria, who claimed that Jesus was no more God than you or I.

Gorgonia, much like her mother in her virtues, married and raised a family with equal care. She devoted her spare time to the needs of the local church and the poor of the district. Caesarius became a physician, held in the highest respect as a medic and a man. Emperor Julian the Apostate so admired him that he offered him all sorts of favors to win him over to paganism. Caesarius not only refused but resigned the public offices he already held.

The Christian Emperor Valens, who succeeded Julian, named him his private financial secretary. In 368, however, after narrowly escaping death in an earthquake, Caesarius renounced worldly life and gave all his property to the poor.

St. Gregory the Younger preached at the funerals of both Gorgonia and Caesarius. Since then, they too, have been venerated as saints.

What a family Nonna gave to God – herself and four other saints! True to the scriptural ideal of the “valiant woman,” she won from her husband and children deserved thanks and praise (Proverbs, 31).

To be a worthy wife and mother – a truly divine calling!

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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