ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Saint of the East: A Remarkable Family

For the family of Emmelia and Basil, becoming a saint runs in the family.

Theirs was an outstanding family, in every sense of the word. Emmelia and Basil had ten children – five boys and five girls. A wealthy and highly-regarded Christian clan, they lived in a large, comfortable mansion in Cappadocia, during the fourth century, A.D., with dozens of household servants to wait upon them.

Undoubtedly, the most amazing fact about Emmelia and Basil’s family is that of their ten children four became saints. And as if this figure weren’t sufficiently impressive, Emmelia and Basil themselves, and the paternal grandmother of the family, were likewise canonized.

St. Basil, the father, was a man who prized scholarship, and St. Emmelia, the mother, was a gracious and beautiful woman of excellent education. As the children came along, they were well-taught and well-disciplined.

Another strong influence on the children’s lives was their grandmother, St. Macrina the elder. An excellent storyteller, like Emmelia, Macrina saw to it that the brood was properly trained in religion, and that they had the Scriptures on the tips of their tongues.

Young Macrina, the first-born of the family, was a person of character even as a child. After her father died, and when all the children were grown, she persuaded her mother to start a religious community for women. They chose as the site one of the family estates that lay along the river Iris, and St. Macrina became the first Superior of the colony.

The second child (and first son of the family) also became a saint. After studying in Constantinople and Athens, St. Basil (the Great) became a monk and founded the first monastery in Asia Minor…on the opposite bank of the Iris from his sister’s colony. The youngest of the family, Peter (who later became St. Peter of Sebaste), was Basil’s first disciple.

Still another brother – St. Gregory of Nyssa – is one of the most interesting saints in the Byzantine calendar. Having suffered countless humiliations, St. Gregory once compared himself to “a piece of wood buffeted about in the water.” And yet, one of his greatest accomplishments was that he bore no resentment toward the many people who had given him bad advice, or who’d ordered him to do things against his will.

Emmelia and Basil, the children and their grandmother could easily have lived a “fairy-tale” existence with wealth and luxury. They chose instead to follow the sometimes-stony path of right Christain living…

They truly were a remarkable family.

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