There are precious few descriptions of St. Emily’s life. The following is drawn from various sources, including the lives of her mother-in-law, St. Macrina the Elder, her eldest daughter, St. Macrina the Younger, and her most famous son, St. Basil the Great. Churches of the Russian tradition keep her feast on January 1, along with her son Basil. Greek churches keep her feast on May 30, along with her husband St. Basil the Elder.
St. Emily was the daughter of a martyr and the daughter-in-law of St. Macrina the Elder. Along with her husband St. Basil the Elder, she gave birth to ten children. She instilled the orthodox faith in her children, teaching them to pray and devote their lives to the service of the Church. As a result of her zealous yet maternal instruction of her children, five of them are commemorated as saints on the calendar of the Church: Ss. Macrina, Basil, Peter of Sebaste, Gregory of Nyssa, and Theosebia, a deaconess. Therefore, St. Emily is often called without exaggeration “the mother of saints.”
When her son Naucratius suddenly died at the age of twenty-seven, she was consoled by her eldest daughter Macrina. St. Macrina reminded her that it is not befitting to a Christian to “mourn as those who have no hope” and inspired her to hope courageously in the resurrection vouchsafed to us by the Pascha of the Lord.
After her children left home, St. Emily was persuaded by Macrina to forsake the world. Together they founded a monastery for women. Emily divided the family property among her children and freed her slaves. Retaining only some meager possessions, she and Macrina withdrew to a secluded family property in Pontus, picturesquely located on the banks of the Iris River and not far from St. Basil’s wilderness abode. A number of liberated female slaves desired to join the pair, and a convent was formed. They lived under one roof and held everything in common: They ate, worked, and prayed together, serving the Lord
in 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 monastics, they lived like angels in the flesh.
Living in this manner for many years, Emily reached old age. When an illness signalled her departure from this world, her son Peter came to her side. Together with Macrina, he tended to his mother in her last days. As the oldest and the youngest, Macrina and Peter held a special place in 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 sacrifice, and let your holiness descend upon them!” St. Emily was buried as she had requested, with her husband in the chapel of their estate in Annesi, where Naucratius had also been laid to rest.
St. Emily is also known by the names Emmelia and Emilia.