August 5 Saints of the Day – Nonna and Oswald

On this day in 1914, in Cleveland, Ohio, the first electric traffic light was installed. Frosty the Snowman blew right through it.

Nonna of NazianzusNonna of Nazianzus (d. 374) married a husband (Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder) who belonged to the Hypsisterians (no, not hipsters), a sort of half-pagan, half-Jewish sect that kept some Jewish festivals, but also worshiped fire. This, wrote her son, Gregory of Nazianzus the Famous One, bugged her, so she prayed for his salvation. One night, in a dream, he heard someone singing the psalm, “Let’s go to God’s house, yo” (paraphrase). Once awake, he asked to go to Nonna’s church, so she took him. He was baptized, and eventually became a bishop. Nonna herself became a deaconess, and together they served Nazianzus as only a bishop-and-deaconness husband/wife team could. (Alas! How few such teams there are in these decadent times.)

Most of what we know about her we learn from Greg Junior’s writings. In his funeral oration for his father, he says, “This good shepherd was the product of his wife’s prayers and guidance,” and “She was not ashamed to show herself his master in piety,… and he is to be admired all the more for willingly yielding to her.” Smart man. All three of their children are saints of the church, and all the family but Greg Jr. preceded Nonna to the grave. She is (understandably) the patron saint “against the death of children,” and (less understandably) of information services.

Oswald of NorthumberlandOswald of Northumbria (ca. 604 – 641) was the son of Æthelfrith, who united Bernicia and Deira into the kingdom of Northumbria, and his wife, Acha. King Edwin of Deira (Acha’s brother) took umbrage at that, and after some steel clashed, Æthelfrith was dead and Edwin was king. Acha fled with her children to Ireland, where they were instructed in the Christian faith (and Gaelic!) and baptized. Seventeen years later, Edwin and Oswald’s older brother Eanfrith were killed in battle (independently), leaving it up to Oswald to win back his father’s kingdom. He assembled his troops near Hadrian’s Wall, and raised up a big ol’ cross, actually holding it in place while his men filled in the hole around its base. He and his troops then prayed to “the omnipotent and only true God.” That night St. Columba came to him in a dream, saying, “Fight, team, fight!” (roughly). Sure enough, the next day Oswald was successful, and within three years, says Bede, he was the Bretwalda (king) of all Saxon England.

Having created the Pax Northumbrium, Oswald asked Iona to send missionaries to Christianize his people. (One source carefully points out that he did not ask those guys down in Canterbury, tyvm.) The first bishop proved a bit harsh, so they sent him back and asked for another (fortunately they had kept the receipt). This time they got St. Aidan. Oswald gave him Lindisfarne for his episcopal see, and Aidan liked the place so much he founded a monastery there.

Aidan then toured the countryside, preaching the gospel. Since he was not yet a saxonophone, Oswald accompanied him and served as translator (those Gaelic lessons came in handy!). People flocked to receive baptism, drawn as much by Oswald’s sanctity as Aidan’s preaching. On one famous occasion (commemorated in art) (and if you can get just one occasion in your life commemorated in art, you’re doing pretty well) (and I don’t mean snapshots), the king was told of beggars at the palace gates. He ordered that his own food be carried to them, and after the poor were fed, they were allowed to take the (silver) dishes home. Thus the king did two good deeds at once: feeding the hungry, and giving the scullery crew the night off. Aidan was deeply moved, and grabbing Oswald’s hand, said, “May this hand never perish.” And indeed the hand was incorrupt for centuries. Oswald was finally killed in battle. His head resides in Durham Cathedral; the rest of his relics are lost. Nevertheless there are over 60 churches, wells, and other holy places in England that bear his name.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


August 5 (Wikipedia)
Righteous Nonna the mother of St Gregory the Theologian (OCA) – Main Source
Nonna of Nazianzus (Wikipedia)
Saint Nonna, Patroness of Information Services (pdf)
Saint Nonna (SQPN)
Image from OCA (copyright unknown)
St Oswald, king and martyr (OCA) – Main source
Saint Oswald of Northumbria (SQPN)
Image from Wikimedia (public domain)