St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, was born in 322 in Tagaste (located in modern-day Algeria). Her parents were Christians, but little is known of her early life. Most of the information about her comes from Book IX of her son’s “Confessions.”
St. Monica was married to a pagan official named Patritius, who had a short temper and lived an immoral life. At first, her mother-in-law did not like her, but Monica won her over by her gentle disposition. Unlike many women of that time, St. Monica was never beaten by her husband. She said that Patritius never raised his hand against her because she always held her tongue, setting a guard over her mouth in his presence.
St. Monica and Patritius had three children: St. Augustine, Navigius and Perpetua. It was a source of great pain that Patritius would not permit their children to be baptized. She worried about Augustine, who lived with a young woman in Carthage who bore him an illegitimate son. Her constant prayers and tears for her son had the effect of converting her husband to Christ before his death. Augustine, however, continued on the path that led him away from Christ.
While in Carthage, Augustine fell under the influence of the heretical Manichean sect. His mother was horrified and tried to turn him away from this cult. She was calmed after she had a dream in which she was told to be patient and gentle with her son. Augustine, however, paid little attention to her arguments, and remained with this sect for nine years. St. Monica felt disheartened and disappointed, but never gave up. She even tried to enlist the help of a bishop who had once been a Manichean himself, but he would not argue with Augustine. He told St. Monica said that he couldn’t reason with the young man because Augustine was still attracted by the novelty of the heresy. The bishop reassured her saying, “Go on your way, and God bless you, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should be lost.”
St. Monica went to Rome with Augustine when he was scheduled to lecture there in 383. Later, he received an appointment to Milan, where he met St. Ambrose and was greatly impressed by his preaching. Bishop Ambrose came to have a great deal of respect for St. Monica, and often congratulated Augustine on having such a virtuous mother.
While Augustine was reading the New Testament in the garden one day, he came to the passage of Paul’s Letter to the Romans at Chapter 13, Verses 12-14. Augustine immediately decided to “cast off the works of darkness,” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was baptized on the eve of Pascha in 387.
After his baptism, Augustine and his mother planned to return to Africa. They stopped to rest in Ostia, where St/ Monica fell asleep in the Lord at the age of fifty-six. She was buried at Ostia, and her holy relics were transferred to the crypt of a church in the sixth century. Nine centuries later, St. Monica’s relics were translated to Rome.
In his book, “Confessions,” Augustine wrote about his reaction to his mother’s death: “If any one thinks it wrong that I thus wept for my mother some small part of an hour – a mother who for many years had wept for me that I might live to thee, O Lord – let him not deride me. But if his charity is great, let him weep also for my sins before thee.”
In the West, St. Monica is considered the patron saint of wives and mothers whose husbands or sons have gone astray.
By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org )