Feast Day: May 8
“You shall be given a new name
which the LORD himself will give. . .
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall
your God rejoice over you.”
“…the handmaid of God, Sr. Emilia.” These words are the words spoken by my bishop on the day of my tonsure. I did not know my name up to this point. When he said, “Emilia,” my heart skipped a beat. That was my number one choice, but it wasn’t one of the three choices that I submitted to Mother Theodora. I had already received that name in eighth grade, when I was confirmed. I told God in prayer one day, “I love Emilia, I feel called to take that name, but I already did. If it is really you asking me to take this name again, I need you to make Mother pick it without it being an option and without me saying it’s the number one name on my heart. I need to know it is your will, Lord.”
My seventh grade year, my mom passed away just two weeks after having the youngest of my siblings, Edward Benedict. If he had been a girl, my mom wanted to name him Emilia Rose, after St. John Paul II’s mom, who died when he was young. In honor of my mom, I chose to take Emilia as my confirmation name that next year. When I submitted that name I had to write a little report on St. Emilia. Here are some of the things that I found interesting then, which are even more so now:
St. Emilia was the mother of ten children, five of whom are canonized saints. She instilled the Christian faith in her children, teaching them to pray and devote their lives to the Church (this reminded me greatly of my own saintly mother). The most well-known children of St. Emilia’s are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Macrina. Because of her holiness and the holiness of her children, St. Emilia is referred to as “The Mother of Saints.” She left everything behind to start a monastery with her oldest daughter Macrina. They began to live humble lives with other women who sought union with God.
These points about her life affect me more now because of the connection with the Byzantine Church. Her children are celebrated on the Byzantine calendar and St. Basil the Great has a special liturgy that we, the faithful, use during Great Lent. When I was in eighth grade, I had no idea what the Byzantine Catholic Church was. I had no idea that down the road I would be tonsured a rasaphore nun in a Byzantine monastery and receive that same name again. Looking back at this process, I can clearly see God’s hand at work in my life. He truly picked my name the day I was tonsured and it means that much more because of the connection with my mother.
Now that I am called Sr. Emilia, I will live each day remembering to emulate this holy saint. I will look to her for guidance in holiness, for examples of how to be a good mother for those children of God that come to me seeking spiritual motherhood. Above all, I will remember and be connected to my own mother each day as I remember her love for God and her dedication to raise me and my ten siblings in the love of the Lord, my heavenly Father. I will have the memories of her example to help me in religious life; to always love the Lord above all else, and strive to lead the souls whom I encounter to heaven, to union with God.
“You are now God’s daughter; you belong. In Christ, you are His favorite, His beloved.”
(Abba’s Heart, by Neal Lozano)
Feast day: July 20th, Elias the Prophet
Meaning: “My God has answered” in Hebrew
Pronounced: ee-lee-ah-nah (Iliana, the Ukrainian spelling of Eliana, feminine of Elias)
The Lord placed the name Iliana on my heart on Pentecost Sunday, and filled my heart with a burning desire to be named after the great prophet Elias. I felt unworthy to be named after such a great prophet, so full of fiery zeal, when I was so small and prone to fear. Elias was “filled with jealous zeal for the Lord” (I Kg 19:10). He was taken to heaven in a “chariot of fire” (II Kg 2:11) and when he was born, his father saw “angels of God hovering around the child, wrapping the child in fire and feeding it flames” (The Prologue of Ohrid). So, too, I wished to be caught up in the flames of His love.
The next day, I decided to ask the Lord if this was the name He had chosen, and asked Elias if he was, in fact, adopting me as his little pupil. I began to read about the Transfiguration, and was immediately struck by the image of Jesus speaking to Elias face to face, and so I understood that Elias would teach me to pray and speak with the Lord face to face, “as a man speaks with a friend” (Ex 33:11). When Jesus said that “Elias has come already,” the disciples “understood that he was speaking of John the Baptist” (Mt 17:12-13), and so I understood that with Elias as my patron, I would also have John the Baptist, the “friend of the Bridegroom” (Jn 3:29) as my patron as well. As we continued to celebrate Pentecost, I felt that by choosing the prophet Elias as my patron, I could also cry out with Elisha, “Let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (II Kg 2:9).
I felt that the three most courageous, zealous prophets of the Lord were adopting me, a small little soul so prone to fear, teaching me that “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (II Cor 3:17) and helping me hear the “still, small voice” (I Kg 19:12) of the Lord speak to my heart, “To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid” (Lk 12:4). As I pondered these things through the day, I continued to ask the Lord if this was what He was choosing for me. Then I went to the chapel for Vespers, and soon discovered that we were having Great Vespers, for the Feast of the third finding of the head of John the Baptist! The friend of the Bridegroom had adopted me and my soul rejoiced! Then the Lord confirmed this burning desire during the readings for Great Vespers, when Mother suddenly read, “Lo, I will send you Elias, the prophet” (Mal 3:23).
I began to research the feminine name of Elias and discovered that Iliana meant “my God has answered” in Hebrew. This meaning resonated so deeply, for I knew in my heart that my vocation to be a nun at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery was a beautiful answer to prayer from the Lord. As Elias had “quenched his thirst by the stream” that the Lord had provided (I Kg 17:6), so too, the Lord was quenching my thirst for Him. As the “hand of the Lord had come down upon Elias” (I Kings 18:46) so that he could accomplish the Lord’s work, so too, the Lord’s hand was coming down on me.