My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
SAINT NICHOLAS THE WONDERWORKER AND ARCHBISHOP OF MYRA IN LYCIA
Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great Saint, pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God.
As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholas from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a Wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. Saint Nicholas from his infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.
From his childhood Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock.
In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor.
There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom Saint Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desperation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The Saint, learning of the man's poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. Saint Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction in bestowing charity, Saint Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds.
The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to Saint Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the Saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. Saint Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayers a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured was also restored to health.
When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, Saint Nichoals gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshipping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, Saint Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a Divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the Saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, "Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there." So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia.
Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The Saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop, "My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant."
After his consecration as Archbishop, Saint Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness, and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the pagan Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of Saint Constantine (May 21st) as Emperor, Saint Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor.
Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, Saint Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the Saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust.
In the year 325 AD Saint Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Saints Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2nd), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29th), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12th) and other holy Fathers of the Council.
Saint Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the Holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and Omophorion. The Holy Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the Saint was pleasing to God, and restored the Saint to the office of Bishop.
Having returned to his own diocese, the Saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies.
Even during his life the Saint worked many miracles. One of the greatest was the deliverance from death of thee men unjustly condemned by the Governor, who had been bribed. The Saint boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, already suspended over the heads of the condemned. The Governor, denounced by Saint Nicholas for his wrong doing, repented and begged for forgiveness.
Witnessing this remarkable event were three military officers, who were sent to Phrygia by the Emperor Constantine to put down a rebellion. They did not suspect that soon they would also be compelled to seek the intercession of Saint Nicholas. Evil men slandered them before the Emperor, and the officers were sentenced to death. Appearing to Saint Constantine in a dream, Saint Nicholas called on him to overturn the unjust sentence of the military officers.
He worked many other miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through the prayers of the Saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once, the Saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and imprisonment.
Saint Nicholas' countenance resembles that of an Angel, splendid with Divine grace. A brilliant ray shone from his face, as from Moses', so that those who looked at him were astonished. Whoever was oppressed by some affliction or passion of soul had only to lay eyes on the Saint, and his sorrow was eased at once. As for those who conversed with him, they soon found themselves advancing on the path of virtue. Not only the faithful but unbelievers as well were moved to compunction and directed their steps toward salvation when they heard his sweet lips speak; the evil of unbelief implanted in their hearts since childhood was uprooted, and in its place the word of truth was sown.
The Saint continued to war against the demons even after his repose, and many times evil spirits were expelled from possessed people brought to his sepulcher.
It chanced that God-fearing men living near the mouth of the river Tanais heard of the myrrh-streaming and healing relics of Christ's holy Hierarch Nicholas. They decided to venerate them, and loaded their ship with wheat. However, a demon learned that the ship was being prepared to sail to our holy father's relics. This was the same unclean spirit that Saint Nicholas had driven out of its home when he destroyed the temple of Artemis. Still chafing at the Saint, the devil devised a plan to prevent the men from completing the journey. Transforming itself into a woman, the demon appeared to the men, carrying a jar of oil and saying, "I would like to offer this oil at the Saint's grave, but am afraid to travel by sea. I am unwell and have weak stomach. Be so kind as to take this for me to Nicholas' grave and pour it into the lamp over his relics." A wicked spirit was preventing them from completing their voyage. Saint Nicholas revealed to them that a demon, not a woman, gave them the jar of oil. Cast it into the water and the sea will become calm, he said to them. Then you will be able to continue on your way."
As the men threw the jar overboard, they saw black smoke and flame belching out of it. A terrible stench filled the air, the waters parted and began to boil and bubble from the depths, and hot spray covered the deck. Everyone in the ship was terrified and cried out in fear, but Saint Nicholas enjoined the men to take courage. He calmed the sea and a cool, fragrant wind began to blow, allowing the travelers to sail joyfully to their destination. There they venerated the myrrh-streaming relics of their speedy helper and intercessor, giving thanks to the Almighty God. They had a service of supplication chanted to our great father Nicholas, after which they returned to their own country, where they told everyone what had happened.
Vladimir Lossky in The Meaning of icons, has the following t day about the uniqueness of Saint Nicholas:
"The quite exceptional veneration of Saint Nicholas is well known. In the liturgic weekly cycle of the Orthodox Church, among the days of the week dedicated to the Savior and to different orders of heavenly and earthly sanctity, only three persons are singled out by name: the Mother of God, Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner, and Saint Nicholas. The reason for this special veneration of this bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings, is evidently that the Church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor. "Having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ...thou has appeared in truth as a most hallowed shepherd to the world. According to his Life, when Saint Nicholas was raised to the dignity of bishop he said: "...This dignity and this office demand different usage, in order that one should live no longer for oneself but for others." This "life for others" is his characteristic feature and is manifested by the great variety of forms of his solicitude for [people]--his care for their preservation, their protection from the elements, from human injustice, from heresies and so forth. This solicitude was accompanied by numerous miracles both during his life and after his death. Indefatigable intercessor, steadfast, uncompromising fighter for Orthodoxy, "he was meek and gentle in his disposition and humble in spirit."
Having reached old age, Saint Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord in the year AD 345. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local Cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. In the year 1085 AD, his holy relics were transferred to the Italian city of Bari, where they rest even now (see May 9th).
Saint Nicholas' tomb became an ever increasing place of pilgrimage through the centuries, and thousands of people would come to visit it. The Emperor Justinian would build a church over his tomb as well as build more churches in Constantinople after his name.
The name of the great Saint of God, the Hierarch and Wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples. In Russia there are multitudes of Cathedrals, Monasteries and Churches consecrated in his holy name. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church dedicated to him.
Many wonderworking holy icons of Saint Nicholas appeared in Russia and came also from other lands. There is the ancient Byzantine embroidered image of the Saint, brought to Moscow from Novgorod, and the large icon painted in the 13th century by a Novgorod master.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Saint. Fourth Tone
A model of faith and the image of gentleness, the example of your life has shown you forth to your sheep-fold to be a master of temperance. You obtained thus through being lowly, gifts from on high, and riches through poverty. Nicholas, our father and priest of priests, intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.
Kontakion Hymn. Third Tone
Saintly One, (St. Nicholas) in Myra you proved yourself a priest, for in fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, venerable One, you laid down your life for your people and saved the innocent from death. For this you were sanctified as One learned in Divine grace.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God