My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND SHALL EVER BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
ON NOVEMBER 6TH THE ORTHODOX CHURCH COMMEMORATES SAINT NICHOLAS THE WONDERWORKER AND ARCHBISHOP OF MYRA IN LYCIA
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Saint
"The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty, O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved."
So reads the hymn of Saint Nicholas, hierarch of the Church of Myra in Lycia (now Demra in Turkey), known as 'wonderworker' and "father" throughout the Christian world. He is beloved in the Orthodox Church, and indeed far beyond, for his kindness, almsgiving (charity) and aid, meted out both during his earthly life and after. As one of the multitude of English lives of the Saints joyously proclaims, 'He is one of the best known and best loved Saints of all time.' And in another: "The name of the great Saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker (miracle worker) Nicholas, a speedy helper and supplicant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples."
Saint Nicholas was born (270 A.D.) in the region of Lycia (southern Asia Minor), in the city of Patara. His parents Theophanes and Nonna, were both pious Christians, and being childless until his arrival, consecrated Nicholas to God at his birth (the name Nicholas meaning 'Conqueror of nations'). His birth considered by both an answer to their prayer, and especially the prayer issued during Nonna's illness, his mother was said to have been healed immediately after giving birth. Nicholas would always remember his parents' love and devotion to God, and in his later years promised to come to the aid of those who remembered them in their prayers.
Various traditions recount signs of Nicholas' future glory as 'wonderworker' (Gk. Thavmatourgos), apparent already in his earliest childhood. One recalls that as an infant in the baptismal font, Nicholas stood on his feet for three hours in honor of the Holy Trinity. Another proclaims him a childhood faster, not accepting milk from his mother until after the conclusion of evening prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays.
His later life revealed that St. Nicholas had from a young age been absorbed in the study of the Church's Sacred Scripture. He thrived on reading divine texts, and earned a reputation as a devoted youth who often would not leave the church, reading the sacred texts late into the night.
Such activity soon came to the attention of the local bishop, Nicholas' uncle (his father's brothers), also called Nicholas. Seeing his nephew's fervor for the Christian life, this elder Bishop Nicholas of Patara tonsured him reader and later ordained him priest. At Fr. Nicholas' ordination, the elder Bishop Nicholas remarked:
"I see brethren, a new sun rising above the earth and manifesting in himself a gracious consolation for the afflicted. Blessed is the flock that will be worthy to have him as its pastor, because this one will shepherd well the souls of those who have gone astray, will nourish them on the pasturage of piety, and will be a merciful helper in misfortune and tribulation."
The newly-ordained Fr. Nicholas' special charge as assistant to the Bishop of Patara was the instruction of the faithful--a unique and uncommon role, given his young age.
Saint Nicholas approached his duties as priest and teacher of the faith with the same fervor his uncle witnessed in him during his childhood. Despite his youthfulness, many of the faithful considered him an elder, and his ability to respond to questions of the faith in love and wisdom earned him the deep respect of those in the city. He was noted in particular for the fervency of his prayer and kind-hearted nature, and the attention to charitable work that characterized his priestly ministry. Following the injunction of Christ, Fr. Nicholas sold his possessions and, following his parents deaths a few years after his ordination, distributed his inheritance to the poor and afflicted, who would often seek him out for assistance.
In one of his most well-known acts of selflessness as a young priest, Fr. Nicholas reacted to the intention of a wealthy businessman of Patara who had fallen on hard times and lost his fortune. Desperate, the man had determined to sell the bodies of his three daughters in order to raise funds for the family. Hearing of the plan (in some accounts, through a divine revelation), Fr. Nicholas called by his home in secret during the night and threw an offering of gold--three hundred coins wrapped in a handkerchief--through the man's window. Convinced of the goodness of the gesture, though unaware of the identity of his benefactor, the man used the funds to arrange for his eldest daughter to be married honorably to a nobleman. Later the man arose to find the act had been repeated; and eventually, a third time. In each instance, the priest (St. Nicholas) made his offering secretly, attempting to conceal his works of charity.
Following the example of his bishop, who had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few months before, Fr. Nicholas requested to travel to Jerusalem himself, to visit the holy places of the city. Icons today continue to recount the miraculous nature of his voyage there by ship, during which a great storm arose (Nicholas having earlier predicted that it would). Seeing in a vision the devil climbing aboard the ship, Nicholas warned the crew and prayed for the salvation of the craft and its occupants, and the sea shortly calmed.
Arriving in the Holy Land, Nicholas made his pilgrimage of the holy places in Jerusalem, especially Golgotha where Christ was crucified. Overcome by the reality of these places where the Incarnate Son of the Father had walked and acted, Nicholas determined to retreat into the desert to live a life of solitude. But he was stopped by a divine voice, which forbade this course and urged him to return home. This he did, though still longing for quiet and the solitary life. Having been moved by his experiences on Mount Sion in Jerusalem, he entered the monastic community of Holy Sion in Lycia (which had earlier been founded by his uncle); but again, the Lord made known to him that this was not to be his path. The voice of the Lord is said to have come to him: "Nicholas, if you desire to be vouchsafed a crown from Me, go and struggle for the good of the world. This (monastery) is not the vineyard in which you shall bring forth the fruit I expect of you; but turn back, go into the world, and let my name be glorified in you."
Desirous above all to follow the command of God, Nicholas, departed the brotherhood of Holy Sion and moved to Myra.
Shortly after his arrival in Myra, the elder Archbishop of that city, a certain John, died. There was some discussion as to who should succeed him as the chief bishop of the region, the local bishops desirous that the new Archbishop should not be an individual chosen by men for the office, but one revealed by God. One of their eldest number beheld a vision of the illumined Christ, Who indicated that the old Bishop should go into the church, for the one who was first to enter it that night--who would be called Nicholas--was he who should become the new Archbishop.
The elder bishop went to the church to await Nicholas's arrival, in obedience to the vision. When Fr. Nicholas arrived, the bishop stopped him.
"God's chosen one replied, 'My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant."
The Bishop took Saint Nicholas immediately to the other Bishops and exclaimed, 'Brethren, receive your shepherd who the Holy Spirit Himself anointed and to whom He entrusted the care of your souls. He was not appointed by an assembly of men but by God Himself. Now we have the one that we desired, and have found and accepted the one we sought. Under his rule and instruction we will not lack the hope that we will stand before God in the day of His appearing and revelation.
Nicholas was consecrated to the Episcopacy during a tumultuous time in the life of the Church in Lycia. The persecution under the pagan emperor Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) affected that region deeply, and for a time, Archbishop Nicholas was imprisoned with other Christians for refusing to bow down and worship the idols of the imperial cult. He was remembered later for the exhortations he delivered to his fellow prisoners, urging them to endure with joy all that the Lord lay before them, whether chains, bonds, torture or even death.
Archbishop Nicholas's imprisonment came to an end with the ascension of Constantine to the throne in the early forth century. He returned to his flock in Myra, which received him with joy, and resumed his Episcopal work. He was known as a great ascetic, as he had been since his childhood, and for his gentleness and love. But this kind-hearted spirit was also one of zeal, and with the new freedom offered under the peace of Constantine (following the 'Edict of Milan' in 312 A.D.), he was known to travel through his city, visiting pagan temples and overthrowing their shrines and idols.
Saint Nicholas was a participant at the First Ecumenical Council in the year 325 A.D., held in the city of Nicaea under the patronage of Emperor Constantine, who had, since his miraculous vision of the Cross at Milvian bridge, himself converted to Christianity.
Saint Nicholas is particularly remembered for his zeal against the heretic Arius. Having openly combated him with words, Archbishop Nicholas, in a fit of fervor (some accounts indicated he was displeased with Arius' monopolization of the meeting with his 'constant arguing'), went so far as to strike Arius on the face. Shocked by his behavior, especially given that the canons forbid clergy from striking anyone at all, yet uncertain of how to react to such actions by a hierarch they knew and respected, the Holy Fathers, of the Council determined to deprive Nicholas of his Episcopal emblems (traditionally his Omophorion and the Gospel Book), and placed him under guard. However, a short time later, several of the assembled Holy Fathers reported having a common vision: The Lord and His mother returning to Nicholas his Episcopal items, instructing that he was not to be punished, for he acted 'not out of passion, but extreme love and piety. This was taken as a sign that the extreme behavior of St. Nicholas was nonetheless pleasing to God, who was thus restored to the fullness of his Episcopal Office.
Many times, the Saint's prayers were said to have saved those drowning in the sea. Prisoners unjustly condemned prayed to him and were delivered. The poor prayed to him and were provided for. And so St. Nicholas' reputation as thavmatourgos (miracle worker) was established during his life. It continues to this day.
Living his life in ascetic labor and zealous ministry, Saint Nicholas fell asleep in the Lord at an old age (December 6th, 343 A.D.) by some accounts quite ill. A church was built in his honor by the residents of Myra, in which his holy relics were kept for many centuries.
Please note: It is imperative that all Orthodox Christians make a concerted effort to read the Lives of the Saints of the Church. You will find them inspiring, comforting, encouraging, instructional, and most edifying. Orthodox Christian men, women, and children, received a name of a Saint at their baptism who becomes their intercessor and patron Saint throughout their lives. Orthodox Christian Tradition calls for us, as Orthodox Christians, to celebrate the holy feast of our patron Saint and to attend the Divine Liturgy and be spiritually prepared to receive Holy Communion. Celebrating birthdays was and still is a gentile practice.
If one is truly interested in having a genuine spiritual life one must study the holy lives of the Holy Fathers, Holy Mothers, and Holy Children, of our Church.
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.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God