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428Homily for 12/19/10 - St Nicholas

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  • Fr David Moser
    Dec 19, 2010
      There are a few Christmas songs that refer to “Jolly Old St Nicholas…”
      or to St Nick “that jolly old elf”. These songs reflect the popular
      depiction of St Nicholas as Santa Claus (which is itself a
      transliteration of “St Nicholas” – Santa meaning “Saint” and “Claus”
      being a nickname of Nicholas). However these light hearted descriptions
      of St Nicholas, while endearing, are hardly accurate. The feast of St
      Nicholas, which falls today, has, over the years become enmeshed with
      the Christmas celebration – mostly due to the practice of giving gifts.
      It would be a good thing on this day then to look a bit more closely at
      St Nicholas to see who he really was.

      Nicholas was a born and lived not at the North Pole, but rather in the
      city of Myra in Asia Minor (what is present day Turkey) in the year 270
      (that’s just about 1800 years ago). His parents were Christians and
      taught Nicholas also to love Jesus Christ and to worship Him. This was
      not a simple thing because at that time it was illegal to be a Christian
      and very often Christians were arrested, tortured and killed just
      because of their faith. This was a time of martyrdom. But in spite of
      all this St Nicholas learned to love God with all his heart and soul and
      mind and grew in the Christian faith. He also learned to fufill the
      second great commandment to love his neighbor and St Nicholas especially
      had compassion on those who were poor and would give generously to those
      in need. He also recalled the Gospel commandment to do good deeds in
      secret, avoiding the praise of the world and so he always would give to
      others anonymously, hiding his identity, preferring that God would
      receive the praise for his actions. His generous nature is most likely
      the reason that his feast is associated with gift giving.

      When he became an adult and inherited his parents wealth, St Nicholas
      took to heart the Gospel commandment to sell all that he had and give it
      to the poor and to follow Christ. This he did, giving away his
      inheritance and then becoming a monk. In due time, according to the will
      of God, the monk Nicholas was made a priest and then a bishop. During
      his life and ministry, he never forgot his love of God and continued to
      strive to become like Jesus Christ in all his ways. Due to this, God
      gave Nicholas many spiritual gifts, most particularly the gift of
      working miracles, for the welfare of the Church. It is because of this
      that St Nicholas is known as a wonderworker. Even after his death, by
      the power of Christ’s resurrection, St Nicholas continues to help those
      who call out to him and come to their aid for the love of God. He has
      become one of the most beloved of all saints throughout the whole Church.

      In the epistle today, we heard St Paul exhort us to “put on tender
      mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering”, forgiveness,
      bearing one another’s burdens, and love and so become like Christ. These
      are indeed the qualities that we see in the lives of the saints and
      especially St Nicholas. He was indeed filled with compassion (tender
      mercy) as we see from the way that he freely gave to others not desiring
      any recognition or praise for himself. At one time, when he was still a
      priest, St Nicholas heard of a man in the city who had become so poor
      that he thought the only way to survive was to sell his eldest daughter
      into slavery. St Nicholas secretly took a bag of gold and at night came
      to the house of the poor man and threw the gold in through an open
      window. With this gift, the poor man paid his bills and rather than sell
      his eldest daughter, he was able to provide a dowry for her and arrange
      a good marriage. But his ill fortune continued and he thought to sell
      his second daughter into slavery. Again St Nicholas secretly came by
      night and tossed a bag of gold in at the window. Rather than sell his
      daughter the man was able to provide her with a dowry as well and
      arranged a good marriage. Still, however, the man became so desperate
      that he proposed to sell his youngest child into slavery and again St
      Nicholas prevented this with a secret gift. But the poor man, this time,
      discovered who the anonymous giver was but St Nicholas made him promise
      to keep this a secret so that he would not be tempted by worldly praise.

      St Nicholas also showed in his life the quality of mercy. When he was a
      bishop, he discovered that some innocent men had been arrested and put
      into jail and were going to be executed. He quickly came to the jail
      spoke with the officials who had condemned these men. St Nicholas showed
      that these men were innocent and had them released. Later on these same
      officials were themselves arrested and they remembered how St Nicholas
      had helped the innocent men in jail. They prayed to God to send St
      Nicholas to them and even though he was far away, St Nicholas suddenly
      appeared in the city and with his help the innocent officials were
      released. Not only prisoners but also travelers are especially cared for
      by St Nicholas. Many times he calmed stormy seas and protected those
      where were traveling. Even in modern times this has happened, for
      example there is the custom in a certain monastery of distributing small
      packets of blessed wheat on the feast of St Nicholas. A fisherman came
      late to the feast to receive this blessing but there was nothing left.
      Instead the priest gave to him a small bottle of oil from the lamp
      burning by the icon of St Nicholas. Later when the fisherman was out on
      the sea a storm came up and it was so violent that even though he was an
      excellent sailor, he was in danger of sinking and drowning. He prayed to
      St Nicholas and poured out the oil on the waves and immediately the sea
      calmed and he was able to return to port.

      The love of God burned brightly in St Nicholas and he could not bear to
      hear anyone say bad things or lies about the God/man Jesus Christ. While
      he was a bishop, St Nicholas was summoned to participate in the first
      ecumenical council. There was a great controversy of the teaching of a
      priest named Arius who told the people that Jesus was not God but was a
      creature just like the angels or just like men. When St Nicholas heard
      this blasphemy he was filled with the love of God and went over the
      Arius and slapped him for saying such horrible things about Jesus
      Christ. It is a serious sin to show disrespect to any clergyman and
      because of his actions St Nicholas was suspended and was to be deprived
      of his rank as bishop and returned to the state of a simple monk to live
      out his life in repentance. But that night in a dream, many of the
      bishops at the council saw a vision of the Mother of God who told them
      that St Nicholas had not acted out of disrespect, but rather that Arius
      was a liar and blasphemer and therefore St Nicholas should be restored
      to his position. This was done the next day and as a result of St
      Nicholas’ fervent love of God and boldness in defending the Truth, the
      errors of Arius were rejected and condemned by the Church and our
      confession that Jesus Christ is “the Son of God … light of light, true
      God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father…”
      began to be proclaimed in the Nicean Creed throughout the whole Church.

      When we think of St Nicholas, rather than blindly demote him to the
      status of a “jolly old elf” we should remember that he is one of the
      great saints of the Church. He is a great wonderworker filled with the
      grace of God. His characteristics are described for us not in the silly
      Christmas songs that we sing, but rather in the words of the Apostle
      Paul, as a man “holy and beloved” having “tender mercies, kindness,
      humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing one another’s burdens,
      forgiving one another … [having] put on love, which is the bond of
      perfection” This is the true St Nicholas, the one of whom we sing in our
      psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This is the St Nicholas whom we
      should remember.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org