Saturday, December 06, 2008

Notes on the Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra.

Today the Church honors the memory of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, a fourth-century bishop who provides the example for the figure known in present-day North America as Santa Claus. Last year on this date, I wrote a bit about the historical figure of St. Nicholas of Myra and the different ways his feast is celebrated in various countries. I don't have much to add this year, but I would like to share some reflections on St. Nicholas of Myra from Father Thomas Hopko's The Winter Pascha, a book that has been an important part of my spiritual reading in these first few days of Advent. After reflecting on St. Nicholas' role as the inspiration for the contemporary figure of Santa Claus, Father Hopko has this to say:
The extraordinary thing about the image of Saint Nicholas in the Church is that he is not known for anything extraordinary. He was not a theologian and never wrote a word, yet he is famous in the memory of believers as a zealot for orthodoxy, allegedly accosting the heretic Arius at the first ecumenical council in Nicaea for denying the divinity of God's Son. He was not an ascetic and did no outstanding feats of fasting and vigils, yet he is praised for his possession of the 'fruits of the Holy Spirit . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control' (Gal 5:22-23). He was not a mystic in our present meaning of the term but he lived daily with the Lord and was godly in all of his words and deeds. He was not a prophet in the technical sense, yet he proclaimed the Word of God, exposed the sins of the wicked, defended the rights of the oppressed and afflicted, and battled against every form of injustice with supernatural compassion and mercy. In a word, he was a good pastor, father, and bishop to his flock, known especially for his love and care for the poor. Most simply put, he was a divinely good person.

. . .

The Messiah has come so that human beings can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas.
The photo that accompanies this post depicts an icon of St. Nicholas of Myra that I have on the wall of my room at Ciszek Hall. Over time I've developed a devotion to St. Nicholas of Myra, a devotion that partly grew out of my fascination with the various traditions that have grown up around him everywhere from Anatolia to Amsterdam. It was with this devotion in mind that I purchased this icon, which I found in a small shop overseen by Greek Orthodox monks at the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem. Looking at this icon reminds me to seek the prayerful intercession of St. Nicholas, which I do today in the words of the Byzantine troparion appointed for this feast: You appeared to your flock as a rule of faith, an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence. Because of your lowliness, heaven was opened to you. Because of your poverty, riches were granted to you. O holy Bishop Nicholas, pray to Christ our God to save our souls. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home