ORTHODOX CELEBRATE ST. NICHOLAS
By PHILIP LeMASTERS
Orthodox Christians celebrate the memory of Saint Nicholas on December 6. He is a
saint so beloved that he is the basis for the figure of Santa Claus. Living in the fourth century in what is now Turkey, St. Nicholas had a sizeable inheritance from his family, which he gave away in secret to the poor.
He is particularly well known for throwing bags of gold through the open window of a poor man’s home in order to save his daughters from being sold into the slavery of prostitution. That is the origin of the expectation that St. Nick will bring gifts at
Though he had wanted to live in seclusion as a monk, the Lord told him that he was to
minister among the people, which he did after being miraculously identified as the new
Archbishop of Myra. By his prayers, ships were saved, sailors were rescued from drowning, a famine was adverted, and innocent people escaped execution. His zeal for the faith was shown when he struck the heretic Arius, who denied Christ’s full divinity, at the Council of Nicaea, for which he was briefly jailed and stripped of his position as bishop. But several fathers of the council had the same dream that night in which they saw the Lord and the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) restoring Nicholas as a bishop. He was released and restored to his ministry the next day.
Orthodox theologian Father Thomas Hopko wrote that St. Nicholas is not known for
anything particularly extraordinary in and of itself. He was simply a man of prayer and
generosity who taught the truth and opposed error as best he could. But in his ordinariness, he became extraordinary in simple goodness. He became a living witness to the healing and fulfillment of the human being that Jesus Christ has made possible for each and every one of us. His calling was that of a monk who became a bishop, but the signs of his virtuous character are applicable to everyone. Perhaps that is why he is remembered and loved to this day, even by those who know very little of the true story of his life.
It is unlikely that any of us will ever be as famous as St. Nicholas. It is God’s will,
however, that everyone of us live as holy a life as he did by following his example of being faithful to Jesus Christ in the ordinary details of our lives. He never sought to do anything other than what all Christians are called to do in one way or another. Most of us are called to go about our humble lives from one day to the next, doing what we know we should do in order to participate more fully in the healing that Christ intends for our souls. In other words, our daily task is to live as those who are loosed from bondage to our sins, who are healed from our infirmities.
When the feast of Christmas begins on December 25, we will celebrate that the Son of God has become one of us, uniting humanity to divinity in Himself. In Him, we may fulfill our original vocation as those created in God’s image and likeness. By the healing energies of His grace, we may become participants in the divine nature, shining with the light of the heavenly Kingdom even in our world with all its darkness. During the season of Advent, Orthodox Christians look to St. Nicholas as a brilliant example of what it means to welcome the Savior into our lives at Christmas.
Everyone is welcome to participate in a prayer service in commemoration of St. Nicholas
at St. Luke Orthodox Christian Church, 501 Sunset Drive, at 6 p.m. on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day. .
The Very Rev. Dr. Philip LeMasters is pastor at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Abilene.