Saint Nicholas lived a long time ago – as early as in the fourth century, yet today he is still one of the most widely known and revered Christian Saints across the world. He is the patron saint of countries as diverse as Russia, Greece and Holland, and of big cities like New York and Moscow. Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated as a public holiday in parts of Italy and Germany. What makes the memory of Saint Nicholas so lasting?
I was struck by how personal his veneration is for so many people. We know that he lived at a difficult time when Christians were still severely persecuted in many places, and nearly all of the other saints then were martyrs. He was not. He is cherished as a kind and generous pastor to his flock. Families who care to explore their family trees might find many Nicholases and Nikolays among their ancestors. Travellers, the ailing, children, the newlyweds and the hungry pray to him and obtain his intercession, relief and miraculous rescue.
Many sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent have invoked his name at the most enduring moments of their travels, and have been spared from great misfortunes. When the COVID epidemic struck, he gave them the strength to overcome the pestilence. I was impressed by Saint Nicholas’ generosity when I read the story about his gift to the father of three daughters. This used to be a well-off family that suddenly became poor. There was no dowry for the daughters to marry, and all they could look forward to was a future of slavery and, possibly, of prostitution. Saint Nicholas came by night and threw into the family’s window three bags of gold from his estate, and all three daughters were happily married.
I saw this story from a different angle when one of my children asked me the other day that shoot-to-kill question: ‘Dad, is Santa real’? What could I say without upsetting my child and sinning against the truth? Now I know. Saint Nicholas gave Santa his name. Like Santa, he put his gifts in stockings, and he gave them secretly, but he did so out of modesty and his love of God. To many, his presents were a matter of life and death and a response to their heartfelt prayers.
As I was reading deeper into Saint Nicholas’ life, my discoveries continued. I am excited to share one that I find particularly meaningful: living with Christ and having faith in Him gives genuine freedom, self-sufficiency and independence.
Saint Nicholas was born into a well-to-do family, he inherited a large estate but gave it away to the poor. He taught that money and wealth do not guarantee security in life, but living with God does. He gave secretly, shunning the praise of others. His good deeds did not depend on what other people thought of him; pleasing God and doing His will was the only thing that mattered.
Honestly, I am not prepared yet to give away my possessions to the needy. But to me, the celebration of Saint Nicholas’ life a good time to ask myself again: how much do I really want that promotion? Am I craving for that bonus from the management, or for more money to buy more things? And what am I prepared to sacrifice for that? I pray that someday I will finally put my worldly desires in their rightful places in my hierarchy of values.
Saint Nicholas lived his life by Christ’s commandments: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5: 6 -10) We recognize Christ in Saint Nicholas, by doing so, we learn to see Christ in others.
We see Christ when we notice the goodness of our neighbour and God's image in him. We do so when we forgive others their wrongs, give alms and charity without expecting anything in return, and when we let God’s love reign in our families. Saint Nicholas continues to teach us valuable lessons and has many more in store for the people today, and for generations to come.
If you have any prayer intentions, please click on this link and send us a prayer request. The sisters of St Elisabeth Convent will be happy to pray for you on the joyous feast day of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker!
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Christ's gift of immortality was not a discovery of the human mind. It was not the result of some grand experimental project. Immortality is as real as life itself.
Mother Maria Litvinova: "The war took our best people and brought enormous grief. There are no words to describe it."
2020 has been a very hard year for so many of us because of the coronavirus. At times, we’ve all felt scared, sad, and maybe even angry. Regardless of all the hardships, we must always remember that God has been with us every day.
This homily, written in 2008, is published in blessed memory of the recently departed Metropolitan Filaret, the Patriarchal Exarch Emeritus of All Belarus. A tireless advocate of Orthodoxy, he argues that God is the same forever.