by David Holden
Fresco from Monastery Church of St. Clement,
Prayer card: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
St. Nicholas Center Collection
December 6 is the feast day for St. Nicholas. St Nicholas was bishop in the city of Myra in the country we now call Turkey in the Fourth Century. That is about all we know for sure about him. Most of the stories about him are clearly products of the pious imagination. But common themes run through those stories: St. Nicholas fiercely defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He protected children and women from abuse and exploitation. He advocated with kings for prisoners. Not surprisingly, he became one of the most beloved saints of the Orthodox Church, in which I have found my spiritual home.
I learned about the spirit of St. Nicholas, however, long before I became Orthodox. I was reared in a small Methodist church in North Carolina. We thought we had a big crowd when forty people came to church. We had about a dozen youngsters in the church and the adults always made us present some kind of Christmas pageant—the old and very simple kind with only readings and carols.
The thing that I most vividly and fondly remember about those childhood pageants was the gift bags. They were little brown paper bags, and in them were an apple and an orange, a peppermint candy stick, and a couple of walnuts. They were about as simple a Christmas gift as anybody could have, and they were certainly all that a small church of lower-class working people could afford at that time. But they were wonderful gifts, because everybody got one. All of us in the pageant and all the regular churchgoers got one. And everybody else who came to the pageant got one. It did not matter if they were church members who only showed up once a year. It did not matter if they were members of other churches in our community. It did not matter if they belonged to no church at all. Everybody got one of those bags. Bishop Nicholas would have loved them.
On December 6, we ask St Nicholas to pray for us. We say to him,
"Who could hear of thine unlimited condescension and wonder not at thy patience and cheerfulness toward the poor, thy compassion over the sorrowful? For thou didst teach all concerning God."
We ask St. Nicholas to ask the Lord for the grace to share His love with everyone we meet.
1. Why do you suppose American culture focuses on Santa Claus instead of St. Nicholas?
2. Do you have a new idea of a way to include St. Nicholas into your family's or congregation's celebration?
3. St. Nicholas reached out to the poor. How are you in community with the poor?
4. What can we learn from poor people at home and around the world?
From Whose Birthday is it, Anyway?, 2006. Used by permission of ALTERNATIVES for Simple Living.
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