The St. Nicholas Event

A Parish Proposal to Honor the Bishop of Myra

by Father Gregory Mathewes-Green

Russian Icon, 19th century - St Nicholas Center Collection
Russian Icon, 19th century
St Nicholas Center Collection

We Orthodox are very familiar with St. Nicholas and count him among our favorite saints. The good bishop of Myra has numerous parish churches and cathedrals named after him. And yet, popular as he is, have we explored the many ways that, as parishes with children, we might honor this great Father among the saints?

I suggest honoring him with a multifaceted approach. An event, the St. Nicholas Event, would consist of the following four important components: worship, outreach, evangelism, and education. God should be praised for giving us St. Nicholas, the embodiment of compassion and righteousness, and St. Nicholas himself should be venerated. To avoid displacing the Vespers of the feast, I would suggest holding the event the evening of St. Nicholas' Day, or perhaps the next Saturday.

The block of time should consist of worship tailored to children plus education, and close with a visit from St. Nicholas, perhaps followed by light refreshments. Outreach and evangelism would also be included. The wider community, including other local Orthodox but also the unchurched, should be invited. Through newspaper ads, flyers, and radio spots, the parish could publicize the St. Nicholas Event by playing on the St. Nicholas/Santa Claus theme. Consider Terry Mattingly's suggestion of running the statement, "Yes, there is a St. Nicholas," over the parish's print ad, or change it from visual to verbal format for radio. Or, run "Is Santa Claus Real?" over an icon of St. Nicholas. Underneath print: "The Orthodox KNOW he is. We even have pictures!"

Then detail your St. Nicholas Event. Appeal to the curiosity of the non-Orthodox, but also to his intuition that there must be something greater and larger to the season than the usual round of office parties. And be prepared to then welcome non-Orthodox to your event, making sure there are printed texts available for the service and whatever else might be helpful. Make sure that a friendly face is nearby ready to help visitors with the unfamiliar.

Bronze St Nicholas, Patron of Sailors
"St. Nicholas, Patron of Sailors"
19th century, bronze, Russia
St Nicholas Center Collection

St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors, scholars, merchants, children, and of entire nations, but because many stories about him illustrate his compassion for the dispossessed and troubled, he could surely be seen as the patron of them as well. For example, there are several variations on the story of Bishop Nicholas rescuing the daughters of an impoverished man from being sold into prostitution by tossing into their home three bags of gold. (This and other stories and information are found on several St. Nicholas websites.) Considering this story, plus others which show the saint's concern for children, a natural link can be made to our need to show the same compassion for women in crisis pregnancies. With such inspiration, the parish could launch a drive to collect baby items for the local crisis pregnancy center. At the Event the drive could begin with the telling of the story.

The education component would consist of the telling of a variety of stories which would not only illustrate his godly qualities but also show us exemplary Christian charity and concern for others during a time of year when the commercial world too often encourages greed and selfishness. Additionally, our liturgical texts are not only prayer but also sources of instruction on St. Nicholas, his struggles against the passions, the virtues he cultivated, and his reliability as an intercessor.

Of course any program on St. Nicholas should include a "visit" from the holy bishop, suitably costumed and behaving with his characteristic generosity, handing out bags of coins (chocolate wrapped in gold foil) along with St. Nicholas icons.

Prayer should begin and end the Event. The troparion, kontakion, and the popular "All Who Love St. Nicholas" could be sung, along with explanations of the references contained in them. These hymns should already be familiar to most Orthodox participants. Scripture reading(s) and a short description of the life of St. Nicholas suitable for children would also be fitting.

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, should be honored as a great saint of the Church, and his intercession should be sought for all in need. But in doing so we can also evangelize and invite others into this Church he serves, educate and teach our children the loving and forthright Christian virtues the bishop embodied, and reach out in Nicholas-like compassion to those in need.

Father Gregory Mathewes-Green is pastor of Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Linthicum, Maryland
from Again Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 4, October-December, 2001, p. 15. Used by permission.

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