Reflections on Saint Nicholas
Basil, 4th century
Lord Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1980–1991
Deacon Audrey Gonzales, Anglican Diocese of Uruguay
St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093–1114
Seán Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston
On saints, from Weavings
Reflection on the Icon of Saint Nicholas, from The Prologue from Ohrid
John L. Inman III, from the California Democrat
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Patriarch Kirill, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church
Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, OSB
Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, 1308–21
Pastor Michael Mortvedt, December 26, 2014
Bishop Michael Turnbull, Bishop of Durham
William Evertsberg, Kenilworth Union Church
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, December 6, 2019
What keeps you from giving now? Isn’t the poor person there? Aren’t your own warehouses full? Isn’t the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow? “I’m not doing any harm,” you say. “I just want to keep what I own, that’s all.” You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone’s use is your own… . If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn’t you come into life naked, and won’t you return naked to the earth?
The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.
—Basil, Fourth Century
from Lord Runcie
The original Nicholas of Myra is indeed a shadowy figure. A later tradition says he was present at the Council of Nicea in 325 and boxed the ears of the leading heretic Arius. But that only gets a mention in a 14th century Latin author. His earliest fame rests more on some events recounted in a later 6th century text known as “Action for the Generals.” According to this Nicholas had intervened with the local authorities to rescue three innocent victims of Myra from an unjust execution. Later those who witnessed this achievement called him in aid when three generals were put in prison in Constantinople. As a result of this Nicholas appeared before the Emperor Constantine in a dream in the palace bedchamber and ordered him to halt the second execution of men who had been falsely accused of treason. So Nicholas is associated from the beginning with the innocent. He is a powerful intercessor… .
—Lord Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1980–1991
An excerpt from a lecture
From Saint Nicholas: A Saint for Today: A Christmas Special, a special supplement to Anglican World, 1999. Used by permission
from Deacon Audrey Gonzales
We cannot see God but we have His Word, His Promise. Likewise, it takes a lot of trust for a child to count on and wait for someone he cannot see. He never really sees St. Nicholas, our Santa, just as we can’t see God. What we know, through the promise of scripture, is that God is present and that He loves us. He is everywhere. We can see His presence in our lives when we look back at the changes that have taken place that made us better Christians, at the miracles He has wrought, and the angels he has sent to save us from disaster.
—Deacon Audrey Gonzales, Anglican Diocese of Uruguay
An excerpt from a homily
From Saint Nicholas: A Saint for Today: A Christmas Special, a special supplement to Anglican World, 1999. Used by permission
from St. Anselm
God, in you have I trusted,
St. Nicholas, to you I entrust my prayers,
Upon you both I cast my care,
even on you I throw my soul.
This is what you exact from me
You by your commands, you by your counsels.
Receive him who throws himself upon you both,
Have him who is prostrate before you.
Keep me when I sleep, help me in what ever I do,
Inspire me in whatever I think,
You, Lord, by your grace,
You, Nicholas, by your intercession
You for the merits of your so loved confessor,
You according to the name of your and my Creator,
who is blessed forevermore. Amen.
—St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093–1114
From Saint Nicholas: A Saint for Today: A Christmas Special, a special supplement to Anglican World, 1999 Used by permission
from Seán Patrick Cardinal O’Malley
Around Christmas little children often ask me if I am Santa Claus. I tell them unfortunately I am not—but Santa Claus was a bishop.
Santa wrote us a letter—a prayer that we pray each Sunday at Mass. St. Nicholas the Bishop was one of the Council Fathers at Nicea in 325 that wrote the Creed that we will recite. Today we genuflect at the phrase in the Creed—“by the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.”
Prior to St. Nicholas the Church considered only the martyrs as saints—they witnessed to the Church’s faith in Christ by their courageous death. St. Nicholas was canonized because he witnessed to his faith in Christ by his love for others especially the poor and the needy. His faith in the Christmas event transformed his life and transformed the way he treated people—with love, mercy, compassion. We witness to our faith when we suffer and courageously witness to the Gospel, but we also witness in our love for the poor and the sick, in our ability to forgive, to share.
For Nicholas the Creed was not just information, but good news—not just data, but a way of life and discipleship. A life of worship and a life of witness.
—Seán Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, 2006
Excerpt from Christmas Eve homily, 2006, from Cardinal Seán’s Blog
We seriously err if we equate saints with celebrities. Celebrities, people famous for being famous, appeal to our hungry egos, but leave us spiritually famished. The saints call us to die and rise repeatedly with Christ, to participate in his triumph even as they do. They know where the true bread is to be found, and by their lives properly appreciated, they tell us. Regarding a saint as a celebrity means responding to that holy one with something other than a sense of wonder that includes humility and thankfulness.
The saints draw forth from us a response celebrities are unable to evoke. The saint is both real and transparent, an authentic human being who reflects the divine life. Thus the saints stand as countless reminders that we do not have to be full of ourselves. We can open to God. Humility and thankfulness conspire to make us hopeful.
Such hope does not stop with us. The saints “give us hope that the people we do meet day by day are saints in the making, that the people with whom we worship day by day, week by week, are the blessing of God in and to the world.”’ So this is a world full of saints in the making. This is a world that, despite our failures, God continues to bless. And God blesses this world not only from on high, but also through human hands and human hearts. The saints are proof of it all. Here is the basis we need for a life of wonder.
Excerpt from “Saints in the Making”
Reprinted from Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, January/February 2005, Vol. XX, No. 1. Copyright © 2005 by Upper Room Ministries. Used by permission. For information about ordering Weavings call 1-800-925-6847.
Original 16th century icon, Veilika Hoca, Serbia
Reproduction: St Nicholas Center Collection
Reflection on the Icon of Saint Nicholas
from The Prologue from Ohrid
In icons of St. Nicholas, the Lord Savior is usually depicted on one side with a Gospel in His hands, and the Most-holy Virgin Theotokos is depicted on the other side with an episcopal omophorion in her hands. This has a two-fold historical significance: first, it signifies the calling of Nicholas to the hierarchical office, and second, it signifies his exoneration from the condemnation that followed his confrontation with Arius. St. Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople, writes: “One night St. Nicholas saw our Savior in glory, standing by him and extending to him the Gospel, adorned with gold and pearls. On his other side, he saw the Theotokos, who was placing the episcopal pallium on his shoulders.” Shortly after this vision, John the Archbishop of Myra died and St. Nicholas was appointed archbishop of that city. That was the first incident. The second incident occurred at the time of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. Unable to stop Arius through reason from espousing the irrational blasphemy against the Son of God and His Most-holy Mother, St. Nicholas struck Arius on the face with his hand. The Holy Fathers at the Council, protesting such an action, banned Nicholas from the Council and deprived him of all emblems of the episcopal rank. That same night, several of the Holy Fathers saw an identical vision: how the Lord Savior and the Most-holy Theotokos were standing around St. Nicholas—on one side the Lord Savior with the Gospel, and on the other side the Most-holy Theotokos with a pallium, presenting the saint with the episcopal emblems that had been removed from him. Seeing this, the fathers were awe struck and quickly returned to Nicholas that which had been removed. They began to respect him as a great chosen one of God, and they interpreted his actions against Arius not as an act of unreasonable anger, but rather an expression of great zeal for God’s truth.
From The Prologue from Ohrid, for December 6, copyright © 1999 Serbian Orthodox Church, Diocese of Western America. Permission pending.
from A True Story about St. Nick
While I will not comment on whether there still is a Santa Claus roaming around filling the hopes of adults and children alike with wonder. I want to show you a glimpse of an actual event that has been recorded about St. Nick that illustrates the love and generosity for which he has become known.
You see, just like Virginia O’Hanlon, there was another group of girls who needed to escape a dreary thought that pervaded them. They had no money for a dowry, and for women who lived in the ancient city of Myra, in what is now the southwestern coast of Turkey, it meant they would not be able to be married and would likely have to be sold into slavery.
Fortunately one evening they received the first stocking stuffers. Bishop Nicholas of Myra took three bags of gold from his own pocket and gave them to the girls. The story of this gift made the rounds, with some telling of how he tossed them in stockings they had left out to dry, and with some replacing the stockings with shoes.
It was this story that inspired others to leave out stockings and shoes to hopefully receive a present. Because of acts like this, Bishop Nicholas would eventually be recognized as a saint … hence the name St. Nick. One thing that strikes me as interesting is that St. Nicholas was inspired to do this by his emulation of another figure of this season, Jesus Christ. That was his calling in life as a “Christian” or “follower of Christ.”
Nicholas lived to be like his inspiration. So, as we wake up early and sneak downstairs to investigate the neatly wrapped presents from “Santa,” remember the loving attitude of St. Nick and how the greatest gift he cherishes is the relationship he has with Jesus Christ.
—John L. Inman III, from “A true story about St. Nick,” California Democrat, December 24, 2008
from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Witnesses establish the truth by giving evidence. It really is as simple as that. When we celebrate the Saints, we celebrate those who have given evidence, who have made God believable by how they have lived and how they have died. The saints are the people who recognise that arguments will finally not win the day. God does not make himself credible by argument. God does not respond to our doubts, our intellectual querying, our uncertainty, by delivering from Heaven a neatly annotated list of logical propositions with which we cannot disagree. (I’m afraid that Professor Dawkins can bang on the doors of Heaven as long as he likes if that is what he expects to happen.) God deals with us by our life and a death, by Jesus. And God continues to deal with us by lives and deaths that make him credible, that make Jesus tangible here and now. All those people who flocked into Westminster Cathedral a couple of weeks’ ago to pay their respects to St Therese of Lisieux were recognizing that in her Christ became tangible for her generation and for ours and that is what the Saints do.
—Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, from a sermon preached All Saints’ Day, 2009, for the 150th year of the consecration of All Saints’ Margaret Street, London
from Patriarch Kirill
When we glorify St. Nicholas … we speak about him as a paragon of meekness. The modern [person] believes power is a virtue, while meekness is perceived as a certain synonym for weakness. However the life of St. Nicholas helps us understand what meekness is. In his life story, the saint does not appear to be a person who is weak, or meek in the vulgar, non-Christian interpretation of the word. He appears to have been a courageous fighter for the Orthodox faith—he once stopped the sword of an executioner, raised to behead an innocent person.
—Pariarch Kirill I, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Feast of the Translation of the Relics
from Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette
At the outset of Advent, a season that speaks to us deeply of hope because ‘the Lord is near,’ as the Liturgy announces, we celebrate the feast of St Nicholas. His feast is an important pause on our Advent journey, for his life is an example of Gospel living for Christians of all times and places.
Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, OSB, from A Monastic Year: Reflections from a Monastery
from Dante Alighieri
These words had been so pleasing to me—
I moved forward, so that I might come to know
the spirit from whom they had seemed to come.
He kept on speaking, telling the largesse
of Nicholas—the gifts he gave the maidens
so that they might be honorably wed.
“O soul who speaks of so much righteousness,
do tell me who you were,” I said, “and why
just you alone renew these seemly praises.”
An example of virtue of generosity juxtaposed to vice of greed
Dante, Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, XX, 30–36
from Pastor Michael Mortvedt
For Christians the birth of the Christ child is the true meaning and celebration of Christmas. Christmas is not primarily about St. Nicholas or the modern Santa Claus (as fun as Santa Claus can be for the child in all of us). But I especially like keeping St. Nicolas as part of my Christmas tradition, because Bishop Nicholas is an example of a transformed and compassionate life reflecting Emmanuel, God with us, every day of the year.
from Michael Turnbull, Bishop of Durham
I think restoring the link between Father Christmas and St Nicholas is a very good thing. I think Father Christmas you see in supermarkets can breed in children a huge commercial selfishness. It makes children think about all the joy that can be found in shops and presents, instead of the fact that a good deal of joy can be found in giving. St Nicholas and Christmas are meant to be about the joy of giving, but many children think it is about the joy of getting.
—Michael Turnbull, Bishop of Durham, quoted in the Telegraph, December 17, 2000
from William A. Evertsberg
Over the years I became the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, and longshoremen, of school boys and barrel-makers, of brides, spinsters, newlyweds, prostitutes, and pawnbrokers. But every now and then, someone will call St. Nicholas “the patron saint of all those who do good by stealth.” And that is what I love the most. The Patron Saint of All Those Who Do Good by Stealth.
—William Evertsberg, Kenilworth Union Church
from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
In his address, His All-Holiness referred to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, patron especially of children and sailors, wishing that those who traveled in the near and far seas for the sustenence of their family would always be under his protection. He made a special reference to the virtues of simplicity and humility that distinguished the saint, as well as other saints of the Church who bore his name, such as Nicholas Planas, and also neo-martyrs of recent centuries.
—at Divine Liturgy, Church of St. Nicholas Tzivaliou on December 6