St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker

The Image of Christ in a Man

by the Rev. Dr. Nicholas V. Gamvas, Dean, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii

Russian icon
St. Nicholas Icon
Russia, 2000
St Nicholas Center Collection

Have you ever noticed how quickly the world forgets people? A loving mother or father dies, the children come for the funeral, and then remember for a while; but quickly outside the family circle, and sometimes quickly within it, the memory of that person dies, too.

This not only happens to the common folk, but to all. Great kings, brave generals.. All are soon forgotten in the rush of time. Take a look at the magnificent pyramids of Egypt which are burial places of the might Pharaohs. These tombs still stand, but few know or care about the powerful and wealthy men buried there. And yet when these Pharaohs lived, they had the power of life and death over millions of people.

The Church, however, and faithful members of the Church, does not forget those who pass through the royal doors of eternity and enter the holy of holies. On Dec. 6 we remember the man Nicholas who lived in the fourth century in Asia Minor. That part of the world is now called Turkey. When he was buried from his church some 1,600 years ago, many might have thought that his memory, like that of all mortals, would fade from the pages of history. But just the opposite has happened. His fame spread from nation to nation, land to land. Century after century, people of every race have heard of him, loved him, and remembered him. Today we join them in honoring his memory.

Who was St. Nicholas? Children know him as 'Santa Claus,' others know him as the patron of sailors; we know him as a pious, loving Bishop of the Church and true follower of Jesus Christ.

How did he attain such renown? Nicholas never sought the limelight. He didn't try to achieve fame. All he did was try to fulfill the command to love God with all his heart, and to love his neighbor as himself. It was his service to God and man that gained from him such universal esteem.

In the main hymn, called Troparion, sung on the feast day of St. Nicholas, we have the key to the character of this man. In this song, St. Nicholas is called:

1. "The Rule of Faith."

He was a man of deep and abiding faith in Christ. It is said that even as a child he showed remarkable faith in the Lord. He became a priest and entered a monastery. He strived to "seek first the kingdom of God."

When the see of Myra in Lycia became vacant, it was Nicholas who was selected to become the archbishop of the church. The story goes that the council was undecided whom to select. Then a plan was revealed to one of the older prelates. He was told to go to church the next morning, and then to selects as archbishop the first cleric who would come there to pray. Yes, it was Nicholas, as was his daily custom, who first entered the sanctuary for prayer.

He was a measure of faith, too, at the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. It was here in the year 325 that he fought for the belief in Christ's divinity. He is said to have smote Arius the heretic when he blasphemed the Person of Child. This is why many icons of Nicholas picture the Lord and the Holy Virgin restoring to him the Gospel and Bishop?s Stole after such an unseemly display of zeal.

2. St. Nicholas is called "The Example of Meekness."

He was truly a man of great humility. The Troparion says of him: "By your lowliness you didst attain to the heights . . . by poverty unto riches. . . ." It is said that he refused at first the office of the episcopacy, deeming himself unworthy of such a dignity.

Many are the stories and legends of his life that depict the simple honesty, love, humility, and devotion of this shepherd. He saved sailors on the sea, and children in death. All know how he saved three young woman from a life of sin by throwing three bags of gold into the homes at night, hoping that none would see him perform this act of charity.

3. St. Nicholas is also called "The Teacher of Abstinence."

He denied himself, that he might give to others. A strange story claims that even as a baby he refused to eat meat on certain fast days of the week. His mother was confused, thinking her child was ill. But then it was shown that Nicholas was simply adhering to the Church's rule of abstinence.

When his parents died, Nicholas was left a considerable inheritance. He could have lived a life of leisure and pleasure. But he heard the call of Christ and gave his wealth to the poor and needy. He was truly a teacher of abstinence.

So it is that through service and sacrifice, St. Nicholas has been able to attain "Eternal Memory" not only in the timeless eons of eternity, but in the passing ages of the earth as well. These are the ingredients of a full Christian life, of a happy, useful life. Service and sacrifice are found only where there is real and abiding love. The faith of Nicholas found expression in his concern for the welfare of the Church and the welfare of others.

Do you remember reading a particularly good story? Do you recall seeing a very moving play on the stage or screen? Has any TV story shook your emotions? If so, you will find that unselfish service and sacrifice form the basis of such soul-stirring response. This is the stuff that goes into vital Christian living. And it is precisely this that made the life of St. Nicholas worthy to be remembered and honored through the centuries of time.

St. Nicholas is called the "Wonder-Worker." Indeed, many are the wonders that he is said to have worked in the years of his life. Perhaps the greatest wonder is that he simply took Christ at His word and followed Him with all his heart and soul. He showed that the true Christian life can be lived. And perhaps another wonder is that the memory of his sweet life has come down to our day to shed its fragrance in the world in which we live.


By the Rev. Dr. Nicholas V. Gamvas, Dean, Sts Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific,, Honolulu, Hawaii. Used by permission.

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