December 5, 2016

Optional Memorial of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker

Saint Nicholas
December 6th, is the optional memorial of Saint Nicholas, (270-343) also called Nikolaos of Myra, (present day Demre, Turkey) the 4th-century archbishop known for his tireless devotion, generosity and defense of orthodoxy. Due to the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also referred to as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Greatly revered in the ancient Church, he was held as the archetypal bishop and the archetypal saint. He is without doubt one of the most popular saints in the world; honored in the Latin and Orthodox rites. A Russian proverb states: "If anything happens to God, we have always got St. Nicholas."

Nicholas was born in the city of Patara in Lycia, the only son of pious parents, Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God if they were blessed with a son. Nicholas’ formative years were marked by rigorous asceticism, the reading of Scripture and upholding the moral tenets of the Faith. His parents would succumb to a plague when Nicholas was still young. His uncle, (also named Nicholas) the archbishop of Myra in Lycia, raised him thereafter; eventually ordaining him and appointing him the abbot of a local monastery. Upon the death of his uncle, Nicholas was chosen the Archbishop of Myra; a position he held until his death. Nicholas' pastoral skills were legendary.

Popular piety records several accounts of Nicholas’ munificence and miraculous interventions ascribed to him. One tells of a poor man with three daughters. In Nicholas’ day a young woman's family was beholden to offer any prospective husband a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the odds a daughter would marry. Learning of the man’s poverty, the saint secretly visited one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. This provided the young woman an honorable marriage. Nicholas furnished gold for the other daughters as well, sparing the family destitution and dishonor. While bestowing charity, Nicholas always acted clandestinely to conceal his good works.

Under the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, he was briefly imprisoned for preaching Christianity, but was freed during the reign of Emperor Constantine. Despite his gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, Nicholas was an ardent warrior for the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, he went to pagan temples in Myra and its surroundings, shattering idols and excising shrines. In 325, he answered the call of Constantine and appeared at the First Council of Nicaea. There, he was a staunch anti-Arian and defender of doctrine. According to tradition, he became so angry with Arius that he struck the heretic in the face.

St. Nicholas died on December 6, 343 in Myra. His body was preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with healing myrrh, from which many received healing. In 1087, his relics were moved to the Italian city of Bari, where they remain. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of travelers, against imprisonment, children, brides, newlyweds and for deliverance from floods, poverty, or any misfortune among others. With Saint Andrew, he is the co-patron of Russia. We humbly implore your mercy, Lord: protect us in all dangers through the prayers of the Bishop St. Nicholas, that the way of salvation may lie open before us. 

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