St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia

We have gathered together to celebrate and to praise with song the model of bishops and glory of the fathers, a fountain of miracles and a great helper to believers. Let us sing to Nicholas: “Rejoice, O protector of Myra, who were revered as its shepherd and strongest pillar! Rejoice, O radiant star, whose light of miracles shines throughout the world! Rejoice, O divine joy to those in sorrow! Rejoice, O defender of the oppressed; for even now, O holy Nicholas, you still pray to God for us who celebrate your feast with faith, and who honor you with zeal and joy.” (Vespers of St. Nicholas)

The hymns for the feast of St. Nicholas are amazing in the depths of their theology, the exuberance of their praises, and the beauty of their poetry.  The hymns love to play on the name Nicholas and its connection to the Greek word nike which means “victory.” They also love to play on the connection between his city Myra and the Greek word myrrhon, the fragrant holy oil which is used in the Holy Mystery of Chrismation. The hymns present Nicholas as the victor with Christ over the powers of the enemy, the presence of the sweet smell of the Holy Spirit among his faithful both in Myra and throughout the world.

O holy father Nicholas, Christ has shown you to be a model of faith. Your humility inspired all your flock. From Myra, your piety shines throughout the world. you are known as the protector of widows and orphans. Now we ask your unceasing prayer for the salvation of our souls. (Lete of Vespers)

St. Nicholas especially showed the depths of his faith at the First Ecumenical Council. Confronted with the blasphemies of Arius, he could not contain his righteous indignation, and struck Arius. Because it was a violation of Canon Law for one cleric to strike another, Nicholas was stripped of his office. That night, Christ and the Theotokos appeared in dreams to the bishops of the Council and informed them that they were, in fact, pleased with Nicholas’ action because he acted out of love, and that they needed to restore him to his office. He was willing to suffer humilitation and degradation rather than see the truths of the faith trampled under foot. How many of us stand up for our faith when it is attaked? What an example St. Nicholas can be in this!

O father and hierarch Nicholas, the holiness of your life has set you before your flock as a rule of faith, an example of meekness and a teacher of temperance. Wherefore, you acquired greatness through humility and spiritual wealth through poverty. Pray to Christ God that He may save our souls. (Apolytikion)

St. Nicholas, of course, is best known for his love of the poor. The story of how he helped rescue a father from consigning his three daughters to prostitution because he could not provide them with a dowry is well known. Even today he is considered the patron of children everywhere. But, unlike his commercial adaptation (the so-called Santa Claus), he does not encourage children (and adults) to greed and jealousy. Rather, he won true riches through poverty. He shows us how to become rich in the love of God.

As we prepare to celebrate the great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, we pray that St. Nicholas will show us the true path, both to appreciate the great truth of the feast, that God truly became a human being, and to see that God’s love is manifested in poverty and not in wealth, in generosity and sacrificial giving and not in greed.