Feast of Saint Nicholas

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Reflecting the Love of our Saviour
Feast of Saint Nicholas
6 December, 2008
Hebrews 13:17-21 ; Luke 6:17-23

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are celebrating the memory of Saint Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia. The readings that come with such a feast are really appropriate for him. We hear in our encounter with the Holy Gospel today that our Lord is amongst “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon”, a multitude that had come to Him as iron to a magnet. Geographically speaking, we can see on a map that there is the whole country of Judea in the middle of Palestine surrounding Jerusalem up to the Sea of Galilee, which extends over to the sea-coast (which is called Lebanon today). People are coming all the way from Lebanon to the Sea of Galilee not only to hear our Lord speak, but also to allow His love to touch them and to heal them.

Everywhere in the Gospel, we are seeing our Saviour touching people – either physically touching them or touching their hearts, healing them in every way imaginable. Their hearts are sometimes broken, and He is mending their broken hearts. Their bodies are broken, and He is mending their broken bodies. They are sick unto death, and He is healing them so that they do not die. Sometimes, His love even raises them from the dead, which happened several times in the Gospel. All sorts of wonderful things such as these are happening.

It is important for us to remember, also, the words “Tyre” and “Sidon”. This area is outside of the Jewish territory. When we speak about Tyre and Sidon, we are speaking about Gentile people. There could have been some Jewish people living there, but probably most of the people who came from Tyre and Sidon to see our Lord were not necessarily Jewish people. Nevertheless, our Saviour Lord touched them, healed them, and gave them life.

In the Gospel today, our Lord is giving life to everyone who is coming to Him and surrounding Him. He is touching them and healing them. Moreover, He is giving them a summary of the Beatitudes (which we hear in a longer form in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew). Our Saviour is touching the hearts of the people as well.

Saint Nicholas is this sort of a person. Saint Nicholas is a person who conveys our Saviour’s love by his prayers. This is why Saint Nicholas is a good example for bishops. Why bishops in particular ? A priest could be like Saint Nicholas, too, and many have been. Why is Saint Nicholas (the Archbishop of Myra) so important in this context ? What is the bishop to the Church ?

A bishop is a person who truly is the glue of the Church. The Church is supposed to gather around him, and from the bishop come blessings from the Lord so that the Church will grow and live and multiply. This is the job of the bishop. Once, when a little girl asked Archbishop John (Garklavs) of Chicago, of blessed memory, what bishops do, he answered : “They bless”. That is what bishops do. They bless this and they bless that ; they bless people who ask to do something good. The bishop gives the blessing, but not his own blessing. People are customarily going up to the bishop, and saying : “Give me your blessing”. However, the bishop never gives his own blessing. The bishop only gives the Lord’s blessing. That is why the bishop is always answering in some sort of way : “May the Lord bless you” or “May God bless you”, and so forth. There are various ways in which the bishop may answer the request. When people come to me, I say to them : “Do not say to me : ‘Give me your blessing’. It is more to the point to say : ‘Give the blessing’”. On my own, I have zero blessing to give. It is the Lord who gives everything. I am only a conveyer-belt or pipeline, one might say. It is the Lord’s blessing that the bishop is giving, nothing else but the Lord’s blessing, and not his own.

The bishop is somehow standing in the place of Christ. All that happens to the bishop during a Hierarchical Liturgy with the greeting, the glorious entry, the vesting in the middle of the Temple, and the attention that is paid to him, is not paid to him personally. This all happens to him because he is re-presenting Christ. It is the bishop’s responsibility to make sure that he, himself, never takes any of that attention for himself. He has to refer everything to the Lord. That is why I value so much the lesson that was taught to me by an abbess many years ago (about 1979, 1980, or so). I was visiting a monastery in Boston, and the nuns were extremely hospitable. I was very impressed with their expressions of love. When I was leaving, in my “greenness” I said to the abbess : “Thank you very much, Mother”. She said : “The Lord”. I said : “Thank you, too”. She said : “No. The Lord”. I learned a very good lesson that time. Especially from the bishop’s point of view, everything has to be referred to the Lord. That is why it is tricky being a bishop, because very often people are approaching the bishop in a very deferential way. The bishop has to be very careful that he never takes this for himself, and always refers everything to the Lord. Otherwise, the bishop gets lost. You could say that it is a dangerous business being a bishop.

Saint Nicholas is the example of a bishop, because he was following the example of our Saviour as He is amongst the people we met today in the Gospel. I should not talk about him in the past tense because Saint Nicholas is, to this very day, with his prayers, helping people who are in need. He is helping people who are poor ; people who are travelling, and all sorts of people in one condition or another. He stood for the truth in the Council of Nicaea. He never wavered, and he was never distracted by Arianism, which was the big trap in those days. He followed Christ single-heartedly and single-mindedly. He is, therefore, the example for bishops because he lived Christ. Everything about him radiated the love of Jesus Christ. He instinctively cared for the poor, looked after the needy, brought healing from the Lord to those who were sick and dying, and so forth. The Lord’s love was active and present in him, and it still is to this day. That is why he is a good example for bishops, because just as the Mother of God pointed, and does point everyone to the Saviour, Jesus Christ, so does he. He lived and he lives the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Even though we all are not bishops, everyone can still strive to let the Lord open one’s heart and rule in the heart in such a way that people will truly see Christ. They will be coming to Him just as the throngs in the Gospel today are coming to our Saviour from as far away as Tyre and Sidon. Let us not forget that they travelled for the most part on foot. All around the world this is the case. When the truth of the love of Jesus Christ is shining, people are coming to Him. However, it cannot just be bishops and priests who are like this. I still remember from earlier on, when I was a parish priest, that I was saying some things to my parishioners. One of the parishioners brought me up short when he said : “Well, we pay you to say that”. Ever since I heard that, I have understood that the priest or the bishop can exhort and help the sheep, but, in fact, the most credible witness for Christ is not the bishop, the priest, or even the deacon. It is the ordinary, everyday Christian, who, living love, presents Christ. That is the most credible witness for Christ – the ordinary human being who is not paid for anything, but simply does everything clearly for love. That is the witness that brings people to Christ. That is the witness that enables people to find the Lord.

Through the prayers of Saint Nicolas, the Wonder-worker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, may the Lord enable us to reflect His love in even half the measure that Saint Nicholas has been doing so that we can glorify Him, present Him, and re-present Him, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.