Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Following Christ-like Saint Nicholas
Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)
19 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, as we are celebrating the Feast of Saint Nicholas, it is important for us to remember that Saint Nicholas is presented to us (at least to bishops and to priests in particular) as an example of how to live, because of his humility and his love. He imitated very clearly that great Shepherd of the sheep to whom reference is made in the Epistle to the Hebrews (see Hebrews 13:20). Who is that great Shepherd of the sheep, except our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ ?

In his whole life, Saint Nicholas proved that he was an Orthodox Christian because he lived very much in accordance with the Gospel. He imitated Christ. He fed the sheep. He was, himself, an example of how to live as a Christ-loving Christian. He preached the truth. He taught the truth about Him who is the Truth, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Against Arius, he defended the truth about the Truth at the Council of Nicaea. In every day of his life, he very practically lived out the way of the Saviour. What is the way of the Saviour except to meet the needs of the people ? Sometimes he looked after the poor. Sometimes he provided dowries for those who had none. Sometimes, through his prayers, he protected people at sea, and sometimes he still does that. I have heard some people speak of their having been rescued from trouble at sea or elsewhere through his intercession. Orthodox believers throughout the world will be found having an icon of Saint Nicholas in their vehicles or on their ships. Maybe (if they are properly pious) they will have them in their airplanes and spaceships.

Saint Nicholas was, and is an example of how a Christian is supposed to live, and what a Christian is supposed to look like. He lived, and lives the love of Jesus Christ with every fibre of his being. His whole soul was focussed on the love of Jesus Christ, focussed on revealing this love. Therefore, bishops and priests in particular, are challenged to live up to that example, and to walk in the foot-steps of Saint Nicholas, the Wonder-worker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia. Ironically, the town where Saint Nicholas lived and served has not been Orthodox for a long time. Even so, in these latter days in Southern Turkey where Myra is, it is possible now to see the restoration of the Temple in which he served in the fourth century. Ironically, there are icons and monuments to Saint Nicholas in a Muslim country, in Myra, in Lycia today. It is now possible occasionally, and at least once a year (but I think a little oftener because of how things can be), to have Divine Liturgies and other services in honour of Saint Nicholas in Myra, in Lycia, in Turkey. These are wonders in their own way.

It is important for us to remember that the Lord, in His love for us, is always with us. He is always caring for us. We can expect sometimes that He will work in wonderful and unexpected ways. In fact, I have seen so much of this in my life (especially with all the travelling that I have to do), that I have come always to expect the unexpected with the Lord. There are too many things that happen for me to start enumerating them now. However, I can say that just in my recent voyage to-Moscow-and-back for the sake of participating in the funeral of the newly-departed Patriarch Aleksy (and also in my travel between Ottawa and Edmonton), many things happened. The Lord continues to underline to me (and I hope you catch the drift yourselves) how much He is with us, how much He is organising our lives, how much He cares for every detail about our lives. Many of the things that happened to me in these days do not particularly have to do with the Lord’s care for me personally, but rather for the welfare of His Church and the needs of one person or another.

For example, there was a man who was surprised to find me on the plane coming through Calgary. He had been saving up some questions about the future of his life until I should eventually show up in his parish (where I would not likely be until next September). However, God gave him the opportunity to talk to me about what I thought was good for his future plans with his family. It was blessable ; so I blessed it. He can think about what he is going to do with his life in a very particular way much sooner. This gives him much more planning time. The Lord cares about him, and He organises these things. The Lord cares about the development of His Church because this man’s plans about where he intends to move have to do with the future of our diocese’s growth, too. Where he will move will require missionary outreach for us. We will have to look after him and some others who will go with him into a remote place.

The Lord is looking after the details of your lives and my life. He is looking after the details of our lives all together. When the Lord says that He loves us, He is not just saying it. He is actually doing it. The coming Feast of the Nativity is completely wrapped up in this love, as well. The Lord really means it when He says that He loves us. In today’s Gospel reading, we see how our Saviour has been addressing so much the needs of people, that people are coming from everywhere imaginable in order to be near Him ; and, as always, He is healing them all. When the Lord is present to the people, He is not just picking and choosing. He is healing everyone and meeting their needs. They are coming to Him from Tyre and Sidon, which are areas outside the traditional Jewish-believing territory. Probably even people who are not at all Jewish are coming to Him – people like the Canaanite woman, and the Samaritan woman – and He is healing them all without discrimination, without making a distinction. This is how He always has been with us, and how He always will be with us. He cares about us. He loves us.

I will just explain here what I mean about the “without distinction” character of the Lord. In Syria, there is a women’s monastery called “Sayednaya”. In this monastery, there is a wonder-working icon of the Mother of God. Many women go to this icon because they cannot have children. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, the Lord grants them children. It turns out that it is not just Orthodox Christians who are going to this icon. In fact, ironically, many Muslim people are going to this icon also, because they know that God cares about them. I suppose that they cannot visibly become Orthodox believers. It is sort of worth your life in a Muslim country to become openly Orthodox or openly Christian. With the same compassion that the Lord had for the Samaritan woman, the Mother of God hears their prayers, cares for them, and by her prayers to the Lord, meets their needs.

This happens over and over again. There are many, many stories about this in Egypt, too. I saw with my own eyes how there are all sorts of Islamic people going to Orthodox monasteries in Egypt, and leaving with little bags of incense, holy oil, and little icons of one saint or another. The Lord is touching their lives. That does not mean that we are mixing things up and saying that there is no difference between Islam and Orthodox Christianity. There is a big difference between them and us. However, this does not mean that just because they do not completely understand, we can give ourselves the excuse to be ungrateful to God, inhospitable, unloving, or even angry towards them. The Lord, Himself, meets their needs when they call out to Him. He cares about every one of His creatures without distinction.

The Lord calls you and me to be faithful to the True Way about Him who is the Truth, just like Saint Nicholas. He calls us to be true and faithful to Him, and witnesses of what is the Right Way. When we do this, we will be opening to others through ourselves the doors of the Lord’s compassion, just as we are asking Him to do for us all the time. We will be opening the doors of compassion of the Lord to those many people all around us who are hungry and thirsty, and looking for consolation. Just as Saint Nicholas was, and is, we will be agents of the love of the Lord, enabling people to experience His love, and maybe come to Him. Here, in this country, people are not constrained by life-and-death fear most of the time. In this country, it is possible for people to come to Christ from whatever background. Many have, and many do.

Brothers and sisters, let us give thanks for the love of God that is poured out through Saint Nicholas. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the life, the witness, and the prayers of Saint Nicholas who still cares for us all in the love of Jesus Christ. He still prays for us when we ask him to, and sometimes even when we do not ask him to. He gives us the example of the Christian way to live. Let us ask our holy Father Nicholas, through his prayers, to help us to follow his example in living and doing the love of Jesus Christ, and to glorify our Lord, as he does, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.