Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
With Saint Nicholas, shining for Christ
Feast of Saint Nicholas (Old-Style)
19 December, 2009
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 our beloved Father in God, Saint Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, the Wonder-worker and patron of this holy Temple. We also know that this Temple has been here in this part of n, a witness for the truth of Jesus Christ for 109 years. It is not something insignificant that a community can serve the Lord and be faithful even when the environment is not exactly friendly. Even when the general population is declining, nevertheless people remain faithful to the Lord. They remain faithful Orthodox Christians, steadfast in their witness for the love of Jesus Christ. That is a great thing, and I pray that you will never change your disposition, and that you all here in these rural parts will continue to shine as living examples of the love of Jesus Christ.

It is true that we have icons on our iconostas. It is true that we have icons in our homes. It is true that we have icons in our cars, and other places. However, we ourselves are also called to be icons of Christ for other people to see. Our lives are to be examples of Who is Jesus Christ to us, and Who is Jesus Christ to people who are hungry and thirsty. In the Gospel reading today, we just saw in the presence of our Saviour a great multitude gathered together to hear what He had to say and to allow Him to heal all their diseases. They had come in order to let our Saviour turn their lives about. Instead of living in darkness, they would live in light ; instead of being selfish, they would become selfless ; instead of being bound by fear, they would be liberated in love.

This is the way of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is the example that we are called to give. Wherever we go as Orthodox Christians, the light of His love should be shining, so that people around who are hungry and thirsty (such as those who met our Saviour today) will find Him in us. They will find solace, consolation, healing and even repentance because they encounter in us the love of Jesus Christ. The Saviour, Himself, touches them through us. It does not give us any sort of credit. It is our faithfulness that allows the Saviour to touch the people who need Him. We are His vessels. Ever since we have been baptised, we have been given the Grace of the Holy Spirit with the responsibility to live like this in the world.

We often say : “It is so difficult, and there are so many temptations”. However, it is not as difficult as we let ourselves think. If we think it is too difficult, then how did Saint Nicolas do it ? How did the thousands and thousands and thousands of saints on our calendar do it ? It is not too hard. If we think it is too hard, then we have let the devil play with our minds and convince us that it is too hard. However, he is a liar. Our Saviour says : “He is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). The devil absolutely never tells the truth. If we know what is good for us, we will remember that fact. Therefore, we cannot ever have a conversation with him because it is life-threatening. We can only have a conversation with the Saviour, who is the Truth, Himself. There is nothing false in the Saviour. About the devil, everything is false. It is essential for us not to let the devil play with our minds and convince us of his lies. Such a lie is that following our Saviour is too difficult. To follow the Lord is painful, but it is not too difficult.

It is painful because love that is like the love of Jesus Christ is open and vulnerable. It does not control and protect itself. It is trusting in the Saviour. Therefore, there is pain involved. However, I am quite certain that most of you here are parents or grandparents. I have never met a parent yet who has not encountered pain in the raising of children. This is because children do not necessarily do what they are supposed to do, and they do not necessarily express gratitude for anything. There are various other reasons why there is pain involved in raising children, but the reason you continue to forge on with these children despite the pain, despite the disappointment, is because you simply love them. You let them hurt you because you love them. The pain heals, because the Saviour’s love heals such pains. This sort of pain does not have to endure forever.

The Lord in His love does heal this pain. He also does heal what is wrong with the disposition of children. He does also heal what is wrong with our disposition, because His love wants us to be healthy, balanced, sane, stable human beings. He wants us to live purely in peace. Peace can only come in His love. He wants us to live in peace. He wants us to live in joy. Joy and peace only come from His love. It is when our lives are characterised by this peace and joy (no matter how much difficulty we face in life, no matter how much pain we face in life) that other people are encouraged, because they see that it is possible to face all these things. Then they might even dare to ask us why, and we could tell them. Even then they might not be prepared to accept Christ. However, if they ask, we can tell them. It is up to them whether they want to follow Christ in the same way or not. We do not bash people over the head with the truth.

Our Saviour says that we are yeast and salt (see Matthew 5:13; 13:3). We live amongst people, and we bring our Saviour with us wherever we go, whatever we do. We allow Him to meet the people who are in need of Him. We also pray for those people that we encounter. Sometimes there are people who are going to present themselves in a particular way that shows us their need. We can start to pray for them : “Lord have mercy”. Ultimately, we do not have to say much more than simply “Lord have mercy” for them. A very holy archimandrite that I used to know said that this prayer : “Lord have mercy”, “Gospodi pomilui”, “Doamne milueste”, “Kyrie eleison” (or whatever language) has the whole Gospel contained in it. When we are saying this prayer, we are simply asking the Lord to be present to that person in His love, in His joy, in His peace. I know from experience (I have seen it happen many times) that because people are praying for other persons who are in need, those other persons who are in need very often do, in fact, come to the Saviour, and come to the Orthodox Church. This is our way of life : being honest, following the Saviour, living in love, living in peace and joy, being faithful to Him and His way because He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). In doing this, the Lord will act.

Saint Nicholas was such a person. He was a God-loving man who was obedient to the Lord in the right spirit. What is that spirit ? It is living motivated by love, not being driven by fear. It is all love. The Apostle said today that we should obey our superiors. However, this obedience is not the same as obeying a stop sign in case the Mounties catch us. It is similarly not driving only at 80 km an hour because I am afraid the Mounties will catch me driving at my preferred speed of 120 km. That is not the spirit. The spirit of obedience is the spirit of love. Children obey their parents because the parents love them, and they love their parents, and want to be pleasing to them. Husbands and wives obey each other because they love each other, and they want to be pleasing to each other. In a monastic community, the normal way of obedience is because of love, not because of fear. Monks come and live with an elder, and follow this elder, because they see the love of Jesus Christ in this person. They want to follow this person, and be like this person in their love for Jesus Christ. That is the sort of obedience in the Orthodox way that we are talking about : obedience in love.

Saint Nicholas understood this sort of obedience, and he was obedient to the Saviour because of love. He endured being imprisoned and persecuted because of love for Jesus Christ. He testified against false teaching about Who is Jesus Christ. He said plainly what is the truth (meaning Who is the Truth) at the first Council of Nicaea, because of his love for Jesus Christ, and his determination to be obedient and not to get distracted by silly philosophies. He knew in his heart Who is the Truth. The Truth is not a “what” ; it is a “Who” : our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Saint Nicholas knew, and knows to this day the Truth. He rescued people, fed people, and helped them in all sorts of ways, and mostly anonymously. He did not get a government tax credit for the good things that he did ; he just did them. He was known for this love in his life, and he is known for the same love to this day. Saint Nicholas is a protector of people who travel. There are all sorts of stories about people today who can attest (about 1700 years later) to the intercessions of Saint Nicholas on their behalf as being effective. They have been saved at sea, from car accidents, and from all sorts of difficulties because of his intercessions. Saint Nicholas is a strong conveyer of the love of Jesus Christ.

We can be the same. If Saint Nicholas can love the Saviour, and bring Grace to people in loving and obeying the Saviour, we can, too. We just have to say “Yes” to the Saviour as Saint Nicholas did and does. Who else do we know who says “Yes” to the Saviour perpetually and always ? The Mother of God. The whole life of the Mother of God is a “Yes” to the Saviour. Her whole witness is a “Yes” to the Saviour. By her prayers, we can do the same. Because of her love and her care for us in Him, she recently brought repentance, healing, strengthening, and renewal of love for her Son to our Church through the Wonder-working icon of the Mother of God of Pochaiv. Let us ask the Mother of God, and Saint Nicholas to pray for us, to intercede for us so that we will be able to do more and more in our lives in harmony and love with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. May our lives be enabled to reveal more and more this love, this peace, and this joy. When our time comes to an end, may we be able to enter into the Kingdom with the Mother of God, Saint Nicholas, and many, many thousands of other saints and other God-loving, believing Christians, and, together with them, sing forever the thrice-holy hymn : “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the life-giving Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.