Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold,
wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born
King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship
Him” (Matthew 2:1-2).
In a few short weeks, we will hear these words from the Gospel of Matthew proclaimed
during our liturgical celebration of the Lord’s Nativity. These very brief and concise
words, while telling a part of the story of the Lord’s birth, nonetheless leave much
to the imagination, begging for more information. Although telling the story of
the journey of the “Wise men from the East,” how they eventually arrived in Bethlehem
and how, once there, “they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down
and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts
to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” the second chapter of the Gospel of Saint
Matthew does not provide a lot of details. This leaves us to wonder more about the
particulars of the Wise Men’s journey from the East to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem
followed by their secretive return to their homeland.
At this time of the year, even in advance of our Nativity celebrations, it is helpful
to pause and reflect upon that mysterious star-led journey that brought the Wise
Men to Bethlehem. First, these wise and scholarly men (some translations of the
Scriptures refer to them as astrologers, i.e. learned people who studied the stars)
had first to decide to follow the star (and their hearts as well) and begin the journey,
wherever it might lead them. Once they had committed themselves to make the journey,
they then had to prepare themselves and make ready to set out, arranging for all
the practical aspects of what it meant to travel in those days. Preparation of all
the necessities of travel was part of their arrangements; means of transportation
were obtained (horses? camels? donkeys?), provisions were gathered and food was prepared,
and a retinue of servants and retainers was assembled. Once they had set out, they
did so facing certain and very real hardships and deprivations. They submitted to
the potential dangers of the road, facing robbers, thugs, and murderers as a very
real possibility. They also had to deal with the trip’s daily monotony as they traveled
across vast tracts of land. One might wonder if they ever became frustrated and
doubtful. Did they ever decide to give up, to turn around and go home? Were they
ever discouraged? Did they ever doubt the star which they had chosen to follow?
Did any one of them decide to give up only to be reassured and encouraged by the
others? As we’ve already observed, such interesting details are unknown to us. But,
whatever the cost or danger or doubts there might have been, whatever boredom they
faced, the Wise Men, being wise, continued their journey nonetheless. Day after day,
night after night, they journeyed on. Eventually they found themselves in Jerusalem,
standing before King Herod and asking their question, “Where is He who has been born
the King of the Jews?” “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they were told; and so they trustfully
continued their journey, following the star to that small village. “And the star
stood over the place where the young child was.” There, in Bethlehem, having trusted
the star which led them over many miles and through many dangers, having faced “field
and fountain, moor and mountain” and all types of challenges, they encountered the
newborn King of the Jews, the Savior of the World. Their persistence and trust and
fidelity to their journey were rewarded. Having seen and adored the newborn Christ
and offered Him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they completed their
journey, they reached their goal.
In communion with the Orthodox Church throughout the world, we now find ourselves
on a journey as well as we travel toward this year’s celebration of the Lord’s Nativity.
While the world around us seems to be already in full holiday mode, as if the Feast
has already arrived, we live these days in an entirely different spirit and with
an entirely different focus. We live these days in a spirit of calm and peaceful
prayer and preparation. As the world around us celebrates a feast that has yet to
arrive, we give ourselves to the sacrifices of the Nativity Fast, we spend these
days reading and reflecting upon the Holy Scriptures, we live these days seeking
and serving Christ in the lives of those in need. Like the Wise Men, we journey
on and look ahead to arriving in Bethlehem where we encounter the Son of God Who
is born for our salvation. The requirements of the Fast might seem too difficult
(especially when those around us are already fully feasting while we’re fasting)
and the calm and prayerful spirit in which try to live these days may be disrupted
by the sights and sounds of the holiday season. However, if we are true to what
is asked of us, if we keep our eyes on the destination to which we are led, we can
be sure that our journey to the Feast of the Nativity will be rewarded and that we
will encounter the newborn King of the Jews. If we keep our focus on the purpose
of this journey, we will reach its goal and joyfully celebrate the great love that
God has shown for us in His only-begotten Son Who “came down from heaven, was incarnate
of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
As we continue the journey of this Nativity Fast, we must acknowledge that the world
around us continues to struggle under the weight man’s sinful nature. Throughout
these days, part of our daily practice should be to keep in our prayers all those
who suffer in any way, especially those who are innocent victims of any form of violence
or terrorism. We ask the Prince of Peace to grant His peace to this world, healing
and restoration to those who suffer, and comfort to all those who mourn.
It is my prayer that all of you, your families, and all those whom you encounter
in your daily lives will “follow the star” and thus be led to worship the Newborn
King, to fall down in adoration before Him, and to offer Him the only gifts He really
desires, gifts of our very selves. Come, let us adore Him!
Assuring you of my blessing and prayers…
With love in the Lord,
St Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia
Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great
saint pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia
(on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents
Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God.
As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholas from the
very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker.
His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn
infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without
support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. St Nicholas from his
infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept
milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.
From his childhood Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would
not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy
dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual
success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated
Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct
In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with
questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect
of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas
displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who
came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor.
There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom St Nicholas saved from
great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desparation he planned to sell
their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man’s
poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack
of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage
for his daughter. St Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby
saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction. In bestowing charity,
St Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds.
The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem,
and entrusted the guidance of his flock to St Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience
carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for
a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the saint predicted a storm would arise
and threaten the ship. St Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink
it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed
the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship,
who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured was also restored to health.
When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, St Nicholas gave
thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One
night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the
great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of
the Son of God, St Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped
by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia,
and yearning for a life of quietude, the saint entered into the brotherhood of a
monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again
indicated another path for him, “Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall
bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there.” So he left Patara
and went to Myra in Lycia.
Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one
of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God,
not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told
him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should
be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at
night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped
by the bishop. “What is your name, child?” he asked. God’s chosen one replied, “My
name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant.”
After his consecration as archbishop, St Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing
to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly
precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor
Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians
for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters,
punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of St
Constantine (May 21) as emperor, St Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully
received their guide and intercessor.
Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, St Nicholas was a zealous
and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made
the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings,
shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust.
In the year 325 St Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This
Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic
Arius with the likes of Sts Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of
Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of
St Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words,
and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems
of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had
the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the
Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the
saint was pleasing to God, and restored the saint to the office of bishop.
Having returned to his own diocese, the saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing
the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and
also providing food for their bodies.
Even during his life the saint worked many miracles. One of the greatest was the
deliverance from death of three men unjustly condemned by the Governor, who had been
bribed. The saint boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, already suspended
over the heads of the condemned. The Governor, denounced by St Nicholas for his wrong
doing, repented and begged for forgiveness.
Witnessing this remarkable event were three military officers, who were sent to Phrygia
by the emperor Constantine to put down a rebellion. They did not suspect that soon
they would also be compelled to seek the intercession of St Nicholas. Evil men slandered
them before the emperor, and the officers were sentenced to death. Appearing to St
Constantine in a dream, St Nicholas called on him to overturn the unjust sentence
of the military officers.
He worked many other miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through
the prayers of the saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He
appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge
of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once,
the saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and
Having reached old age, St Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable
relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative
myrrh, from which many received healing. In the year 1087, his relics were transferred
to the Italian city of Bari, where they rest even now (See May 9).
The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy
helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth,
in many lands and among many peoples. In Russia there are a multitude of cathedrals,
monasteries and churches consecrated in his name. There is, perhaps, not a single
city without a church dedicated to him.
The first Russian Christian prince Askold (+ 882) was baptized in 866 by Patriarch
Photius (February 6) with the name Nicholas. Over the grave of Askold, St Olga (July
11) built the first temple of St Nicholas in the Russian Church at Kiev. Primary
cathedrals were dedicated to St Nicholas at Izborsk, Ostrov, Mozhaisk, and Zaraisk.
At Novgorod the Great, one of the main churches of the city, the Nikolo-Dvorischensk
church, later became a cathedral.
Famed and venerable churches and monasteries dedicated to St Nicholas are found at
Kiev, Smolensk, Pskov, Toropetsa, Galich, Archangelsk, Great Ustiug, Tobolsk. Moscow
had dozens of churches named for the saint, and also three monasteries in the Moscow
diocese: the Nikolo-Greek (Staryi) in the Chinese-quarter, the Nikolo-Perervinsk
and the Nikolo-Ugreshsk. One of the chief towers of the Kremlin was named the Nikolsk.
Many of the churches devoted to the saint were those established at market squares
by Russian merchants, sea-farers and those who traveled by land, venerating the wonderworker
Nicholas as a protector of all those journeying on dry land and sea. They sometimes
received the name among the people of “Nicholas soaked.”
Many village churches in Russia were dedicated to the wonderworker Nicholas, venerated
by peasants as a merciful intercessor before the Lord for all the people in their
work. And in the Russian land St Nicholas did not cease his intercession. Ancient
Kiev preserves the memory about the miraculous rescue of a drowning infant by the
saint. The great wonderworker, hearing the grief-filled prayers of the parents for
the loss of their only child, took the infant from the waters, revived him and placed
him in the choir-loft of the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) before his wonderworking
icon. In the morning the infant was found safe by his thrilled parents, praising
St Nicholas the Wonderworker.
Many wonderworking icons of St Nicholas appeared in Russia and came also from other
lands. There is the ancient Byzantine embordered image of the saint, brought to Moscow
from Novgorod, and the large icon painted in the thirteenth century by a Novgorod
Two depictions of the wonderworker are especially numerous in the Russian Church:
St Nicholas of Zaraisk, portrayed in full-length, with his right hand raised in blessing
and with a Gospel (this image was brought to Ryazan in 1225 by the Byzantine Princess
Eupraxia, the future wife of Prince Theodore. She perished in 1237 with her husband
and infant son during the incursion of Batu); and St Nicholas of Mozhaisk, also in
full stature, with a sword in his right hand and a city in his left. This recalls
the miraculous rescue of the city of Mozhaisk from an invasion of enemies, through
the prayers of the saint. It is impossible to list all the grace-filled icons of
St Nicholas, or to enumerate all his miracles.
St Nicholas is the patron of travelers, and we pray to him for deliverance from floods,
poverty, or any misfortunes. He has promised to help those who remember his parents,
Theophanes and Nonna.
St Nicholas is also commemorated on May 9 (The transfer of his relics) and on July
29 (his nativity).