Friday, December 7, 2007

Nothing Extraordinary... Just Divinely Good

Dear Parish Faithful,

There are 20 days of charity, prayer and fasting left before Christmas ... "Redeem the time."

Q. How do you know that a parish is Orthodox?
A. When you lose count of how many of the male members are named Nicholas.


Therefore, our parish remains steadfastly Orthodox, with Nicholas remaining a very popular name - represented by young and old and various ethnic backgrounds. I count nine with the name of Nicholas, though we will lose Nick and Amanda Vatamaniuc as they make their move to Virginia permanent after this weekend. We wish them the best. That leaves us with eight other Nicholases to celebrate their name day on this December 6. (If allowances are made for different spellings, male and female forms, and even the parish clergy, Steven/Stephen/Stefanie also totals eight). For today, though, we want to wish our parish Nicholases a blessed name day - many years!

In his book, The Winter Pascha, Fr. Thomas Hopko has a chapter dedicated to St. Nicholas. The following two paragraphs are taken from that chapter:

Sad as it is to see Saint Nicholas transformed into the red-suited Santa Claus of the secular winter "holidays," it is easy to understand why the holy bishop has become so closely connected with the festival of Christ's birth. The stories about the saint, fabricated and embroidered in Christian imagination over the ages, in various times and places, all tell of the simple faith and love of the man known only for his goodness and love.

The extraordinary thing about the image of Saint Nicholas in the Church is that he is not known for anything extraordinary. He was not a theologian and never wrote a word, yet he is famous in the memory of believers as a zealot for orthodoxy, allegedly accosting the heretic Arius at the first ecumenical council for denying the divinity of God's Son. He was not an ascetic and did no outstanding feats of fasting and vigils, yet he is praised for his possession of the "fruit of the Holy Spirit ... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (GAL. 5:22-23). He was not a mystic in our present meaning of the term but he lived daily with the Lord and was godly in all of his words and deeds. He was not a prophet in the technical sense, yet he proclaimed the Word of God, exposed the sins of the wicked, defended the rights of the oppressed and afflicted, and battled against every form of injustice with supernatural compassion and mercy. In a word, he was a good pastor, father, and bishop to his flock, known especially for his love and care for the poor. Most simply put, he was a divinely good person. (The Winter Pascha, pp. 38-39)


The Church's hymnography captures the image of this holy bishop thus:

O holy father,
The fruit of your good deeds has enlightened and
delighted the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot wonder at your measureless patience
and humility?
At your graciousness to the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O Bishop Nicholas,
You have divinely taught all things well,
And now wearing your unfading crown, you intercede
for our souls.
Vespers of the Feast of Saint Nicholas


Fr. Steven

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