To be at St. Nicholas Church for their patronal feast day, or altar feast, was heavenly. I rode down with friends and it took quite a while to get through the early morning commuter traffic. We ended up coming in a little late, but as soon as I entered I could feel that I was in a temple full of joy, the fullness of Christ and His Church.
Many people were wearing red and green clothing for the celebration, and plenty of poinsettias and red vestments and altar cloths filled the space. I had only been to this church once before, and I loved looking around at their icons, thinking about the significance of the different groupings of holy ones. Through a southern window the sunlight beamed down in a wide swath, which must have made the position of the choir director critical. It was very dramatic.
After Liturgy we enjoyed a concert of bells, and a feast of earthly food. A raffle is traditional for this parish’s feast day, and today the funds raised were to go to the victims of the Camp Fire in northern California. They raised a record amount, about $1500, and everyone was thrilled about that.
One of my last images of the blessed day was of three little girls all in red and white dresses, shyly singing a song in honor of the saint. You will have to form your own picture of that, because I had used up my phone’s battery by then. Holy Father Nicholas, we rejoice with you!
St. Nicholas is one of the “favoritest” saints in the Orthodox Church. I have read about him many times and don’t usually remember much. I didn’t grow up hearing about him as the real historical not-Santa-Claus person that he is, or knowing that there was such a thing as St. Nicholas Day, and since I became Orthodox I haven’t succeeded in implanting him in my heart in any satisfying way.
But we both live by and in the love of Christ, so he must be in my heart in spite of my neglect. I will pass on to you (again) what blessed me some years ago, from The Winter Pascha:
The extraordinary thing about the image of St. 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 in Nicaea 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 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.
-Fr. Thomas Hopko
Only in the 21st century was St. Porphyrios (Bairaktaris) officially recognized a saint by the Orthodox Church. He was born in 1907 and in this brief story of his life it is told that as a young boy he was inspired to go to Mount Athos, and stowed away on a boat to get there.
He wrote a book titled Wounded by Love. Just that phrase speaks something essential to my heart, and sort of sums up for me the example of the saints who shine the Light of the Savior into the world. The book I haven’t read yet, though it is featured in our parish bookstore and when I’m on duty I have once or twice looked inside the cover.
St. Porphyrios’s feast day is December 2, and while I have posted quite a few quotes from him on my blog in the past, I don’t think I have mentioned him on his day until now; here is a word of exhortation from, and to commemorate, this shining elder.
Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21]. — St. Porphyrios
[Update next day: I have seen a video just now on YouTube of St. Porphyrios’s life, very well done, with scenes from Greece and stories from many people of his clairvoyance and healings. Fascinating.]
Kindle in our hearts, O God,
the flame of love
that never ceases,
that it may burn in us,
giving light to others.
May we shine
forever in your temple,
set on fire
with your eternal light,
even your Son Jesus Christ,
our Saviour and Redeemer.
-St. Columba 521-597