Today — or yesterday if you want to be strict about liturgical time — is the commemoration of the repose of St. Seraphim of Sarov, a beloved holy father in the Orthodox Church and beyond. And while I was in church remembering him with hymns and prayers, this icon was waiting in a package on my front porch, painted and sent by my goddaughter Rosemary. It says right on the package: “Expected delivery date: January 4.” But it would be rude to make him sit in a truck or depot on his memorial day. Perhaps it was an angel who sped him along to my house two days early; it fulfilled my joy to have his icon with me and to be able to see through this particular “window into heaven,” on his very feast day.
“On January 2 , Father Paul, the saint’s cell-attendant, left his own cell at six in the morning to attend the early Liturgy. He noticed the smell of smoke coming from the Elder’s cell. Saint Seraphim would often leave candles burning in his cell, and Father Paul was concerned that they could start a fire.
“’While I am alive,’ he once said, ‘there will be no fire, but when I die, my death shall be revealed by a fire.’ When they opened the door, it appeared that books and other things were smoldering. Saint Seraphim was found kneeling before an icon of the Mother of God with his arms crossed on his chest. His pure soul was taken by the angels at the time of prayer, and had flown off to the Throne of the Almighty God, Whose faithful servant Saint Seraphim had been all his life.”
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