Category Archives: saints

The electrician learns of his special day.

Today the cousins and brothers who are the electricians on my project brought a fourth young man who was introduced as Nico. After they had all been working upstairs and I had been cleaning downstairs all morning, I began to wonder if any of them knew that today was St. Nicholas Day.

Then it occurred to me that “Nico” is probably short for “Nicholas,” so I ran up and waited nearby while he finished installing a fixture in the new hallway, and asked him if he was named for St. Nicholas. He said Nicholas was indeed his “real name,” and I said, “Today is your day! It’s St. Nicholas Day.” He had no idea, poor boy. But now he knows; I told him St. Nicholas is probably praying for him today.

Until that little conversation I hadn’t thought of putting anything pertinent on my blog, but it made me want to take advantage of the calendar to honor St. Nicholas again. I am giving you (for the third time!) a quote from Fr. Thomas Hopko below, in my post re-published from last year. Those of you who have had enough of that might like to go instead to this blog post from on how the memory of St. Nicholas can help us resist the spirit of the age and the “talk about our having ‘the best Christmas ever!’ It is as if Christmas is a rush that brings us perfect happiness.” It is here: “Saint Nicholas and the Meaning of Christmas.”

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

We have needed just such a drink.

…the grace of the Spirit takes possession of the quiet soul, and gives it a taste of the unspeakable good things to come, which no passionate and negligent eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of such a man (cf. I Cor. 2:9). This taste is the earnest of these good things, and the heart which accepts these pledges becomes spiritual and receives assurance of its salvation.   -St. Gregory Palamas

Today we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas. Frequently I am so scattered that I forget to look at any calendar: my wall calendars or my everyday planning calendar or the church calendar. But today I did, so I noticed. Last year I attended the most enriching retreat during which we were taught much about the spiritual life, understanding and practices that are our inheritance from St. Gregory, but I never managed to process it in a way that I could share here.

Nor could I look it up in my notes, because of not being able to find them in the remodeling upheaval. So I read what St. Nicolai has to say about him in his Prologue. Here is a bit of it:

St. Gregory Palamas learned much through heavenly revelations. After he had spent three years in stillness in a cell of the Great Lavra, it was necessary for him to go out among men and benefit them with his accumulated knowledge and experience. God revealed this necessity to him through an extraordinary vision: One day, as though in a light sleep, Gregory saw himself holding a vessel in his hand full to overflowing with milk. Gradually, the milk turned into wine which likewise spilled over the rim, and drenched his hands and garments.

Then a radiant youth appeared and said: “Why would you not give others of this wonderful drink that you are wasting so carelessly, or are you not aware that this is the gift of God’s grace?” To this Gregory replied: “But if there is no one in our time who feels the need for such a drink, to whom shall I give it?” Then the youth said: “Whether there are some or whether there are none thirsty for such a drink, you are obligated to fulfill your debt and not neglect the gift of God.” Gregory interpreted the milk as the common knowledge (of the masses) of moral life and conduct, and the wine as dogmatic teaching.

Also I mused on quotes from him that I found online, such as the one at top. Here are three more that give me courage:

Life of the soul is union with God, as life of the body is union with the soul. As the soul was separated from God and died in consequence of the violation of the commandment, so by obedience to the commandment it is again united to God and is quickened. This is why the Lord says in the Gospels, ‘The words I speak to you are spirit and life’ (John 6:63).

Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful’ (Psalm 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.

Given that we desire long life, should we not take eternal life into account? If we long for a kingdom which, however enduring, has an end, and glory and joy which, great as they are, will fade, and wealth that will perish with this present life, and we labour for the sake of such things; ought we not to seek the kingdom, glory, joy and riches which, as well as being all-surpassing, are unfading and endless, and ought we not to endure a little constraint in order to inherit it?

-St. Gregory Palamas

St. Michael the Chief Commander

 

Today we commemorate St. Michael and all the Bodiless Powers. This feast day was established at the beginning of the fourth century, even before the First Ecumenical Council. This page on the Orthodox Church in America website explains the nine ranks of angels and much about St. Michael, the Chief Commander of angels.

 

 

 

When I arrived at church I saw a rose gracing the damp and grey day,
so I memorialized it, too.

Father Stephen reminded us of a prayer that came from his son at about four years old:

Dear St. Michael,
Guard my room.

Don’t let anything
eat me or kill me.

Kill it with your sword.
Kill it with your sword.
Amen.

He shared other stories on his blog about children especially, who have seen their guardian angels. Our rector in his homily noted that many of us have our physical senses finely tuned so that we can know, when we taste wine, where the grapes were grown; and when we hear music we often know if it’s off-key, or even who composed it. But our spiritual senses are usually so dull that we not only can’t see our angels, but we mostly ignore them. In any case, they are there, guiding and protecting us! Let’s try to pay more attention.