December 6, 2012

Saint Nicholas

You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.
(Kontakion - Tone 3)

St. Nicholas

The epistle for the feast of Saint Nicholas speaks of obedience to leaders, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb 13:17). As Orthodox we understand obedience as part of the good order of a hierarchical church, and Saint Nicholas, as a bishop, would have been at home with this. But all too often obedience can become abusive and paternalistic, along the lines of “pray, pay and obey.” That’s not what Saint Nicholas or the gospels are about. Balancing the epistle’s call to obedience the gospel for today recalls the pastoral origins Jesus’ authority, for “the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19). People were drawn to His love, to God’s self-sacrificial love that poured out of him. They wanted to touch him, to be near him. And that is the case as well with all true pastors who, like Saint Nicholas, follow in the footsteps of Christ. Saint Nicholas revealed himself as a priest of Christ by giving up his soul for his people. That was the source of his authority and his remembrance from generation to generation for 1600 years.

There is nothing sadder than a priest or bishop having to demand obedience and remind everyone that he is charge, because it means he has lost the love of his people and the authentic authority that comes with that.

Saint Nicholas, pray to God for us, especially for those of us who are priests and bishops.

A Saint Nicholas Day Gift to our Parish Communities

A priest in the OCA recently received this kind note from a parishioner whose work often takes him away on weekends. I share it here because it reflects the vast majority of our parishes, where clergy and faithful are patiently working together to be the kind of community God desires.

Dear Fr. ___,

I have been working weekends to make ends meet, and I did not anticipate the time requirement on Sundays.  I think I can rectify that before April.

I just wanted to share with you how happy I was to come home to the parish, and how much joy it brings to worship with everyone there. I feel deep gratitude for our community and I was struck by several thoughts about our faith community.

During liturgy I was reminded that the Church is in a most remarkable and unique way the place where we encounter the Lord, and a “doorway” through which we enter into the heart of God.  At the same time I realize that this reality of Christ’s presence simply could not happen without a community of believers who see the crucified and risen One each day in their own individual lives, and who strive to love and live their faith regardless of their own wounds and struggles.

While I am always struck by the beauty of our church, its rich liturgy and wonderful music, I was also aware this Sunday of just how much small acts of kindness are powerful “sacraments” in their own right.  Smiling, welcoming faces, hugs, a hand on the shoulder, and yes, a hot bowl of oatmeal made with love and care…. these, too, make real the presence of the Lord within and among us.

This has been a special Thanksgiving for L. [his wife] and me.  We have much to be thankful for, and in particular we are grateful for the support we have received from our brothers and sisters at the parish.  We also want to thank you and N. [Father’s wife] personally, for we know that your leadership and care over the years has fostered a community rich in faith and love.

God bless you both!

On this Saint Nicholas Day may God bless all of you faithful clergy, wives and parishioners who from week to week work to make your parishes communities where God and human kindness are encountered.