A HOMILY IN HONOR OF SAINT
NICHOLAS OF MYRA

About Living Communion with God

          Brothers and sisters!

 

          Today we are gathered together to honor, not just the Resurrection of Christ and the saints of the day, as is usual on Sundays, but also the Lord’s great favorite, the holy hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas of Myra.  The very fact that we have come to church today for this purpose is praiseworthy and pleasing to the Lord of Heaven, Who is looking down benevolently upon us.  Furthermore, the one who is the cause of our celebration, Saint Nicholas, is doubtless looking down upon us as well, and is interceding for us before the throne of the Most High.  Seeing our devotion to him, he beseeches that divine mercy be poured out upon us, and guides our footsteps on the path that leads to the life which is eternal and ever-blessed.

          We all know that to praise and bless a saint means not only to send up hymns of glorification to him, but to strive to emulate him in holiness.  Therefore on this day, and later this week, when we will serve the Vigil and the Liturgy for the actual feast of the great hierarch Nicholas, we should re-read the Life of the saint and, with the memory of his struggles for the Lord refreshed in our minds, ask ourselves:  With which virtues was the soul of Saint Nicholas adorned?  What are his particular good deeds and qualities which we should imitate?

          The truth is that Saint Nicholas was the embodiment of every virtue, of virtues so numerous they can hardly be counted.  Nonetheless, it is possible to affirm that outwardly, his preeminent virtue was compassion for his fellow man.  Inwardly, his chief virtue was doubtless his striving with his whole heart, his whole soul, for living communion with God.

          When we read the Life of Saint Nicholas, we see that his communion with God began very soon after his birth, while he was still an infant.  At his Baptism, he stood for three hours unassisted in the holy font, thereby glorifying the Most Holy Trinity, whose chosen servant he would become.  He did this, obviously, through the power of divine grace, which was already working mightily in him, in view of his future struggles for Christ.  After the saint’s Baptism, this grace operated even more effectually in Saint Nicholas, and furthered his first devout exertions of the will on behalf of the Lord.  As a result of this ever-increasing cooperation, this synergy of grace and personal exertion in him, the young Saint Nicholas went from strength to strength in Christ.  It never failed until the last days of his life on earth.  The saint was constantly adding labors to labors, doing his very best never to act contrary to the commandments or will of God, and never allowing his living communion with the Lord to lapse.

          And what were the chief means that Saint Nicholas employed to achieve, sustain, and intensify living communion with God?  His beautiful life, compiled by Saint Demetrius of Rostov from Saint Symeon Metaphrastes and other ancient sources, explains clearly.  They were as follows:

          First, from his youth Saint Nicholas scrupulously avoided useless not to say harmful friendships and conversations.

          Second, he carefully guarded himself from familiar speech with women and looking at them in the face.

          Third, he was always to be found in the Lord’s holy temple, in accordance with the words of Scripture:  I have chosen rather to be an outcast in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of sinners.  For better is one day in Thy courts than thousands elsewhere.1

          Fourth, he was constantly immersed in the reading of soul-saving books and especially the divine Scriptures, and in meditation on holy themes.

          And fifth, even as a child and youth, long before embracing monasticism, he became deeply devoted to mental prayer; that is, he very early in life became a serious practitioner of the Prayer of Jesus.

          As a result, divine grace worked more and more powerfully in the saint, cleansing his soul, assisting him in the inner warfare against unworthy thoughts, and purifying his heart of the passions.  His heart purged of sin, Saint Nicholas attained the longed-for inner transfiguration in Christ and, with it, profound humility.  His noetic eyes became capable of seeing wondrous things, which those of others cannot, and with them he beheld within the invisible God.  Christ abode in him and he in Christ, so that he became one spirit 2 with the Lord.

          Having early attained the summits of the life in Christ, the blessed Nicholas naturally wished to prevent the noetic robbers, the demons, from pilfering his spiritual wealth, so he entered a monastery.  But God was not pleased that the great treasure-chest of every excellence, which He intended to use to enrich the world, should remain hidden in a little cell – buried, as it were, in the ground.  By the will of God, Nicholas was consecrated Bishop of Myra.  The saint had earlier begun his service to God through people, for he was ordained a priest before he became a monk.  Now he resumed and intensified this service.  Whenever he heard that someone was in danger or otherwise in need of help, he hurried to him.  While still alive, he could hear when others even people who were far away called on him for aid, and he hastened joyfully to their assistance.  He did this, not out of sentimental sympathy or even simple human compassion, but because inwardly he was ever in a state of intense communion with God.  His love for his fellow-man was the outward expression of his mighty love for God and his inseparable union with Christ.

          After his repose in the Lord, the saint extended his philanthropia, his active, compassionate love for others, so that it reached throughout the world and even now brings joy and consolation to all who call upon him, no matter where they may be.

          And so, beloved brothers and sisters, as we honor during these days the great Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, let us praise him for his holy Christian life, his profound humility, his deep faith, and his intense inner communion with God.  So doing, let us follow closely in his footsteps, cleansing our minds and hearts of sin, performing deeds of mercy, and cultivating a loving disposition towards our neighbor.  At the same time, let us not forget to devote ourselves first and foremost to our inner relationship with God the most important thing of all.

          By the prayers of the holy hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, may each of us attain the blessed life which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Unto Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory for all ages.  Amen.

 

1. Ps. 83:11,10

2. I Cor. 7:17