And again, my beloved, the great feast of St. Nicholas has emerged. What shall we say? Should we honor his virtues?
Should we praise his abstinence? As his Apolytikion says, he was the “teacher of abstinence”. For not only when he was older, but also when he was a child in the arms of his mother, he fasted from milk and did not nurse [on Wednesdays and Fridays].
Should we praise his meekness, for his Apolytikion says that he was the “icon of meekness”? Amidst insults and slanders and schemes of his enemies, he responded with great meekness. He teaches us, that we ourselves, no matter how many times we are insulted and slandered in this world, we must remain meek. There is no greater power than meekness, through which the demons of hell are conquered.
Or should we speak of his almsgiving, his great almsgiving? He would go at night to the homes of the poor, and to distribute gold coins, and he saved from filth and corruption.
Or should we speak of his faith, the great and unshakable faith which the Saint had? When the Church was endangered by the heresy of Arius, he hastened to the city of Nicea, and there, together with other Holy Fathers, worked towards the triumph of Orthodoxy. Of course, St. Nicholas did not have the gift of speaking like Athanasios the Great, or the debate skills of many of the other Fathers, he was unlettered. But what did this matter? When he heard Arius blaspheme Christ, this meek and humble one arose, and, as his life says, he struck the leader of heresy for his blasphemy. And this is a lesson for us, that when God is being offended, we must rise up. We, instead, whenever we ourselves are offended, whenever we are wronged, slandered, and condemned, then we are filled with wrath, and we become beasts and endanger the world. But, when Christ is being condemned and blasphemed, then we show indifference. The Saint showed the opposite. To the assaults against him, he responded with meekness, but when Christ was being wronged, he responded with strength, and for this reason he struck Arius. We have within us a lot of ego, not the name of Christ, like he did.
St. Nicholas, in other words, is the synopsis of all of the virtues, the expression of the Beatitudes of Christ, because in his person was implemented all of the Beatitudes of the Lord (Matthew 5:1-12).
But I, my beloved, wish to add to the image of the Saint two words that show that St. Nicholas was not only the merciful, and the meek, and the faithful servant dedicated to the Lord, but was furthermore the protector of the poor and those wronged, the protector of people who were condemned by the mighty ones of their day. I will mention one or two examples, then I will close.
The first is that, in his metropolis one morning, women ran, wailing and crying. They fell at the feet of St. Nicholas and said: “Please save us!” They entreated the Saint to save them, because their husbands were taken to prison and condemned to death. And their wives were in a terrible state. The Saint, as soon as he heard the terrible news, hastened to the prison. But at that hour the prison was empty, because they had taken them bound, and let them out into the fields to execute them. The Saint understood the danger. And that elder ran like a child and reached the place of execution. And as soon as he got there, he took the sword from the hands of the executioner, with which he was to slaughter those innocent men. And not this alone, but he greatly censured the tyrant of that city and threatened him, that he would give him up to Constantine the Great. And the tyrant came to his senses, was humbled and repented.
This was one situation when he saved men. And there is another. In the era of St. Constantine, three soldiers, brave and glorious soldiers, who conquered the barbarians in various wars and battles, and who were the boast of the Byzantine Empire, these three soldiers were slandered and condemned by evil and malicious men. They were seized and thrown in prison, and condemned to death within a few hours. They had no refuge other than the protection of St. Nicholas, And the life of the Saint, which we believe, says that that night, they entreated the Saint to protect them. And then the miracle occurred. What miracle? In his sleep, the Emperor saw a vision. He saw St. Nicholas strike him, and tell him: “What charge do you go to perform? Why do you wish to dip your hands in the blood of the innocent? These three soldiers, who are ready to be executed, these three are innocent men, and you must free them. Do not perform that which you are thinking to do.” In reality, when the Emperor awoke, he immediately called the general, and gave commands to free those three soldiers who had been condemned. They, full of joy and exaltation, hastened to express their thanks to the Saint who freed them.
But you will say: “Those are old things, and ancient stories. All of this happened “in those days…” No, my beloved! Not “in those days”. And today and tomorrow and the day after, and forever until the stars cease to shine, and the rivers to run, and the trees to fill with leaves, until the sun and the moon no longer shine, the miracles of God continue to exist. These are not mythological things.
Want a proof? In Kozani in 1944, in those years, the terrible years of slavery for our nation. Then, evil and corrupt men seized 300 men and threw them in prison. And there was wailing and mourning. Women, men and children wailing, because their execution was for sure. And that morning in Kozani, the city that has St. Nicholas as a patron saint, which has the church of St. Nicholas, dawned a very sad day of St. Nicholas. The bells of the church rung sadly, as if it were Holy Friday. I was then, as God continues to make me worthy to be, a preacher in Kozani. And I ascended the amvon full of tears. And I said: “Today, St. Nicholas does not celebrate. Fall on your knees, fall on your knees both young and old, and entreat the Saint to work his miracle…” And he worked his miracle. That evening, he freed the prisoners!
Our religion is not a lie, it is alive, wholly alive. And yesterday and today and tomorrow, forever there will be miracles. And if you go to the blessed islands of our fatherland, there you will see old sailors with white hair, who passed through oceans and seas, and sailed through the Atlantic ocean, and behold the joy in their eyes. At the hour when they met huge waves and sharks and fearsome beasts, when they were ready to be cast upside down and to be torn to pieces upon the rocks, at that terrible hour of death, when they beheld their death before them—I am not lying, but telling you the truth—they entreated the Saint. And the Saint worked his wonders. And they found themselves on the dry land without understanding how!
Therefore, it is a fact that the Saint is meek, and merciful, and faithful, and dedicated to God, it is a fact that he is a man of God. But it is also a fact that St. Nicholas is the protector of those who are weak.
This is the Saint whom we celebrate today. And all of us, with one heart and with one soul, united in the faith of Christ, in our Orthodox faith, let us entreat God, through the intercessions of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, to have mercy and save all of us. Amen.
(homily by Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes, given in the Holy Church of St. Nicholas in the city of Florina on 12/6/78)