Saint Nicholas - A Model for our Lives

Carlos Overstreet's picture

A Happy St. Nicholas Day!

It's really sort of funny to see how a 4th century Greek bishop became the ruddy nosed gift giver of European Christmas folklore. Yet the real life of Saint Nicholas is still shrouded in mystery to most.
The Church calls him a Wonderworker, because through his prayer many miraculous things have occurred. One such event took place before a storm. Nicholas spotted a fishing boat in a storm swell, and beseeching God to spare the men, he found himself amongst the men in the boat. In the same manner of bilocation as saints like St. Pio (who also worked many wonders), he appeared in two places at once. He told the men to have faith, and to pray to God who listens to all prayers. In this way, the boat was spared and the men made it all safely to shore. Other men said they saw Saint Nicholas on the shore, lifting his hands up to God in supplication at the same time the men said he was in the boat. Wonderworker indeed!

His most famous tale comes from his attendance at the great Council of Nicea. There, the bishops of the Church gathered to settle the question of Christ's nature. Was he the God-Man, or was he the adopted son of God. During one of the rousing debates on the floor, Arius who was persuasively articulating his view in front of the bishops and the emperor, was met with a flying fist in the face. St. Nicholas had stood from his seat and had been so filled with anger over the words of Arius, that he punched him out. Arius fell back and immediately cried out against Nicholas in anger. Soon, the imperial guard were surrounding the two men, and upon the emperor's orders, Nicholas was taken into custody. 
In his prison cell, he was stripped of everything but a pair of coarse clothes. Nicholas wept, and during the night, he cried out in anguish over his hasty actions. But Christ appeared to him, and consoling Saint Nicholas he asked "Why are you here?" To which, Nicholas answered, "Because I love you." With that, Christ returned to him his Omophorion (his Bishop's stole) and he left him. The next morning, the guards found Nicholas in silent prayer, with his Omophorion around his neck. Surprised they asked him how he had retrieved it. He said he had not, but that Christ had brought it to him. Immediately, the guards ran to the overseer who in turn sent a message to the emperor about what had happened. That afternoon, on imperial orders, Saint Nicholas was released from prison and allowed to rejoin the council of bishops, much to the disatisfaction of Arius and company. 
We see in Saint Nicholas this "Fire" that the writers of scripture tell us fills the soul of one who loves God. His love for Christ was such, that he couldn't bear to even hear an ill word spoken against Him. If only we were as brave and as faithful as Saint Nicholas. We would stand up for Christ whenever he is mocked by our family, or coworkers or public officials. Prudence of course, but how many of us rather than wishing to face confrontation, simply allow this to slide past and pretend we never heard it. Christ's words offer us cold comfort when He declares in the Gospel of Matthew "whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt 10:33). How many of us like Peter, deny Our Lord when it is not convenient for us? 

Saint Nicholas shows us that we must be willing to place ourselves even at the hands of those who would unjustly persecute us. "If they persecuted me" says the Lord  "so they will also persecute you." (John 15:20). Instead of wallowing in self pity, Nicholas cries out in repentance and like Peter confesses his Love for Christ. "Be as Men", "stand firm in the faith" says Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 16:13). We must love Christ with our whole heart, and be willing to accept what the world has for us, as his disciples. "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried" said GK Chesterton.
Let us stand firm in charity as Saint John Chrysostom says, being as men, guarding the truth as the most precious thing we own. As we prepare for the coming of our Savior in the Flesh, let us call to mind the life of Saint Nicholas this Advent season, and ask ourselves, how have I upheld Christ in the world. 
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