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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Saint Nicholas Prays for Us Little Ones

Saint Nicholas Prays for Us Little Ones

©2009, Randall A. Beeler

Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas, one of the most revered and loved Saints in the East and West.

His Feast Day is particularly appropriate for Advent, for the miracles attributed to him all speak of hope renewed in the face of the worst peril. Three sailors caught at sea in the midst of storm see a vision of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who guides them safely to port, in a manner eerily reminiscent of Christ calming the storm and walk the storm-tossed waters to his disciples (cf. Matt 14:24-33).

Thus, Saint Nicholas is the Patron of Sailors.

Three children are murdered by their father and, sickeningly, pickled in a barrel to hide the crime, a hideous and seemingly hopeless twisting of the familial relationship that we see too often played out in our storm-tossed world. Bishop Nicholas raises the pickled children from the dead and reveals the would-be murderer.

Thus, Saint Nicholas is the Patron of Children and Barrel-Makers—for he returns children and barrels to their morely homey and homely states.

Three Roman government officials are falsely accused and sentenced to death. Having seen Saint Nicholas' miracles, the three pagans invoke his name, and, on the night before the execution, Bishop Nicholas appears in a dream to the Emperor Constantine, bidding their release. Constantine comes to his senses and emancipates the death-row trio.

Thus, Saint Nicholas is the Patron of Prisoners (and the better sense of rulers, one hopes).

Three virgin daughters of a former nobleman in financial ruin are due, by his desperation, to be sold into prostitution because they have no dowry to enable their marriages. Into a bag (or a stocking), on three successive occasions, good Bishop Nicholas places a ball of gold and tosses it through their window, thereby redeeming them from poverty and prostitution.

Thus, Saint Nicholas is the Patron of Unmarried Women and of Pawnbrokers (pawn shops still display three golden balls outside their establishments as a vestigial veneration of the good Bishop).

In what initially seems an action uncharacteristic of so charitable a Saint, Nicholas is also known for slapping the heretic, Arius, at the Council of Nicea, as Arius attempted to promote the teaching that Christ was a created being and that the Trinity was a false doctrine. Stripped of his episcopacy and imprisoned for the deed, Nicholas is visited by the Virgin Mary who also visits the powers-that-be to reinstate him to his office.

Thus we see how Nicholas is the Patron of all the persons noted above and of numerous others: for Arianism was the creed of the elite, the final-gasp of paganism and fatalism in response to the Good News that Christ is God and has become one of us, so that no man, no woman, no child, no mater how poor or spit upon by the world lacks the divine inheritance of the Incarnation and the Redemption purchased by the flesh and blood of the God Who became man to die for us.

Each miracle of Saint Nicholas slaps in the face the elitism and fatalism of the world; his rescue of the poor and the helpless is the living out of the Gospel that the Arians sought to squash:

And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. 32 And all nations shall be gathered together before him: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. 34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: 36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry and fed thee: thirsty and gave thee drink? 38 Or when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and covered thee? 39 Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee? 40 And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. (Matt 25:31-40, RHE)
Arianism was the status quo that reared its ugly head in a world turned upside-down by the Christian Revelation of Emmanuel, which "God-With-Us" rebukes the rich, the worldly, the powerful whose very lives (and policies) dictate that God is with only those who have made themselves, who have the goods of the world in their hands and the levers of state at their command. Bow down and worship the way of the world; "'Look on my works and … despair!'" (Shelly, "Ozymandius")

Saint Nicholas will not.

Even if the children are murdered and embalmed in chemicals (like we do today with the unborn). Even if we sell away our daughters to a false vision of womanhood that would prostitute them to the powers of evil. Even if we imprison the innocent and crush the freedoms and rights of the human person. Even if our culture is adrift amid the storms of the age.

Crozier in hand, Saint Nicholas strikes back, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, on behalf of all that is decent, all that is down-to-earth, all that is the dignity of the human person as revealed in the straw of the manger and the cries of the newborn infant Whom Herod sought to snuff out.

With his fleshy slap, Nicholas reminds Arius—and us—that we are the same flesh that God takes as His own. That, despite the finery of princes and the convoluted heresies of the self-deluded academics, every pauper is a child of the Prince, the King, the One True God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, today, let us put out our shoes—not just children—but all of us. In those humble containers that keep us in contact with the soil of our world, let us find and enjoy the sweetness of our current lot in life.

We have everything to hope for this Advent.

O blessed Nicholas,
show compassion to me who fall down praying to thee;
and enlighten the eyes of my soul, O wise one,
that I may clearly behold the Light-Giver and Compassionate One.
The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith,
an icon of meekness and a teacher of temperance;
therefore, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty.
O Father and Hierarch Nicholas,
intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved. Amen.

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