Monday, December 06, 2010

Dec. 6th: Feast of St. Nicholas

As today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, I would to share two pieces with you. The first is a guest contribution by the moderator of, John Vernoski, and the second is a slightly modified reposting of our considerations of the customs and traditions associated with this feast, particularly as seen in parts of Northern Europe.

A very blessed St. Nicholas day to all NLM readers.

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December 6
The Festival of Saint Nicholas

by John Vernoski

Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra is transformed in our modern secular culture as Santa Claus - the man in the red suit who brings gifts at Christmas to all those who are good. It is interesting - and telling - to consider what the Church remembers him for. Yes, he is said to have punched Arias in the nose for denying the divinity of Jesus. But most of the stories that come to us through history are of him living the Christian life - like providing a dowry to three young women so they could marry and avoid slavery (the three bags of gold he threw through their windows landed in their stockings, and so today we hang our stockings by the chimney with care). All of the stories about Archbishop Nicholas that come to us through history are about love for people - especially the poor. St. Nicholas was good. So good that his goodness shines through history - and radiates even from the man in the red suit. Such goodness can only be found in one who dwells intimately with Lord - for He is the only good One (Mt19:17).

O holy father,
The fruit of your good works enlightens and delights the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot wonder at your measureless patience and humility?
At your tender care for the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O holy Nicholas,
You have divinely taught all things well,
Now wearing your unfading crown,
You intercede for our souls.

-- From the Vespers of St. Nicholas

The righteousness of your deeds has revealed you to your flock
As a rule of faith, a model of humility, and a teacher of abstinence.
Because of your lowliness, heaven was opened to you.
Because of your poverty, riches were granted to you.
O father and archbishop Nicholas,
Pray to Christ God to save our souls.

-- Troparion of St. Nicholas

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Feast of St. Nicholas -- or "Sinterklaas"

by Shawn Tribe

Iconographic Fresco of St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas; this is so in both the ancient and modern Roman calendar, as well as within the Byzantine calendar -- St. Nicholas the Wonderworker as he is called in the Byzantine East.

Within Central and Northern Europe, particularly Holland where it is known as "Sinterklaas" (i.e. St. Nicholas), this feast is marked by various customs both on the eve of St. Nicholas' feast day and also the day itself. To this day, the figure of "Sinterklaas" in many of those countries is still vested as a bishop:

From Fr. Francis X. Weiser's Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs:
In many parts of Europe children still receive his "visit" on the eve of his feast. Impersonated by a man wearing a long white beard, dressed in the vestments of a bishop, with mitre and crozier, he appears in the homes as a heavenly messenger. Coming at the start of Advent, he admonishes the children to prepare their hearts for a blessed and holy Christmas. He examines them on their prayers. After exhorting them to be good, he distributes fruit and candy and departs with a kindly farewell... (p. 340)

As for St. Nicholas himself, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes about him:
Bishop of Myra in Lycia; died 6 December, 345 or 352. Though he is one of the most popular saints in the Greek as well as the Latin Church, there is scarcely anything historically certain about him except that he was Bishop of Myra in the fourth century.

Some of the main points in his legend are as follows: He was born at Parara, a city of Lycia in Asia Minor; in his youth he made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine; shortly after his return he became Bishop of Myra; cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian, he was released after the accession of Constantine...

The relics of St. Nicholas are now kept in Bari, Italy at Basilica San Nicola.

The Altar and Ciborium of the Basilica San Nicola, Bari, Italy

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