Metropolitan Methodios Celebrates Vespers of St. Nicholas in Clinton, MA
On the evening of Wednesday, December 5th, 2018, His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios, along with the clergymen from the surrounding parishes celebrated the Vesper service at the St. Nicholas Parish in Clinton, MA. His Eminence congratulated the faithful members of the parish, despite being a small parish in numbers they are very bright examples of our Greek Orthodox faith and cultural heritage.
The homily was delivered by The Rev. Fr. Nicholas Livingston, associate pastor of the St. Spyridon Cathedral of Worcester, MA.
Apolytikion Mode IV
An example of faith and an icon of gentleness; A teacher of restraint you have shown your flock the truth of things: You gained by humility the heights, And riches by poverty. Father and Hierarch Nicholas: Intercede with Christ our God That our souls be saved.
Your Eminence, Reverend Fathers, and all the faithful gathered together to celebrate: Χρόνια Πολλά!
St. Nicholas is a person who is so famous and so commercialized, that it is easy to lose sight of who he actually was. Tonight, I would like us to look at his apolytikion, his festal hymn, to remember the man, what he did, what he was like, and why we remember him so fondly every year. Byzantine hymnography is often our greatest source of history and theology, all wrapped up into a beautiful sounding hymn.
Let us look at his life through his hymn.
The hymn begins by calling St Nicholas an “example of faith”. This is no doubt because of the magnitude and completeness of his holy life. He lived in such a way that he emulated Christ himself, which is exactly the type of person we strive to emulate. St Paul told us this same thing, that if it is too daunting to imitate Christ, then be imitators of Paul, because his life was based on Christ’s. So, too, we can be imitators of Nicholas. We know that from a young age, he dedicated his life to the Church. When his parents died, he followed Christ’s command to give to the poor and needy. This is especially admirable when we consider that he did this as a relatively young man who could have lived comfortably. We know that he was a bishop in Myra, which is modern day southwest Turkey. His life-long dedication to the Church is an example in itself, but the fullness of his example of faith will be spelled out throughout this hymn.
The next descriptor calls St. Nicholas an “icon of gentleness”. He lived a simple, unassuming life, focusing all his efforts on the care of others. As we said, he was the spiritual shepherd to his people, and he provided for them, whatever their needs were, out of his gentle love for them. He was a gentle man, who drew, and continues to draw, people to himself and through him, to Christ.
The hymn continues by calling Nicholas a “teacher of temperance” (or restraint/self control). As we said, he was unassuming and always in control of himself; he lived a properly ordered life. By his actions in this way, he showed the faithful the truth of things, the true image of life and faith, by his actions, by his deeds, by his life, and by his love for others. Now this claim of self-control may seem somewhat contradictory when we consider what he is perhaps most well-known for: at the 1st Ecumenical Council in 325 many of the bishops were gathered together to formulate the Doctrine if the Trinity. Most of the Nicene Creed was written at this council, and completed at a later date. The heretic Arius was speaking his lies that the Son of God was a creation and not co-beginningless with the Father and out of his deep offense on behalf of God, St. Nicholas struck him in the face. It is never appropriate for a clergyman to strike another person, so he was thrown in prison. But that night, Christ and Panagia appeared to him, presenting him with his omophorion, the image of his episcopacy. This was an indication that even his strike on Arius was not out of passion, but out of his deep love and piety for Christ.
The next line is where the beauty of Orthodoxy’s paradox is found. We sing that Nicholas “gained heights by humility” (by lowering himself). It is through his genuine humility that he has become so beloved by Christians around the world. He was a contemporary of some of the greatest orators, preachers, and scholars the Church has ever seen (Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and not too long before Chrysostom), yet we have no writings of his to learn from. Perhaps the people could not remember, or perhaps he asked them not to write them down; we do not know for sure. What we do know, is that despite the absence of writings or sermons, he left behind a presence in the hearts of the people he touched; they remembered and told the stories of his great deeds for them, and these stories have lived on for generations. Not only did he try to avoid the publicity of his deeds (living out Christ’s command to keep your left hand from knowing what the right is doing), but he also took care not to embarrass the people he was helping. This is best seen in the story of when a man had no money to provide a dowry for his three daughters, and so St. Nicholas threw bags of money through their window and into their drying socks over the fire. This, of course, is the basis for the stocking practice of Christmas today. Had these girls not been married, they surely would have been given over to slavery, to human trafficking. But St. Nicholas was attentive to the needs of this family and kept their own poverty hidden, providing for their need in secret. We can see how his loving actions for people have a lasting impact even now, nearly 1700 years later. Even if the story has been changed and his role is lost and distorted by society, we in the Church know the truth of his life. We know St. Nicholas. We can see that through his humility his fame grew to great heights of veneration.
As we mentioned at the beginning, St. Nicholas gave away the great wealth of his inheritance to serve the poor. By doing this, he not only lived out the command of our Lord to serve those in need, but he gained the heavenly treasure promised by our Lord. This is what it means when the hymn says, “he gained riches by poverty”.
Lastly, it is because of all these things added up that he gained entrance to the heavenly kingdom and is a constant support and intercessor for us with Christ our God that He have mercy on us and save our souls.
St Nicholas is, as other hymns of tonight explain, the living embodiment of what his name means. Νικόλαος. Through his actions and everything he communicated, he helped people achieve victory over whatever obstacles were in their life. He is so much more than the inspiration for Santa Claus; he is the protector of orphans, the defender of widows, the patron of sailors, the example for priests, a refuge of compassion, and the helper and intercessor for all, ready to come to the aid of whoever calls upon him in faith.
We too, if we embrace the attributes of St. Nicholas, which, by no coincidence are several of the fruits of the Spirit Paul tells the Galatians about: faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, humility, and poverty, we can follow St Nicholas to the heights and riches of the Heavenly Kingdom.
May God be praised in his saints.