“Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and with Thy governing Spirit establish me…” Ps. 50:12 (LXX)
Recently, we celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas. This is not the “Saint Nick” or “Santa Claus” who is so beloved, as well as so mocked and lampooned in our secular culture. This is the 4th century bishop who “dedicated his life to his people and saved the innocent from death.” Our Orthodox faith, so radical and counter-cultural when compared to most aspects of our dying secular culture, is just as radical when facing the reality of the life of St. Nicholas.
Most of us have grown up with the image of “Santa” firmly fixed upon our minds. He is obese, dressed in a foolish red suit, attended by elves and rides in a sleigh drawn by magical flying deer. Somehow, he travels the world over, bringing gifts of toys and other goodies to little boys and girls who have behaved themselves and are worthy of material rewards.
He leaves coal in a stocking for the bad actors. At least, he used to…
I think that it is foolish for Christians to perpetuate this bizarre myth to our children. Not morally wrong, not evil…just foolish. Foolish and potentially damaging. For one thing, it is a lie. And it is the kind of lie which gets parents in deep trouble when their children find out that “Santa isn’t real.” I have often wondered how many children make the logical jump from: “If Santa isn’t real and my parents lied about him, what about God? Does HE exist? Is HE real?”
This is why I believe that we benefit from telling the glorious truth about St. Nicholas. If we guide our children to the icons of him in our churches, it will immediately become plain to them that there is quite a difference between this man and the big man at the mall in the red suit. And if we honor St. Nicholas with our prayers and devotion, keeping his feasts and his memory as holy, we will begin a process of restoration in our little corner of the world. We will restore truth, reality and holiness to a place that might have once been filled with falsity, and the idol-worship of material pleasures.
The restoration of the true image of St. Nicholas can lead us to pray for the restoration of our broken relationship with Christ. While contemplating the Feast, I found myself thinking of the words of the Son of Man in the first chapters of the Apocalypse, words which I’m sure cast fear into the hearts of the Christians of Asia Minor. I understood the strong words of Christ to them to be a command of restoration, for them to work with Him in order to be restored to their zealous first love of God (Ephesus); and to cease being lukewarm in faith (Laodicea). If we see the Feast of St. Nicholas as an opportunity to restore the truth to his “story,” so we can also be inspired to ask God to help us restore our zealous and fiery first love for Him. He can once again occupy “first place” in our hearts.
Let us ask this great and holy ascetical bishop to pray for us, that we might become aware of our brokenness before God and arise to zealous love for Him and prayer to Him, that truth may reign in our lives and that our souls may be saved.
On this Sunday we celebrate the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, or, as they are also called, the “physicians without silver.” They are those saints who, out of pure love of God and neighbor, healed the sick and mended the souls of others while asking nothing in return. It was a pure self-sacrifice born out of love. Today we remember the great saints Cyrus and John, Tryphon, Artemius, and the others, as well as Cosmas and Damian, who lived and were martyred in Roman times. And of course, we also remember and honor our great patron, the martyr and healer Panteleimon.