My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE LIFE OF SAINT NICHOLAS THE WONDER-WORKER (Part II)
The Three Maidens
At that time, there was a very wealthy man in the city of Patara who had three beautiful maiden daughters. From the enemy’s malice, this father had fallen on hard times and into deep poverty. He then conceived the criminal notion of committing his virgin daughters to harlotry, that by means of this profession their family of our four might procure life’s necessities. Though the wretched father of these three daughters was resolved to put his scheme into effect, yet the All-Good God, knowing the secret things of the heart, desired to deliver the souls of those three girls from perdition and, at the same time, reveal the concealed virtue of the Saint. What did God, therefore, dispense in His economy? During that same day, when the father revealed his plan to convert his home into a brothel and to sell his daughters into prostitution, Saint Nicholas, by Divine grace, learned of this impending catastrophe and abhorred it. Thereupon, he was determined to do something about it and made hasted to save the maidens’ souls from this predicament. The Priest Nicholas bound three hundred gold coins in a handkerchief and secretly went by night to that formerly wealthy father’s house. The Saint observed an open window of the house and cast the handkerchief laden with coins through the window. It landed with a noise, but the Saint did not tarry to see how or by whom it might be retrieved. He instead quickly took himself away under the cover of night, lest any should recognize him; for he was ever mindful of the Gospel words: "BE TAKING HEED NOT TO DO YOUR ALMS BEFORE MEN, IN ORDER TO BE SEEN BY THEM; OTHERWISE YE HAVE NO REWARD WITH YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN THE HEAVENS" (Matthew 6:1). Moreover, Father Nicholas did not wish to embarrass the sensibilities of the former wealthy man who was now in penury. Thus, he was resolved to act secretly, even as the Savior pronounces in the sacred Gospel: "WHEN THOU ART DOING ALMS, LET NOT THY LEFT HAND KNOW WHAT THY RIGHT HAND IS DOING, SO THAT THINE ALMS MIGHT BE IN SECRET" (Matthew 6:3-4). The Saint wished to avoid the praise of men that he might receive only praise from God.
Thus, Saint Nicholas practiced almsgiving (charity) in secret. The following morning, when the father and three daughters arose, it was the father who found the bound handkerchief inside his house. He picked up and untied the knot. Imagine his surprise at beholding the coins! He stood there as one beside himself, and then rubbed his eyes, scarcely believing what lay before him, thinking it was an illusion. After he had composed himself somewhat, he set about collecting and stacking the coins that he might calculate the amount. He found the sum to be exactly three hundred gold coins. What feelings do you think filled his soul in that hour? On the one hand, he rejoiced for the good fortune he was vouchsafed; but, on the other hand, he was filled with the desire to learn the identity of his patron. Since he could identify no one as his probable benefactor, he gave thanks to God. Straightway, that same day, after using some of the money for the family’s immediate needs, he betrothed his eldest daughter to a certain wealthy man of that city. The father of the bide cherished the hope that, as God dispensed to provide for his firstborn daughter with a dowry, He would furnish dowries for his other two daughters. Thus, after the eldest was duly married, the father’s conduct in the use of the money pleased the Saint immensely, as this was according to God’s will in the case of all three daughters’ futures. Saint Nicholas, with the intention of assisting the second daughter, then prepared another handkerchief with the same amount of coinage. He went quietly and secretly to the house. Under the cover of night, he cast the bound handkerchief through the same open window. When the father and his two remaining daughters arose in the morning, the father quickly looked to see if he had received anything.
Once again, he discovered a tied handkerchief, which unfurled to reveal the sum of three hundred florins. He marveled at this second recurrence and became consumed with curiosity to learn who had the goodness to bestow such generous gifts. He began imploring God with tears and saying, "God and Lord of mercy, Who dispenses in Thine economy the salvation of man and Who wishes not the death of the sinner but that he should return to life and live, Thou art He Who descended from out of the heavens on account of our sins: reveal to me Thy faithful slave and my benefactor, that I might know who it is that wrought such charity that I might be ransomed from the hands of the devil." This was the prayer and longing of the father. The father next betrothed his second daughter. He still maintained his hope in God that, as the first two daughters were provided for handsomely, in like manner he would find assistance in the matter of his youngest daughter.
From that day, the father was ever attending to that open window in the event his benefactor should appear. The father’s plan was to run and see who might be his patron. After the holy Priest Nicholas beheld that the second daughter entered into lawful marriage, he wished to help establish the third daughter. He again prepared a handkerchief with another three hundred coins. The Saint approached the open window secretly by night. Below the window, inside the house, the father with his third daughter waited for their secret benefactor. Then suddenly a bound handkerchief flew in through the window and made a sound as it hit the floor. The father quickly took to his heels. He flung open the door to his house and hastened to overtake the fleeing figure whom he detected at a distance. "Stop! Stop!" he cried, "Do not hide thyself from me!" The Priest Nicholas, observing he was being pursued, ran to avoid being found out. The father immediately recognized Father Nicholas, because the priest was well-known for both his virtue and noble bearing. The father fell down the Saints feet and with tears began saying, "I thank thee, O slave of God, that thou didst pity me, the wretched one, and performed these charitable acts on my behalf, the miserable one. If thou hadst not overtaken me in my sin, I should have perished in both soul and body in a vile manner." The father attempted to kiss the Saint’s feet, but Father Nicholas drew away. The Saint, seeing that he was discovered, wished to exact a promise from the father and said, "For the sake of the kindness shown thee, do me the favor of saying nothing regarding it for as long as I live; otherwise, I shall hold thee responsible before God." The Saint uttered these words and immediately departed. The following day, the third daughter became engaged to be married. After she was married, the father continued his life in peace, mindful of giving glory to God. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the father kept the secret of this great good rendered by the Saint, and so it was made known much later. It is a deed that encourages us to aspire to such heights as the Saint. His many other acts of kindness and generosity remained concealed, even as he wished. God alone fully knows the labors of Saint Nicholas. Nevertheless, we, from the one history given, may ascertain his other achievements done in secret. Again, the Saint was loath to receive the praise of men, for he sought only God’s glory. The fact is, however, that as much as Father Nicholas kept concealing his works, so God reveal His servant and honor him; for the good works done by Saint Nicholas honored God. (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George