My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
Saint Nicholas the Wonder-Worker,
Archbishop of Myra (Part III)
The city of Patara, where the Lord guided Nicholas, was close to Myra. Since the Saint knew no one there, he sojourned among the poor of that city. His sole haven and consolation was the local church. At the time that Father Nicholas was in that city, Archbishop John of Myra had just reposed. The faithful inhabitants were searching for a hierarch worthy of the episcopal throne. Thereupon, the bishops and other clergy of the eparchy of Myra came together to select their new archbishop. Much thought and discussion took place as various candidates were scrutinized. One of the bishops rose up in their midst and addressed them: "O holy and sacred gathering, hearken to me! Those whom we prefer for archbishop, we deem excellent men among us; but let us entreat God that He might reveal His choice." They, therefore, adjourned their meeting. They fasted, and that very night they made entreaty to God to reveal who was worthy of the dignity. Suddenly, an Ange of the Lord appeared to a certain elderly bishop, saying, "O bishop, whey dost thou toil? The worthy archbishops is near at hand. Why do you all keep seeking for another one? Rise up and go to the church. Thou shalt behold a certain priest, full of undertaking and prudence, enter the doors of the church. His name is Nicholas, and he is filled with the Spirit. He it is whom you should consecrate metropolitan, for he is worthy to shepherd the people, and this is what God wills."
After that bishop beheld such a vision, he informed the other hierarchs. Upon hearing his disclosure, they gave glory to God for His revelation. The bishop who was vouchsafed the vision obeyed the words he heard in the vision. He entered the church, stood by the doorway, and awaited the coming of the priest prophesied by the Angel. At length, as the hour for Orthros (Matins) arrived, that bishop observed holy Father Nicholas walk into the church and pray. Father Nicholas, as usual, arrived before the other worshippers. The bishop perceived that this must be the man spoken of by the Angel. He approached Father Nicholas and said, "My child, how art thou called?" The Saint meekly answered, "Nicholas, O holy master (despota); I am the slave of your holiness." The bishop was certain that Nicholas was God’s choice, even as the Lord has spoken: "To whom will I have respect, but to the humble and meek, and the man that trembles at my words" (Isaiah 66:2)? The bishop then took Father Nicholas by the hand and brought him among the other bishops and clergy. As soon as they caught sight of Father Nicholas, they were well pleased and gave thanks to God Who granted them such a chief shepherd. Word traveled throughout the city quickly, so that a multitude of faithful came to the church. Thereupon, Father Nicholas was consecrated to the episcopacy. When the ordinand was presented to the faithful, one of the ordaining bishops addressed them: "Receive, brethren, the worthy archbishop, and shepherd sent forth by God. The Holy Spirit has anointed Archbishop Nicholas to be entrusted with your souls. We have found him whom we sought, but he was not chosen by us but by God Himself."
Initially, the Saint refused the dignity of such a high office, dreading the praise of men. However, before the repose of Archbishop John of Myra, the Saint had received a vision wherein he was commanded to accept consecration to the hierarchical rank. Saint Methodios, Patriarch of Constantinople (843-847 A.D.) and noted hagiographer, in his account of the Saint’s Life, records that Father Nicholas beheld a vision before he became a hierarch. The patriarch writes: "One night, Saint Nicholas beheld our Lord Jesus in glory. The Savior gave him the Evanggelion (Gospel book), which was adorned with gold, pearls, and precious stones. The Saint then saw that the Most Holy Theotokos stood at the right of her Son, bearing in her arms a bishop’s Omophorion, the symbol of episcopal dignity. The Saint then observed the Theotokos place the vestment upon the Evanggelion."
The holy man did not deem himself the proper person for such an office, yet he yielded on account of what was revealed to him in that vision. Thus, he bowed to the wish of the Holy Synod of bishops, clergy, and faithful, and received the elevation as though from God Himself. Who can recount Saint Nicholas’ toils, pains, sufferings, vigils, fasts, alms, and other good works after he was elevated to the episcopacy? The Saint, from the beginning of the episcopacy, was mindful of the words spoken to him by Christ while he was in the Holy Land. The Saint was often saying, "I am the slave of God. I live not for myself but others."
The First Ecumenical Synod (325 A.D.)
During Emperor Constantine’s reign, Arius emerged from Alexandria and spread his vile beliefs (heresy). Arius had been sufficiently educated int eh elements of secular learning. Arius began to publicly speak blasphemies against God, saying that Christ, the Logos (Word) of God, was NOT True God. Arius was thus dismissed as a blasphemer from his duties. Arius refused to be corrected and he continued to spread his heresy and lead others astray into his profane error. Arius was duly deposed and anathematized but he continued to proclaim his rotten dogma.
Emperor Constantine the Great, seeing the confusion being created in the Church, dispatched orders to every corner of the empire. He summoned all the hierarchs and chief monastics, that they should meet in the city of Nicaea and discuss Arius, who was shown to be at fault and a blasphemer. Thus, the First Ecumenical Synod was held in Nicaea in Bithynia during the reign of Constantine the Great, in 325 A.D. Among the notable men who were in attendance was the Wonder-Working Nicholas of Myra. They were men adorned with not only apostolic gifts but also the trials and sufferings of martyrdom through which they survived. According to the universal tradition of the Church, there were present 232 hierarchs, with 86 priests, 3 deacons, and monks, thus totaling 318 holy Fathers, together with a multitude of the lower clergy.
The Emperor took his seat on the throne, and one hundred and fifty-nine Fathers also took their seats. As mentioned before, the Synod had been assembled against Arius, who blasphemed that the Logos (Word) of God was not coessential with the Father; that is, that Jesus and was NOT True God, but, on the contrary, a creature and KTISMA, the Greek word meaning "SOMETHING BUILT." The sessions lasted three and one-half years, though Photios records six and one-half years. This Synod produced the divine Symbol of the Faith (The Nicene Creed of 325 A.D.), proclaiming the Son and Logos (Word) of God to be True God COESSENTIAL with the Father, saying: "I BELIEVE IN ONE GOD: the Father, Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, the One having been begotten of the Father before all the ages–Light of Light, True God of True God; having been begotten, NOT having been made; CO-ESSENTIAL with the Father; by Whom all things were made…"
The debates commenced with Arius were terribly agonizing. Arius kept monopolizing the meeting by his continual arguing. Saint Nicholas, who thanks to his mellifluous teaching kept the metropolis of Myra alone untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, was filled with divine zeal as another Prophet Elias. The holy Archbishop of Myra perceived how Arius was attempting to silence all the Christ-loving hierarchs, so he rose up, approached Arius, and gave him such a slap that Arius shook all over.
Arius protested to the Emperor who was much grieved by what had occurred in his presence. Constantine addressed the hierarchs: "Holy hierarchs, the law commands the severance of the hand which dares to strike another in the emperor’s presence. By your holiness’ leave, I commit the judgment to you. Decide the matter as you see fit." The hierarchs reproved, deprived him of his episcopal insignia, and incarcerated, that same night, there appeared to him in the prison both Christ and the Theotokos. They asked the hierarch, "O Nicholas, why has thou been imprisoned?" the holy man of God answered, "For your love." Christ then said to him, "Take this," and He presented the holy Gospel to Archbishop Nicholas. The Theotokos then gave him the hierarchical Omophorion. By the foregoing, that is, the receipt of these emblems of his hierarchical rank, it was revealed that the Saint’s boldness was pleasing to God Who repeated the revelation He had once given concerning the Saint.
The following day, certain acquaintances of the Saint brought the prisoner holy bread. Upon entering Saint Nicholas’ prison cell, they observed that he was loosed from his fetters and was clad with an Omophorion. In his hands, they noticed that he was holding and reading the Holy Gospel. They inquired of the Saint: "Where di you find these articles?" Saint Nicholas then communicated to them the entire truth. After the emperor was informed of this miraculous event, Constantine, acknowledged the evident manifestation of Divine approval toward the Saint, immediately ordered the archbishop’s removal from prison. The Emperor then sought Saint Nicholas’ forgiveness. The other hierarchs also asked the Saint’s pardon, and peace was restored. After the last session of the Synod, all the hierarchs, including our Saint Nicholas, returned to their Sees. (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