Celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas, we are to ask ourselves what makes the archbishop of Myra so popular. Indeed, the popularity of Saint Nicholas cannot be disputed. He is venerated not only by Christians but also by Muslims. Within the weekly cycle of liturgical services, the Church asks for his intercession before the throne of Christ on every Thursday. For many western and eastern Europeans - and also for some Americans - the exchanging of gifts is associated with the feast of Saint Nicholas. And children of virtually every race and religion hold on to an image-sometimes a caricature-of a mysterious person who annually brings gifts to their homes.
Who is Saint Nicholas? He has left neither theological treatises nor personal correspondence. Very little is known about his family and upbringing and though he is said to have participated in the first ecumenical council, convened in Necea in 325, his name is not listed among the attending bishops.
On the one hand, so little is known about Saint Nicholas. Yet on the other hand, we recognize his face and celebrate his life of pastoral care rooted in his fidelity to the Gospel. As an image of humility, his personal life remains very transparent. But as the humble one called by Christ to be pastor, servant, teacher, intercessor and protector of the innocent, the memory of his ministry is indelibly inscribed on the minds and hearts of the faithful.
It is only because of the self-emptying love of Saint Nicholas that we can come to know him. The kenotic love of Saint Nicholas enables him to draw near to each of us. He spared nothing in order to help and to edify his flock. His love for the needy coupled with his love for the catholic faith enabled him to literally save those in his care from falling into sin. As pastor and therefore as theologian Saint Nicholas shows us how love and truth form an inseparable bond. Thus, the generosity of Saint Nicholas and his caring love for his flock was fueled by his love for sharing Christ. Saint Nicholas was keenly aware that without the crucified and risen Christ, who is both God and man, his ministry would bear the fruits of ignorance and heresy. Without the Christ of the Gospels, Saint Nicholas knew he could not be able to guide his flock into new and eternal life.
Like the Apostle Paul, Saint Nicholas knew that fidelity to the true faith and therefore fidelity to Christ maintained the unity of the Church. From within this life of truth and unity Saint Nicholas reminds us that we have been called to a new manner of existence. We have been called to "attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... [and] to grow up in every way into him who is the head... "(Ephesians 4: 13-15).
By making himself transparent - by using his ministry to bring others to Christ - Saint Nicholas continues to find a place in the minds and hearts of the modern Christian. Celebrating his feast, we have the opportunity to transcend legend and caricature. By celebrating his feast, we are offered the blessing to gaze upon the face of the venerable shepherd of Myra whose ministry brings the gift of Christ our Savior into our lives.
Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida