FEAST–DECEMBER 19TH (EAST), DECEMBER 6TH (WEST)
ST. NICHOLAS is one of the most popular saints in both the Eastern and Western Churches. He was the bishop of Myra in Lycia (Modern Turkey) and was present at the Council of Nicea. Beyond this, all we know of him is legend. His first “life” was written in the 10th centyury by Simeon Metaphrastes.
At the Council of Nicea he was fierce defender of the eternal Divinity of Christ and opponent of Arius of Alexandria who delcared: “..there was a time when the Word was not!” One legend has him so outraged at Arius that he took a swing at him and knocked him to the ground. His brother bishops were outraged at so un-episcopal behavior that they removed him from the order of bishops. That night, Jesus and his holy Mother appeared to him and the Savior returned the Book of the Gospels to him (and thereby his authority to preach) and the Blessed Virgin gave him back his Episcopal robes (thus the authority of his office.) In icons of the saint, the figures of Jesus and Mary are often shown on either side of him giving him the Gospels and his Omiphorion (bishop’s stole.)
St. Nicholas is also the patron of Children. During a famine he heard about a butcher who seemed always to have ready meat even when no one else did. He came and blessed the barrel of pickled meat and out came three children that the butcher had slain and was preparing to sell.
He is also the patron of unmarried young women due to a legend that when he was a young man and received his inheritance, he used the money to help the poor. He heard about a poor man who has 3 daughters but no money to give them dowries. The night before he is going to sell his oldest daughter into prostitution, Nicholas comes and throws a bag of gold through the window. In the morning, the man finds the gold and is able to marry his daughter with a dowry. When the second daughter is about to be sold off, Nicholas again throws in the dowry. When the third daughter comes of age, the man determines to find out who his benefactor is. He hides and sees Nicholas throw in the bag of gold. The man runs to him and grabs him by the knees and begs his forgiveness for the evil he had been going to do to his daughters. Nicholas forgives him but makes him promise not to tell anyone that he has been helping him. The man promises but, of course, can’t keep such a secret. This story was the origin of the 3 gold balls that is one of his symbols. The de Medici family of Florence took these as their family symbol which led to their use as the familiar gold balls of the pawn shop.
Nicholas is a Patron Saint of Russia, Greece and several other countries. Rare is the Russian or Greek city that doesn’t have a church named for him. He is also a patron of sailors and is frequently shown with a ship in his hands.
Julitta was a noble Roman widow and mother of the three years old Quiricus in Iconium. When the edicts against the Christians began to be enforced under Diocletian in 304, she felt too exposed due to her social standing and thought to remove herself and her son to the relative obscurity and, hopeful, safety of Selucia only to find that Alexander, the governor there was enforcing the anti-Christian edicts with even greater ferocity. Along with two maidservants she fled to Tarsus only to arrive at the same time as Alexander. She was recognized by some of his party and was arrested and imprisoned. Coming to trial, leading her son by the hand, she was put to the test before the governor. She was of a noble lineage and had great wealth in Iconium but when asked her name, position and country, she would only answer that she was a Christian. She was sentenced to be scourged and racked.
Quiricus was a beautiful child and the governor sought to win him by treats and endearments but he only had eyes for his mother. As she would cry out “I am a Christian” when each blow was struck, so the child would mimic her cry; “I am a Christian!” and struggle to leave Alexander’s lap and get to his mother. Finally in trying to free himself, he kicked the governor and scratched his face with his little nails. Enraged, Alexander grabbed him by the foot and dashed his head against the stairs of the tribune, killing him instantly.
Rather than being distressed, Julitta gave thanks that her son was granted the crown of martyrdom. In his rage, Alexander ordered her to be torn with hooks and beheaded. Their bodies were thrown into the town midden with other malefactors. Her two faithful servants gathered them up and gave them burial in a field near the city. When Constantine brought peace to the Church, one of the maids brought their story to him and a shrine was erected over their grave. The were greatly venerated in Antioch and relics of Quiricus were brought from there to France by the bishop St. Amator of Auxerre,where he is known as St. Cyr.
They were a frequent subject of icons and their feast is held on July 15th in the East, the day of their trials. In the West they are venerated on June 16th.
Although much of his early history is lost, we know he was born about the year 306 in Nisibis in Mesopotamia. A Deacon, he is reputed to have headed the Catechetical School there until Nisibis was captured by the Persians. He removed to Edessa and became a monk there. A gifted poet and theologian, he was disturbed by the success of the Gnostic, Bardesanes, who cleverly tuned his heretical views to popular songs of the day. In turn, Ephraem wrote hymns in common Syriac to the same tunes, refuting both Gnostic theology and Arianism. These became extremely popular with the people and earned him the title “Harp of the Holy Spirit.”
He spent most of his long life writing theological treatises, many of which are extant today. His Mariological hymns provided an important contribution to Catholic dogma. A few years before his death in 373, he became active in organizing relief for the starving populace during a great famine. He was known as a helper for the sick as well. He died in his monastic cell and is revered by both the East and the West. In 1920, Pope Benedict XV declared him a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. His feast in the West is celebrated on June 9th.
Blessed is he who like a fire is ablaze with love and has burned up in himself all impure thoughts and corruption of the soul. –St. Ephraem the Syrian
The Ascension of Christ, at least in the Western Church, is a moveable feast. I remember growing up with the idea of Ascension Thursday as the great celebration of the final and 40th day of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his followers; preparing them for his return to his Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide them into a brave new future. However, except for 6 U.S. church provinces, most of America has transferred this important feast to the following Sunday to make it possible for the greatest number of communicants to celebrate Jesus’ return to glory. In this he takes our humanity entire with him in his risen body to dwell in eternal light. The Incarnation is now complete and God is one with humanity. This is the feast of the triumph of God’s love begun with the Virgin’s “Yes!” to God’s plan of salvation. Now begins a time of prayer and preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide the newborn Body of Christ into the future.
We, with the disciples, should remain in the Upper Room spiritually, to pray and prepare ourselves to receive the holy fire of God’s Love in a new Pentecost. Rejoice, my friends, this is a time of gladsome joy!
Clement is traditionally placed by the earliest succession lists as the 3rd leader of the Church of Rome after St. Peter (c.91-101). Tertullian and St. Jerome, however, make him the immediate successor to St. Peter. We know little of the organization of the Roman Church in the 1st century, so it is anachronistic to call him “Bishop of Rome” or still more “Pope”, since that is originally a term of endearment, “Little Father” that only later came into use and was used by more churches than Rome. It is still used by the Head of the Coptic Church, for instance. That being said, he early on was seen as the leader of the “elders” of Rome and has almost always been acknowledged as the author of the Epistle called “1st Clement” that was an epistle sent by “the Church of God which is a stranger at Rome to the Church of God which is a stranger at Corinth”. There had been a “coup” by some members of the Corinthian church to oust some presbyters there and install their own. The Epistle takes it as a given that Rome had the right and duty to intervene and expect that its intervention would be followed without demure. A letter from Bishop Dionysius of Corinth, who wrote to Pope Soter around 170, indicates that this letter was still being read in the church assemblies. It was often included in early lists of Scripture. It was so important a document that it spurred two other letters claiming his authorship that most certainly were not by the same hand.
Clement is traditionally held to to have been ordained by St. Peter himself and at some time became head of the Roman presbytery. He is not listed in the early pontifical lists as a martyr, but later legend has him arrested and sent off to the Crimea where he was tied to an anchor and drowned in the sea. Further legends identify him with Titus Flavius Clemens, a cousin of the Emperor Domitian (81-96) who was executed around 95 or 96 for “atheism”. This usually was taken to mean he adopted Jewish or Christian customs, rejecting the Roman Gods. It is possible that he was a freedman in the household of the consul.
His symbol is an Anchor and his Feast in the West is Nov. 24 and Nov. 25 in the East.
Whatever the facts of his shrouded life, his authorship of 1st Clement makes him one of the most important sub-apostolic fathers, giving us one of the few glimpses into the organization, authority and life of the early Christian communities.
St. Gregory Nazianzen was the eldest son in a family of saints. He lived from 329 to 389. His father, St. Gregory the Elder, was bishop of Nazianzen. Gregory was born in Cappadocia and read law in Athens for 10 years before he left to join his friend, St. Basil the Great, as a monk in Pontus. He was ordained a priest and later made bishop of the small town of Sasima. He refused to take up his duties and instead acted as assistant to his father in Nazianzen. In 380 he was convinced to accept the post of Patriarch of Constantinople but resigned after a month due to the controversy of “transferring sees” forbidden by Canon 15 of the Council of Nicea. He retired to Arianzos where he died in 390. While mostly unsuccessful as a bishop, he was one of the greatest writers of the early Church, earning the tittle of “the Divine (a Theologos)” and is revered as a Doctor of the Church in both the East and the West.
Since 1969 his feast in the West was combined with that of St. Basil the Great on January 4th.
Among the many interesting details of today’s Gospel is the name of one of the two men from the followers of Jesus wending their way to the village of Emaeus on the afternoon of Easter Day when Jesus joins them. The one named Clopas gives the details of the resurrection as they have heard them from “some women of our group”, but considered their account of angels “nonsense”. John names one of the women at the cross as “Mary the wife of Cleopas”. She is perhaps Luke’s “mother of James”, but possibly as well this Clopas who dismisses the women’s account is dismissing that of his own wife. In any case, the women and other “friends” who did not desert him at the Cross and then returned to the tomb are truly “HEROS OF CHRIST”.
St. Athanasius is one of the greatest of the early Fathers of the Church. While a Deacon, he is thought to have been instrumental in th formation of the Nicene Creed. His writing De Incarnatione, is still the mot important defense of the Incarnation of Christ against the Arian sympathizers in the early Church.
St. Joseph was the Foster Father of Jesus, chosen by God to protect and “raise in wisdom and grace” the Incarnate Word, Jesus son of Mary. His main feast is March 19th, but he was given a second feast as Patron of Workers for the 1st of May, May Day. In Scripture he is known as “a man of honor”. Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son”.