Monday, December 6, 2010

Saint Nicholas - Part 3 (The Council of Nicea)

Emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity, the Great Persecution had ceased, but all was not well in Christendom. A heresy had been forming that was beginning to gain a following: Arianism. Arius, a priest from Alexandria, was teaching a doctrine that denied the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. He taught that Jesus Christ was not equal to the Father by nature, but is the first creation of God. Rather than Jesus being both God and man, the Jesus that Aruis described ended up being neither-not quite God and not quite man.

To resolve the issue, Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea in 325. It was modeled after the Jerusalem council in Acts, 
which also is known as the First Ecumenical Council. It is estimated that 1,800 bishops, priests, and deacons were in attendance. Saint Nicholas's participation is documented by Byzantine historian Theodore the Lector. Saint Methoudius claims that Nicholas beleived Arianism to be a "death-dealing poison" and all of Myra was left untouched by the heresy because of the fervor in which Nicholas attacked this offensive doctrine.

At the the Council of Nicaea, Arius presented his case before all the attendees.  At some point, Nicholas could no longer tolerate the blasphemies Arius was saying against God, so he got up, walked up to him, and  punched Arius in the face, knocking him to the floor. Nicholas' fellow bishops were outraged that he lost control and hit Arius. The canons of the church forbid clergy from striking any human being, so he was brought before Constantine, who stripped him of his vestments and had him thrown into prison for what would have been the length of the council. Ashamed of his actions, Nicholas prayed to God and asked for forgiveness in the dark of his prison cell.

In the night, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared to some of the bishops, telling them that no action should be taken against him, since he had acted out of extreme love for God, rather than hate for Arius. Jesus and Mary also visited Nicholas that night. Jesus placed a book of the Gospels in Nicholas' hands and the Virgin returned to him the bishop's vestmenst which had been taken away. When the guard came to visit him the next morning, he was surprised to see the broken chains on the floor and the good bishop sitting, dressed in his vestments and peacefully reading Scripture. The story was immediately reported to Emperor Constantine, who ordered that Nicholas return to the Council and the full dignity of his office. This is why on many icons of Saint Nicholas there images of Christ presenting the Gospel book and Mary presenting his vestments. 

The council lasted from May 20 to June 19, 325 and resulted in the formal condemnation of Arianism and the declaration of the Nicene Creed that is said at every divine liturgy. These lines from the Nicene Creed were developed to reflect the true teaching of the Trinity in opposition to Arianism:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.

Saint Nicholas would go on to perform many more miracles, to be loved by the people in and out of Myra both during his life and after his death. He died peacefully on December 6, 343, over 1,600 years ago this very day, and was buried in his city of Myra. He left behind no writings of theological works, but stories of his life are passed on from generation to generation. Although he didn't die a martyr, he is considered saint because he couldn't find in himself the capability to not love his neighbor and care for those in need. Two hundred years later, Justinian would celebrate his feast day and  have a church built over his tomb. In the centuries that followed millions of people would call him their patron, of which I am one. Here is en exhaustive list of things Saint Nicholas is a patron of.

Vladimir Lossyky in The Meaning of Icons, has the following to say about the uniqueness of Saint Nicholas:

The quite exceptional veneration of St.Nicholas is well known. In the liturgic weekly cycle of the Orthodox Church, among the days of the week dedicated to the Saviour and to different orders of heavenly and earthly sanctity, only three persons are singled out by name: the Mother of God, John the Forerunner and St.Nicholas. The reason for this special veneration of this bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings, is evidently that the Church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor. "Having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ . . . thou hast appeared in truth as a most hallowed shepherd to the world. According to his Life, when St.Nicholas was raised to the dignity of bishop he said: "...This dignity and this office demand different usage, in order that one should live no longer for oneself but for others." This "life for others" is his characteristic feature and is manifested by the great variety of forms of his solicitude for [people]—his care for their preservation, their protection from the elements, from human injustice, from heresies and so forth. This solicitude was accompanied by numerous miracles both during his life and after his death. Indefatigable intercessor, steadfast, uncompromising fighter for Orthodoxy, "he was meek and gentle in his disposition and humble in spirit".

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Saintly One, (St. Nicholas) in Myra you proved yourself a priest; for in fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, venerable One, you laid down your life for your people and saved the innocent from death. For this you were sanctified as One learned in divine grace.

But even at death, his story is not over...


  1. That list is great. I love that he is the patron Saint of both prostitutes and virgins.