Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Feast of St. Nicholas

Today we celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas, a fourth-century saint who was known for having given funds to a family (anonymously) in order to save three daughters from prostitution by providing them with a dowry. Since the gold was thrown down the chimney (according to legend), he became the patron saint of children and eventually evolved into our very own Santa Claus.

This evening, his Holinenss Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia and a leader of a branch of Eastern Orthodoxy, received the Pax Christi award for his broad ecumenical work. Attired in purple cope and black hood, he and his retinue accompanied Abbot John into choir for Evening Prayer--complete with all the smells and bells one might desire. The joke amongst the sabbaticants was that I would have fit right in with my bright yellow goose-down parka with a hood that shrouds my face. They can make fun all they want, all I know is that with it going down to -5 degrees F. tonight with wind chills of at least -20 below, I think I'll just keep my Land's End purchase!

We sang one of the most ancient hymns tonight, the Greek Phos Hilaron ("O Radiant Light") to open the service, then alternated with the cantors working our way through Psalm 1,112,113,145, and concluding with the Abbot's reading of 1 Peter 5. Then followed a homily delivered by His Holiness without a note. He spoke deliberately, slowly, yet forcefully of our need to conform our lives to the holiness of our Lord and Savior as made known in the saints who have gone before us. One could easily sense the charism of leadership as he spoke.

But, it was clear that this was no "cult of personality." Had he died, right there in the bishop's chair, there would have been one to take his place. Though there are certainly gifts that propel one into leadership, in the Christian faith it is never about the person her/him self but about the one to which s/he points. So, let us join in emulating St. Nicholas who gave with grace and without accolades. May his spirit of giving pervade the season before us.