As my parish follows the Julian calendar, we recently celebrated the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra. The Saint himself came to visit our children and told them edifying stories from his life. He even brought a little gift for each of them, golden chocolate coins.
I collected a few thoughts about the significance of St. Nicholas for my sermon at the lovely Divine Liturgy, one that was almost paschal in its joy.
We know the Saint not from his own writing, because we have none, but from what others wrote about him. Written words can be destroyed – lost to history. But St. Nicholas’s actions towards others have immortalized him in a profound way – he is the very type of the bishop as a Good Shepherd. St. Nicholas’s good deeds have been described and handed down to us through remembrances of the holy hierarch’s exceeding kindness and pastoral care for his people – his loving legacy. The hymnography for the day is filled with stories, and we even have a folk hymn that we like to sing on St. Nicholas day, with numerous verses, including one where we remember that, in defense of Christ, the good bishop gave the heretical Arius a slap in response to the blasphemy he was uttering!
On a recent Saturday night, I hosted an open house at the church, as part of our town’s Christmas house tour. I’ve done this for a few years now, because I like to give local people a chance to come inside the church and perhaps get some questions answered. That’s exactly what happened this year. One lady asked about the icons, and she was not at all persuaded by my explanation of their meaning for us. Seemed idolatrous to her, sorry! Then she remembered my name and asked if I knew Mamie Berry. Of course, I said, she was my beloved grandmother, and I spent much of my boyhood with her. OK then, said the lady, and the whole tone changed. We reminisced about Mamie for a while, and she warmed up to me, and by extension, everything I stood for. Mamie’s loving legacy overcame this lady’s doubts.
We can never overestimate the power of kind deeds. I once went to an auction in town and saw a beautiful, small table there. When I inquired about it, I was told by the owner that it wasn’t for sale. But why did it look so familiar? The man told me its story. When he and his siblings were quite young, the family was poor, and kids had to go from door to door asking for handouts. This, remember, was in a small town, where everyone knew each other. Imagine how difficult this was for the children. When they got to Mamie’s house, she prepared a bushel basket of food – preserves, eggs, whatever she had -for them and then told them to go home and set the table and have a good family meal. They went home happy.
After a little while, though, one of the children came back and said, “Mrs. Berry, we don’t have a table!” So Mamie sent one of her sons to their house with her own table – the one I remembered from my childhood – the one I was looking at in the man’s home. No wonder he didn’t want to sell it.
These aren’t the only stories about my grandmother’s generosity and kindness – her loving legacy. I can only hope that some are told about me, when I’m no longer here to share the Lord’s goodness through my actions.
St. Nicholas, pray to God for us!