An Orthodox Christian Father's Letters to his Children

December 6/19, 2001

St Nicholas the Wonderworker.

Christina, Tim and Natalie, my dear children:

With today being the Feast of St Nicholas, I have desired to write to you something about this wonderful feast.

Like any father who cares, I wish to bestow a legacy upon you. My desire for you is that you will never be content with surface things. I have always tried, both in my own personal investigations, and as a father and a priest, to communicate the inner reasons for things, and not settle for mere retellings. I always aim to communicate the "why" and "how", not just the "what".

There is truly a depth of meaning in even ordinary events that we cannot fully perceive because of our immaturity or laziness, or sins. Every dogma of our church breathes with vibrant life - none are static "factoids". Every Saint's life is an in depth look at the mechanics of the resurrection. Every event in our life is either allowed or caused by God, and all things should remind us of our Creator, and His purpose for us. Every thing we should do as Christians, whether it be prayer, fasting, struggling against our passions, learning the commandments, and everything else, has a PURPOSE.

My mission in life is to try to understand this purpose and communicate it to others, first and foremost, my family.

I am convinced that the reason that people who want to do good often fail is because of a lack of understanding of the inner meanings of things. They either cannot, or will not make the effort to understand things as God understands them. You have heard me say in homilies a million times (and if God gives me strength, you will hear this a billion times more) that if we truly understood the resurrection, and truly believed in it, we would never sin. I passionately believe this, and I want you to passionately believe it too. .

Always try to go beyond the surface of things! Do not be content with simple meanings, and partial efforts.

Many times, things in our life may seem to be hackneyed and trite; when this happens, we should surely blame ourselves, and beg the Lord to deliver us from "from all ignorance, forgetfulness, faintheartedness, and stony insensibility."

You know much of the life of St Nicholas, and don't need me to retell the story for you. Let's instead look at one of His greatest attributes: Wisdom.

How do we know he was wise? The trite answer would be that he is a Saint; all Saints have wisdom. The better answer would be to glean from his life his wisdom, so that we poor one might benefit from it.

The parables at St Nicholas' Vespers all mention Wisdom. There are two "kinds" of wisdom which the Scriptures mention. "Wisdom" often refers to Jesus Christ, and sometimes also refers to an important virtue of the soul, and a closer investigation of this virtue leads us to conclude that both are the same.

The first parable says:

"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honor."

Clearly, this reference to Wisdom is Jesus Christ. We have life (length of days) through Him. There is no greater accomplishment in the world than to know Christ. True happiness is only possible by "finding wisdom".

The parable text continues with Christ (Wisdom) calling us to Himself:

"Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.

Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways.

Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.

Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.

I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.

Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength. I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.

For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.

All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.

They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you."

Truly, to consider the inner meaning of these words is to swim in deep waters!

Do you see how "wisdom" the virtue is tied closely with Christ, the Eternal "Wisdom"? The virtue "Wisdom" encompasses all things that Christ is. It is knowledge and action. I am sure you recall another one of my pet syllogisms, mentioned in almost every homily in one way or another: faith is action based on knowledge. Wisdom is TRUE KNOWLEDGE, and all true knowledge is strong, and pure and fearless. Wisdom never stops " watching daily at (Christ's) gates, waiting at the posts of (His) doors." Wisdom is attentiveness, and effort and desire, and action, based on knowledge and understanding.

Another aspect of Wisdom is that we imitate Christ so completely that we can say with Him: "For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips."

The second parable echoes this thought: "The mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom: but the froward tongue shall be cut out. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness."

Our Holy Father Nicholas embodies this kind of Wisdom. As a Lover of wisdom, he hated all wicked speech, such as Arius' foul heresies which were heard in the proceedings of the First Ecumenical Council.

Let us, you and I, try to examine Nicholas' actions in the council, and try to see an inner meaning.

You know the story well. Nicholas slapped Arius, and because of this act, was banished from the council. In the evening, some of the chief hierarchs has a vision in which the Most Holy Mother of God and Our Lord Jesus Christ showed their approval of Nicholas, and he was restored to the council. The things that the story do not tell, things which are certainly true, are as important as the story itself. Let us, you and I, look at these things.

Arius was a Protopresbyter, hailing from Alexandria. an important theological center for the church at that time, and also an important city in all other respects. He was an eloquent preacher, and had a large following. Nicholas was just a country bishop, without the theological "credentials" of Arius.

When Arius held forth at the council, there were not a few that shared his views. He must have been impressive, with his eloquent words being "smoother than oil". His heresy was winning the day, and Nicholas saw this. The parables tell us: "When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.", and Arius was at the height of his powers, but the lowly Nicholas had wisdom.

In him was truly fulfilled the words of our Savior "For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist." (Luke 21:15) Nicholas, because of wisdom, did not battle Arius with his mouth, but instead slapped him, because his soul could not bear to hear one more vile heretical word.

In the short term, Nicholas' actions appeared to be disastrous, both for himself, and for the Catholic Church. The fathers reacted with indignation, and banished Nicholas. Certainly, Arius must have felt even more emboldened, and, perhaps by playing the martyr, he gained even more sympathy for his position.

The day turned into evening, and the council retired for the night, with Nicholas exiled in shame, and Arius, no doubt, filled with prideful fantasies.

Christ is not mocked. He and His Most pure Mother appeared to certain hierarchs, and showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Nicholas was worthy of the Episcopacy. If Nicholas was worthy. the fathers understood that his slap of Arius pleased God, who at one time made a whip, and threw the impious out of the temple.

The next day Nicholas was restored, and all of Arius's prideful heresies were dispersed like smoke. In this council the Holy Fathers composed the beginning parts of the Symbol of Faith, which forever safeguarded against Arius dogma concerning Jesus Christ: (I believe) "... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, True God of True God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father".

By wisdom, not by words, but with a slap, Arius was defeated.

Truly, Our Holy Father Nicholas excelled in the gifts of Wisdom. My prayer for you, as your father, is that you would gain wisdom and understanding, and become like the Giver of wisdom, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I love you.

Dad.





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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas