Commemorated December 12
Fr. Nicholas Belcher
On December 12, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates the memory of Saint Spyridon the Wonderworker. In his early life, Spyridon was a humble shepherd, married to a pious woman with whom he was raising a family. When his wife fell asleep in the Lord at a young age, Spyridon faithfully continued raising his children and caring for his flock. According to divine providence, Sypridon was elected and consecrated as the bishop of Trymithous, thus becoming a father to spiritual children and a shepherd to reason-endowed sheep. Despite the dignity of his new ecclesial rank, the saint continued in his labors as a humble shepherd.
St. Spyridon is known as a Wonderworker because of the many and great miracles God worked through him. His prayers ended a drought, healed the sick, and raised the dead. He foretold future events, and discerned the inner thoughts of men. He attended the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and although he was not a man of learning, he ably refuted the heretical sophistry of the heresiarch, Arius.
In our contemporary times, there are those who read the Lives of the Saints with skepticism, doubting the accounts of great miracles. Many may read the life of St. Spyridon and think that it is full of legendary elements that could not possibly be historically true. Perhaps because the miracles are so wondrous, God left us a wonder to help us remain faithful – namely the incorrupt relics of St. Spyridon that reside on the Greek island of Corfu. As hard as it may be to fathom, we can today see the incorrupt face of the man who argued face-to-face with Arius and fought alongside of St. Athanasius the Great and St. Nicholas of Myra. To this day, there are miracles that flow from those holy relics by the holy prayers of this saint.
We celebrate this feast during our time of preparation for celebrating the Virgin Birth of the Son and Word of God. We are tempted to celebrate the feast in a secular way, concentrating our efforts on the decorations and gifts and forgetting to reflect on the wondrous nature of Christ's birth. The feast of St. Spyridon serves to remind us of the reality of the wonders God works in human history. We are reminded that there is nothing irrational (alogos) in our believing in the Word (Logos) taken flesh. We are reminded that the wondrous birth of Christ gave birth to the wonders worked by the Saints. We are reminded that God desires to give birth to wonders in our own lives – most importantly the miracles of repentance and sanctification.
We are also reminded that the wonders of God always come about through humility. As the Word of God entered human history in a cave surrounded by dumb beasts, so the miracles of St. Spyridon happened while he continued his work as a humble shepherd even after his ordination to the episcopacy. Let us spend these days before the feast practicing the virtue of humility by means of our fasting, repenting, praying, and forgiving others – strengthened in our faith through the witness and prayers of St. Spyridon.
Troparion of St. Spyridon
Thou wast a champion of the First Council and a wonderworker, O Godbearing Father Spyridon. Thou didst speak to one dead in the grave, and change a serpent to gold; and while thou wast chanting the holy prayers the Angels were serving with thee. Glory to Him Who has glorified thee; glory to Him Who has crowned thee; glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all.
Commemorated December 9
Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary, was the youngest daughter of the priest Nathan from Bethlehem, descended from the tribe of Levi. She married Saint Joachim (September 9), who was a native of Galilee.
For a long time Saint Anna was childless, but after twenty years, through the fervent prayer of both spouses, an angel of the Lord announced to them that they would be the parents of a daughter, Who would bring blessings to the whole human race.
The Orthodox Church does not accept the teaching that the Mother of God was exempted from the consequences of ancestral sin (death, corruption, sin, etc.) at the moment of her conception by virtue of the future merits of Her Son. Only Christ was born perfectly holy and sinless, as Saint Ambrose of Milan teaches in Chapter Two of his Commentary on Luke. The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in Her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although She committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, She would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from Her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibilty of our salvation is in doubt.
The Conception of the Virgin Mary by Saint Anna took place at Jerusalem. The many icons depicting the Conception by Saint Anna show the Most Holy Theotokos trampling the serpent underfoot.
“In the icon Saints Joachim and Anna are usually depicted with hands folded in prayer; their eyes are also directed upward and they contemplate the Mother of God, Who stands in the air with outstretched hands; under Her feet is an orb encircled by a serpent (symbolizing the devil), which strives to conquer all the universe by its power.”
There are also icons in which Saint Anna holds the Most Holy Virgin on her left arm as an infant. On Saint Anna’s face is a look of reverence. A large ancient icon, painted on canvas, is located in the village of Minkovetsa in the Dubensk district of Volhynia diocese. From ancient times this Feast was especially venerated by pregnant women in Russia.
Today the bonds of barrenness are broken, God has heard the prayers of Joachim and Anna. He has promised them beyond all their hopes to bear the Maiden of God, by whom the uncircumscribed One was born as mortal Man; He commanded an angel to cry to her: “Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with you!”
Commemorated December 6
Saint Nicholas was born about 275 AD in Myra, a town of Lycia in Asia Minor. His uncle was the bishop of the town and educated Nicholas for life in the Church. In due time, Nicholas was ordained by his uncle and eventually succeeded him as Bishop the Christian Church in the Asia Minor city of Myra (now Demre, Turkey) in the fourth century AD.
He is beloved throughout the Christian East for his kindness and help, both during his life and afterward. He is called "Wonderworker" (or "Miraculous" or "Miracle-Worker", different translations of the Greek "thavmatourgos") for the miracles which he performed and which he still performs, by God's grace. Many accounts of Saint Nicholas are available on the World Wide Web.
The most famous story about St. Nicholas concerns a man who, because of extreme poverty, had agreed to sell his three daughters into slavery. St. Nicholas heard about it and came in the night, leaving behind him a bag with enough gold in it to save one of the children. Three times he came secretly so that the man would not know from where the money came. On the third night, the man saw him and asked for the Saint's forgiveness because he had nearly sold his children as slaves. Because of this and similar acts, St. Nicholas became the patron saint of children and the type of the cheerful giver of good gifts.
In the Protestant West, which suppressed the invocation of saints, Saint Nicholas became popularly known as Santa Claus.
In accordance with early Christian tradition, saints are remembered in the Orthodox Church on the date of their passing from this life into the next. Saint Nicholas is thus remembered on December 6. Orthodox Christianity maintains that even though people are dead according to this life, that they are alive in the spiritual realm, and continue to pray for us. Our "prayers to the saints" are actually requests that they pray for us, much as we ask believers who are still alive in the flesh to pray for us.
The remains of St. Nicholas now repose principally in Bari, Italy, having been transported there in 1087 A.D. after Myra fell to Islamic invaders. A fragrant liquid (myrrh) still exudes from the relics. Miracles are performed even today through the intercessions of St. Nicholas. Turkey also claims to possess bones of Saint Nicholas.
THE APOLYTIKION (HYMN) OF ST. NICHOLAS
An example of the Faith and a life of humility, as a teacher of abstinence you did inspire and lead your flock, and through the truthfulness of your deeds were exalted by greatness, through your humility uplifting all and by poverty gaining wealth. Father and hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.