Monday, December 19, 2011

St Nicholas (part 2 of 3)

Bishop Nicholas & the Council of Nicaea

How Nicholas Became a Bishop
A very long time ago when the Bishop of Myra died, other bishops gathered to select a new bishop for the See of Myra. As they met, they discussed and prayed, but were not able to discern the right choice to be the new bishop.
One night, the oldest and wisest bishop heard a voice in the night telling him to watch the doors of the church the next morning before matins. The first person to enter the church by the name of “Nicholas” was to be the new bishop. This wise bishop told his vision to the others, urging them to pray as he waited at the doors.

When the hour for morning prayer came, the first person to arrive was a young man. “What is your name?” asked the bishop. “I am Nicholas,” said the young man. “Nicholas, servant and friend of God, for your holiness you shall be bishop of this place,” said the bishop. Nicholas protested that he was not worthy to be named bishop. However, all the bishops said that it was God’s will that he be made the new bishop. They brought him into the church and placed him in the bishop’s seat where he was consecrated the new Bishop of Myra. And Nicholas vowed that he would bring the Gospel of Christ to the people and defend the faith from all those who would assail it. Bishop Nicholas then lived his life in faithful service to God as protector of the poor and helpless, as advocate of justice for those in need, and as a faithful defender of the Christian faith.

Nicholas became a defender of the faith against Arianism, a theory propagated by Arias of Egypt.
In 325, Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea, which was the first ecumenical council ever held. Although Bishop Nicholas does not appear on all lists of attendees, his name does appear on the oldest Greek list and on five other lists. It is probable that he attended, as more than 300 bishops from all over the Christian world came to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity, one of the early Church’s most intense theological questions. One idea, circulated by Arias, was Arianism, a heretical doctrine which asserted that Christ was not the Son of God, but a being nurtured by God, the Father, to the position of Son of God. This was the Arian controversy which shook Christianity’s very foundations.
Bishop Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea
Nicholas became a defender of the faith against Arianism. St. Methodius asserts that “thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.” He does not speak of Nicholas’ presence at the Council of Nicaea, but according to other traditions he was not only there but went so far in his indignation as to slap the arch-heretic Arius in the face in defense of the Gospel of Christ! At this, they say, he was deprived of his episcopal insignia and imprisoned, but Our Lord and His Mother appeared and restored to him both his liberty and his office.

Bishop Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea

In 325 Nicaea, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the very first ecumenical council. More than 300 came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church’s most intense theological questions. Arias, who was from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. This was known as the Arian controversy and it shook the very foundations of Christianity. Arias argued his position forcefully and at great length. The assembly listened in silence and without interruption. Nicholas, however, became agitated, with what he saw as an attack on an essential Christian belief.
An outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arias in the face! The other bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable a bishop would become so confrontational in such a solemn assembly. Arias’ supporters demanded Constantine discipline Nicholas. Constantine acknowledged it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence; however, he passed determination of punishment on to the bishops.

The bishops decided Nicholas was to be stripped of his bishop’s garments, chained, and thrown into jail preventing Nicholas from participation in the rest of the meeting. Nicholas was shackled and put in jail until the council concluded and final judgment made.

Nicholas, ashamed of his outburst, prayed for forgiveness; although, he still believed Arias was wrong. During the night, Jesus, along with His mother Mary, appeared to Nicholas, asking, “Why are you imprisoned?” “Because of my love for you,” he replied. Jesus then gave Nicholas the Holy Scriptures. Meanwhile, Mary left and returned with the bishop’s garments. At peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures throughout the night.
When the jailer checked on Nicholas in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas, dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. This was reported to Constantine; he, then, freed Nicholas, who was fully reinstated as Bishop of Myra.

Another Account of Bishop Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea
St Nicholas as Patron of Sailors
When all the bishops were gathered together in Nicaea to decide the great question threatening to split the early church, there were many long speeches. It can be very tiring to be part of such meetings. Once when they were at dinner, Bishop Nicholas, apparently fatigued, dozed off.
As he slept, Nicholas heard voices calling his name. Leaving his sleeping body leaning on the table, he followed the voices. After traveling a long way, he came to a place in the middle of the sea. A mighty storm was raging around a ship in great danger. The wind shredded the ship’s sails, and the masts broke. Sailors, clinging to the ship, cried to Nicholas for help.
As Nicholas raised his hands, the waves calmed and the thunder and lightening stopped. The sun came out over a now calm sea. The grateful sailors thanked God for their rescue. Nicholas blessed the sailors. He returned to Nicaea, awoke at the table, yawned and rubbed his eyes. Seeing he had awakened, the other bishops said, “So much has happened while you slept, Nicholas. We have missed you, our Brother.” “Yes indeed,” said Nicholas. “A ship has been saved and many sailors rescued.” The bishops, completely unaware of what had happened, thought Nicholas was referring to the Church as a ship and the Council had saved the Church and its people. 
Some accounts list Nicholas as present at the Council of Nicaea and some do not. Some say his name was not on some lists because he was thrown in jail. Others say his name is missing because he was sleeping and missed some of the Council’s deliberations.

Next: Part 3 of 3 St Nicholas as Santa Claus

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