The Johannite and Gnostic Liturgical calendar is replete with heterodox and heretical figures, whose wisdom, trials, examples, or straight-up fantastic legends, serve as potent landmarks for understanding and reconciling our own experience of the Gnosis – that transcendent, liberating, and experiential knowledge of spiritual truth, as the Church’s Statement of Principles proclaims. There is a human want, even need, to experience, tell and hear of extraordinary figures and tales, mired as we are in the slow, thick expanse of the ordinary.
St Nicholas (March 15, 270 to December 6, 343) in the wider orthodox accounting, is the patron of sailors, merchants, children, brewers, the unmarried, pharmacists and coopers. The stories say he saved the falsely accused from execution, rescued girls from forced sex work and once punched a famous heretic in the face at the Council of Nicea. But that is not why we remember him, or how we think of him when December comes around in the secular calendar.
St. Nicholas is the precursor, type, and inspiration for the near universal figure of Santa Claus. He stands in contrast to many of his peers in the Liturgical Calendar, as a relatively ordinary figure in extraordinary company. He does the ordinary in a way that becomes extraordinary.
It is true of us, as it is true of the saints and figures of myth, legend, and history, that the extraordinary only ever happens in the midst of the ordinary. Gnosis only ever happens in the midst of ignorance, the spiritual is experienced in the middle of ordinary, material life.
The meaningful figures of our own lives are likely to be not those exceptional people for whom great tales are told, great things are accomplished, or great books are written, but rather those constant presences which have given of themselves freely and often, without note, fanfare or spectacle. Those people for whom our journeys would not be or have been possible.
Is St. Nicholas unremarkable otherwise? Of course not, but the ordinary, human, caring action of giving to another, is what he is known for – and out of that ordinary action, an extraordinary figure is made – one whose name will be spoken of with reverence and wonder long after many of the other names in the calendar are forgotten. Indeed, he has already travelled significant distances of time to reach this page, where so many others have not.
Everybody knows that communities, families, societies, and circles of friends even, are often made possible by individuals whose quiet offering of service is made to those around them, and in the culmination of life for those who live in such a way, we always say they were so dedicated, so kind, so selfless. If you are like me, you remark how you wish you could do as they have done.
Yet it does not take a lifetime of service, a life of sacrifice, bottomless pockets, bank accounts or pantries – it just takes one action, for one person, one time – and when you are able to, to do it again. Kindness then attends to itself, and acquires its own momentum, and out of a multitude of actions such as these, it becomes easier to see the face of Christ in another human being, and for his face to be seen in us – and to improve the world around us in some small way while we are doing it.
What seemingly ordinary actions can you take for your fellow travelers, seekers, and companions on the journey of life?
Those gestures may be the things that save the day, the journey, or the life of another human being.
Nicholas was called ‘The Wonderworker’ but in the legend of his person, no miraculous powers were needed but kindness alone.
+ IOHANNES IV
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
The Apostolic Johannite Church