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Being a Model of Faith

(from the Dismissal Hymn of the feast of St Nicholas) 

Becoming Santa Claus, A.D. 3505

Robert Lawrence, Seminarian
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

As Orthodox Christians we don’t ever have to stop believing in Santa Claus. We don’t ever have to ‘get serious’ or ‘grow up’ or ‘stop believing in fairy tales.’ You see, we have the great blessing of knowing the real story, the True Story. We actually get to know the real Saint Nicholas.

We know that he didn’t wear a furry red outfit; instead he wore a Bishop’s robes. And we know that he didn’t live at the North Pole at all but in Myra, a city far away from here. But Myra wasn’t all that different from our city: it had houses and schools and markets. There were rich and there were poor. There were people who cared and people who didn’t. And Saint Nicholas was one of the ones who cared. In fact, his life of caring made a difference which was so profound that over 1500 years later we still tell stories about him in every country of the world. Imagine that…that’s like people telling stories about how huge our love is…but in the year 3505!

Of course, St. Nicholas didn’t set out to be remembered. He wasn’t looking for his fifteen minutes of fame, he didn’t have a music video or a line of shoes; he wasn’t on the cover of People magazine. He wasn’t good so that he would be noticed being good. As a matter of fact, he sneaked around in the middle of the night. You see, St. Nicholas cared for people – loved people – for one reason alone. He loved them because our Christ loved him. St. Nicholas followed the example of his Hero, the example of Christ. So when St. Nicholas heard Matthew 25:31-46 he set out to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned because that’s what Jesus asked him to do. He loved the poor and the afflicted because he wanted to be like Christ.

That’s the importance of having a hero, of having a role model. We find someone that lives the way we hope to one day live. And then we follow their example. It’s like a train. The cars can’t move on their own. They just sit there. But when you hook them up to an engine then the whole train starts moving. And the train goes wherever the engine takes it. That’s why it’s important to choose good role models, to find worthy heroes; because you’re going to end up going wherever the train happens to be going. Now for us the engine is, of course, Christ Himself. But when you’re the caboose it’s hard to see yourself as the engine. Many of us suffer from this; we look at Christ and think, “There’s no way I can ever live like that. There’s no way I can ever be like Christ – I’m just not that good.” That’s why we have the saints. They’re the cars which follow the engine. If we follow their example then we are still following the engine. In time we learn to see the engine in front of all the cars but it’s easier to get started by imitating the saints.

Now one of the secrets of Christianity that we don’t like to think about is that we’re never called to be the caboose. It would be a lot easier to just do what we can to be like Christ without ever having to worry about who’s watching us. It would be a lot easier to just have to know the right thing to say in Sunday School without ever having to live out our faith at High School. But our Orthodox faith is challenging. It tells us that we can’t be cabooses. We have to be a train car somewhere in the middle; following the example of those before us but also setting the example for those coming after us. How many of you know that on December 6 th we celebrate not only St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra but also his uncle, St. Nicholas, Bishop of Patara? St. Nicholas of Patara was the younger St. Nicholas’ mentor and teacher. He was the train car just in front of St. Nicholas which ultimately led him to follow Christ, the engine. The uncle set the example for St. Nicholas, who sets the example for us. So who do we set the example for? How do we live our lives as an example to others?

The Church gives us the answer in the hymn we sing to St. Nicholas on his feast day:

“O father and Bishop Nicholas, the holiness of your life has set you before your flock as a rule of faith, an example of meekness, and a teacher of temperance. Therefore, you acquired greatness through humility and spiritual wealth through poverty. Pray to Christ God that He may save our souls.”

So we just endeavor to do the same. We live as a rule of faith – we practice what we preach so that our actions mirror our words; as an example of meekness – we control our emotions so that we don’t get angry or prideful, or humiliate and abuse anyone; as a teacher of temperance – we control our appetites so that we do everything in moderation and avoid addictions. And, by God’s grace, as we live our lives like this we will acquire greatness through humility – the greatness of being a car in the great Train of Christ; and spiritual wealth through poverty – the spiritual wealth of being an example of love in a world hungering for kindness.

So then…Let us live as examples of the faith by following the example of St. Nicholas and all the saints before us: growing ever closer to Christ while drawing others close to Him with us. Amen.

Glory be to God

Robert Lawrence is a seminarian from the Denver Metropolis studying at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He lives in Brookline with his wife Kelley and their son Alec.

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