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Category: Feast Days (Page 2 of 6)

“Dear Santa”? or “Holy Nicholas of Myra, Pray for us!”

Which is Santa is more in keeping with Christian discipleship?

Modern American made-up Santa Claus


OR the real Santa Claus?


The Original Santa – Saint Nicholas of Myra (270-343)


Today when people think of Santa Claus, they think of a kindly, white-bearded man who brings presents to good boys and girls all around the world.  In anticipation of Santa’s coming, children are encouraged to write “Dear Santa” letters.  It is unfortunate that this Santa has been an adaptation to modern consumer culture where people feel obliged to head for the shopping mall or go online to purchase presents in order to meet their social obligations.

The LIfe and Example of Saint Nicholas

The life and example of the real Santa, Saint Nicholas of Myra (270-343), present a challenge to our materialistic post-Christian culture.  A devout Christian, Saint Nicholas put Christ first in his life.  The icon above shows him wearing the bishop’s vestments.  In his left hand he is holding the Gospel book and with his right hand is blessing the viewer with the sign of the Cross.  His life was an example of charity and service to others.


An Example of Humble Charity

The image of the modern Santa carrying a huge bag over his shoulder likely goes back to a well-known story in which a certain poor man had three daughters.  Their impoverished state meant that either the daughters would remain unmarried or probably be sold into prostitution.  Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them.  Being very modest, Nicholas came on several nights and threw a bag of gold, one for each daughter, into the open window.  On the third night, the father was waiting and caught Nicholas in the act.  Nicholas told the father that it was God that he ought to give thanks to.  The article “Saint Nicholas of Myra” on the website Book of Days Tales describes the numerous variations of this incident and how the variations gave rise to an assortment of practices carried out today.  In one story, Nicholas threw a bag of gold coins through the window, in another he slipped the gold coins into the stockings left hanging to dry, and in yet another Nicholas dropped the bag of gold coins down the chimney.  This has resulted in the present day customs of the stockings hanging in front of the chimney, the gold-wrapped chocolate coins given out on Christmas Day.


This example of Nicholas’ humble charity for the poor provides an inspiration for those who wish to follow in the path of Jesus Christ who taught:

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.  For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.  Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36; Orthodox Study Bible).


Fervent Defender of the Faith

First Ecumenical Council – Nicea (325)

Christians who have an interest in theology and church history, especially the Council of Nicea (325) and the struggle against the heresy of Arianism, will be intrigued to learn that Nicholas Archbishop of Myra was present at the First Ecumenical Council.  The story goes that Nicholas was so offended by Arius’ heretical views that he went up and slapped him.  For this breach of decorum, Emperor Constantine had Nicholas stripped of his office and thrown into prison.  He was later reinstated.  This is no meek and mild Santa Claus but a staunch defender of the Faith!


Holy Nicholas Pray for Us!

There is in the Orthodox Church the practice of asking the saints to pray for them.  Saint Nicholas is also known as Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker due to the numerous miracles attributed to his prayers.  Below is one of the hymns the Orthodox Church sings in honor this great saint.  It should be noted that we are asking Saint NIcholas to pray with us to our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved. (Apolytikion Tone 4)

One of the blessings of Orthodoxy is that we do not pray alone but in the company of the saints who have gone before us and serve as examples of Christlike maturity.  Learning from the life and example of Saint Nicholas can help us hold fast to the true spirit of Christmas, which is preparing for the birth of our God and Savior Jesus Christ who came to serve others.

Robert Arakaki


See also

Remembering St. Nicholas, Recovering a Christian Heritage.” OrthodoxBridge 7 December 2011.



She Said Yes!

Icon – Annunciation

On March 25, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. On this major feast day, we remember the Incarnation — the occasion the Word of God took on human nature; the Infinite Creator became a finite creature; Eternity entered into the flow of history; and the Immortal One became mortal so that we might attain immortality.

The Incarnation was and continues to be one of the most momentous events in all history.  It prepared the way for Jesus’ life on earth as one of us which would culminate in his saving death on the Cross.   In modern parlance, it was a real game changer.  In the Incarnation the ontology of the universe was restructured. This cosmic realignment is hinted at in the following prayer to the Virgin Mary in the Small Compline.

Spotless, undefiled, immaculate, unstained, pure Virgin, Lady and Bride of God, by your wondrous conceiving you united God the Word with human beings and joined the fallen nature of our race to heavenly things.

In the Incarnation God’s infinite transcendence over creation is bridged through Immanuel “God With Us.”  In the Incarnation heaven is united with earth, and conversely fallen humanity begins to reverse course becoming restored to its former exalted state.  As man Jesus experienced death for all humanity and rose on the third day victorious over death.   Mary’s Yes made all this possible.


What Mary’s Yes Means For Us

Icon – Virgin of the Sign

Luke 1:26-38 recounts the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she has been highly favored by God and that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of the Most High. Mary of her own free will consented to becoming the Theotokos (God-Bearer). Mary was indeed chosen by God, but she was not “elected” in the hyper-Calvinistic sense of zero real choice.  Mary’s Yes is an affirmation of human free will and the possibility of a true and genuine uncoerced love.

Mary’s Yes is a good example of synergistic cooperation with God’s grace.  Her Yes is also an example of Christian discipleship.  Christian discipleship begins with our saying Yes to God.  Saying Yes to God is a sign of our faith and obedience.  Christian discipleship is a process and a journey.  A lifetime of saying Yes to God results in our spiritual transformation, that is, theosis.  The choices we make in discipleship do not happen in a vacuum, devoid of the active presence of the Holy Spirit – divine  initiative is a critical necessity.  The trajectory of Mary’s life shows the impact of her radical commitment to Christ: from the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel, to the manger in Bethlehem, to her standing at the Cross.  There is much we can learn from her Yes.

The significance of Luke 1 is brought out through a comparison with Genesis 3.  Irenaeus of Lyons contrasted Mary’s obedience with Eve’s disobedience.

[Eve] having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race.

And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (Against Heresies 3.22.4; ANF vol. I p. 455)

Irenaeus’ insight that the Virgin Mary is the Second Eve builds on the Apostle Paul’s insight that Jesus Christ is the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21).  Later Church Fathers would expand on these insights giving rise to a rich heritage of hymns and writings about the mystery of the Incarnation.  One of the most regrettable aspect of my Protestant heritage, has been the way Protestants shunned viewing Mary as the Second Eve and in so doing departed from the historic Christian Faith.


Rejoice Unwedded Bride!

In present day American culture, the phrase “She said Yes!” indicates that the woman has accepted the man’s proposal of marriage. This marks a happy moment that looks to the future where the two become one flesh and start a family.  This reflects the natural order of things set forth in Genesis 1-2. Mary’s consent to becoming the Theotokos (God-Bearer) marks the introduction of a new order that supersedes the old order. The title “Unwedded Bride” refers to the fact that Mary was betrothed to Joseph but never married to him; yet despite her never having entered into wedlock, Mary miraculously conceived and gave birth to Jesus. This was a sign that God was doing a marvelous new thing.

Fr. Josiah Trenham

Readers are invited to listen to Fr. Josiah Trenham’s podcast “Godly Marriage and Virginity – Paths to Holiness.”  At around the 5:40 mark, Fr. Josiah writes on the white board: “The Incarnation changed EVERYTHING.”  Fr. Josiah’s presentation helps us to understand how the Incarnation led to a new understanding of marriage, virginity and human existence.  At the 15:35 mark, Fr. Josiah states: “Marriage is good, but the monastic life is better.”  This helps us to understand why the Orthodox Church honors Mary as the Unwedded Bride.

Sadly, the fear of Roman Catholicism so widespread among Protestants, has led to their ignoring the feast day of the Annunciation – March 25th.  After becoming Orthodox, my appreciation of the Incarnation grew as a result of hearing the hymns and prayers that celebrate the Annunciation.  Understanding the Incarnation helps us to appreciate the significance of Christmas.  Christmas Day – December 25th – is more than the birth of a special Child but also about March 25th – the day the Divine Word entered into our fallen world and began reversing the Fall.

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Annunciation with the hymn “Rejoice Unwedded Bride.”

When the archangel understood the mysterious command,
He came to the house of Joseph with haste and proclaimed to the unwedded Lady:
The One Who bowed the heavens by His condescension
is contained wholly and without change in you!
As I behold Him in your womb, taking the form of a servant, I am frightened, but cry:
Rejoice, unwedded Bride!


Why We Need Feast Days

Anniversaries, holidays, and feast days are important to who we are.  They help us remember what is important to us, what we prize and cherish.  The pressures of everyday living have a flattening effect on our souls.  For this reason, human beings need a break from mundane existence to reconnect with the greater transcendent reality – Christ and his Kingdom.  These special days are a matter of the heart.  Without this inner meaning, holidays become empty markers filled with delicious meals, sweet desserts, accompanied with pleasant socializing or frenzied partying.  This is why the Orthodox Church prepares for the celebration of feast days with fasting and prayer.  These spiritual disciplines help prepare us to enter into the reality behind the feast day.

The church year helps us to remember our history and our heroes (saints).  The church calendar reminds us that we belong to a holy nation – the Church (1 Peter 1:9-10).  Where Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day all serve to remind those living in the US of their American identity, the church calendar reminds Orthodox Christians of a greater history which goes back several millennia and spans many cultures and ethnicities all over the world.

Human history is not just secular history of people competing for power, wealth, and glory but also redemptive history in which Christ’s divine grace flows through the Church transforming lives.  This is the basis for the Orthodox Church’s celebration of the lives of the saints.  To celebrate the lives of the saints as we do on feast days is to celebrate the kingdom of God – Christ’s reclaiming fallen human beings from Satan and restoring them to the glory of children of God.


Celebrating at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church – Newburyport, MA source

Happy Annunciation Day!

Where December 25th celebrates Christ’s birth as a baby, March 25th celebrates the Word becoming flesh for our salvation.  The feast of the Annunciation belongs to all Christians: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.  March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, is one of the great feast days in the Orthodox Church.  We celebrate it in songs, prayers, the Eucharist, and oftentimes with a special meal following the church service.

It is unfortunate that for many Protestants and Evangelicals March 25th has become a forgotten holiday.  Protestants should likewise celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.  It is biblical (Luke 1:34-35; John 1:14; Isaiah 9:6) and affirms one of the core truths of Christianity.  Celebrating the Annunciation will guard Protestants against heresies such as Gnosticism and dualism.  It will also help Protestants and Evangelicals reconnect with the early Church.

There is no reason why Reformed Christians should shy away from celebrating the Annunciation.  The Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter 24 “Of Holy Days, Fasts and the Choice of Foods,” teaches:

Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly. . . .

Here, we find a major Reformed confession giving hearty approval to the feast days pertaining to the life of Christ.  It is curious that the confession makes no mention of the Annunciation, nevertheless, it seems that Reformed churches did at one time observe feast days celebrating the major events in the life of Christ.  Thus, it would be good for Reformed churches to reinstate the ancient feast day of the Annunciation.  It would also be good for Reformed Christians to visit an Orthodox Sunday worship service this coming Sunday and observe how the Orthodox celebrate the Annunciation.  Come and see!

Robert Arakaki


St. Patrick on the Trinity



Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Today we celebrate Saint Patrick of Ireland (c. 390 – c. 461).  He was the son of a deacon and a grandson of a presbyter (priest).  Although born into a Christian family, he was spiritually complacent until his enslavement by Irish raiders precipitated a spiritual crisis.  His brand of Christianity can be labeled Celtic Christianity, much like that of Saint Columba.  Saint Patrick was not a Roman Catholic.  Ireland and Britain did not begin to come under papal rule until Pope Gregory sent Augustine of Canterbury in 596.  We celebrate the life of Saint Patrick, especially his bringing the Good News of Christ to the pagan Irish and Britons.  We also reflect on his upholding the Orthodox faith in the Trinity.

I recently received some questions from a reader about Saint Patrick’s understanding of the Trinity, especially with respect to the Filioque.

How do we know what a pre-schism saint in West or in East would have believed about the procession of the Holy Spirit (& the Filioque issue) if he (or she) left no oral or written tradition of having even considered the theological-doctrinal issue? Do we assume they all knew and believed the Creed of Constantinople I (after that council) (or would have believed it before that council formulated the Greek words)?  Since the Holy Spirit like the Father and the Son Jesus Christ is ever the same God, should we not assume Saint Patrick was not necessarily bound to endorse everything Augustine of Hippo speculated on Filioque, and that even Augustine himself did not hold Filioque as a dogma necessary for (unto) salvation?  What did Saint Patrick say on the Trinity and on the Holy Spirit?  

The question about whether Saint Patrick followed the Creed of Constantinople (381) seems to assume a top-down understanding of how the early Christians did theology.  One also needs to take into consideration the fact that as Christianity spread across the ancient world, the Church’s teaching on the Trinity was transmitted via the Regula Fidei – a baptismal creed that the bishop or priest transmitted (passed on) to the catechumen.  The primary source for the early Church’s theology was Apostolic Tradition.  We find evidence of the Trinity in the early creeds like the Apostles Creed which presented the Church’s Christology and doctrine and the Trinity in short, terse phrases.  It was not until the Arian controversy of the fourth century that the creeds took on a more formal and precise form that we know today.

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne d’Auxerre – Auxerre, Burgundy

Could Saint Patrick have known of Augustine of Hippo’s teaching on the double procession of the Holy Spirit?  There is no definite answer here, just speculation based upon the few facts known about his life.  We know that between his escape from Irish captivity and his later return to Ireland as a missionary, Patrick undertook theological studies in Gaul.  He studied in Auxerre (Burgundy), visited Marmoutier Abbey in Tours, received the monastic tonsure at the Lerins Abbey, and ordained to the priesthood by Saint Germanus of Auxerre.  If we assume that Patrick completed his formal studies by age 30 (circa 420), then he was studying theology while Augustine was writing De Trinitate circa 399 to 419.  Given the limited interchange between Ireland and Gaul in that period, it is improbable that Patrick knew of Augustine’s theological speculations.  Patrick became a monastic in Lerins, where there was some independence from Augustine of Hippo’s influence.  Vincent of Lerins (d. 445) is reputed to have opposed Augustine of Hippo’s “new” theology.  Did Saint Patrick know of the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople?  Given his studies in Gaul in early 400s, a few decades after the first two Ecumenical Councils, it is quite probable that he knew of the two councils and the theological issues involved.


Reflections on Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

The well known Saint Patrick’s Breastplate or Lorica of Saint Patrick reflects an oral tradition that goes back to Saint Patrick.  Careful reading of this rune (prayer song) helps give insight into how Saint Patrick and other early Christians understood the Trinity.  The doctrine of the Trinity in the Breastplate reflects more the terse aphorisms of early baptismal creeds than elaborate formulas that would emerge in the wake later controversies.

In the opening and closing stanzas, Patrick does not express intellectual assent to a detailed theology of the Trinity as he binds himself to the Triune God for protection, succor, and guidance.  He understands being a Christian in terms of personal union with Christ.  It is in union with Christ that we have eternal life and are saved.  In the second stanza, Patrick recounts Christ’s saving work following the narrative of the ancient creeds.  In the third stanza, Patrick invokes the help of the heavenly hosts and the Church Triumphant.  In the fourth stanza, Patrick reflects on God’s creation which is charged with divine grace.  In the fifth stanza, Patrick reflects on the many ways God works in our lives.  God holds us; He guides us; He teaches us; He shields us from harm; He hearkens to our needs; and He gives us words to speak.  The sixth stanza invokes Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness.  The seventh stanza is an extended meditation on the many ways Christ is present in our lives – this is a profoundly intimate union that Christ has with us.  In the closing stanza, Patrick returns to the theme of personal union with Christ.  It speaks powerfully today to Christians living in a post-Christian world as it did to Saint Patrick’s pre-Christian Ireland.


  Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles, faith of Confessors,In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind myself today the power of heaven – Kerry Dark-Sky Reserve

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
Gd’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

May we learn from Saint Patrick’s fierce, strong love for Christ.  Wishing you a blessed Saint Patrick Day!

Robert Arakaki


Additional Readings

Is Saint Patrick and Orthodox Saint?”  Reformed-Orthodox Bridge Robert Arakaki

Differences Between the Celtic and Roman ChurchesCushnie Enterprises

The Celtic Liturgy”  Cushnie Enterprises



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