Gospel of Ten Lepers / St Nicholas the Wonderworker
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate one of the most beloved saints of the Orthodox Church: St Nicholas, the wonderworker! St Nicholas is recognized and beloved all over the world… many countries claim him as their patron and protector, people all over the world pray for his intercessions and look to him as a loving father and helper in times of distress.
St Nicholas was born in the third century in the town of Myra in what is today the country of Turkey. Nicholas was taught by his parents to love the Lord with his whole mind, heart, soul, and strength. When they died, he inherited their money, which he gave generously to help the poor, the hungry, and the sick. Whenever he helped anyone, he tried to do so secretly, so that only God would know - he did not want praise from people; he wanted his reward to be only in Heaven.
Having given away all of his inheritance, St Nicholas left the world behind to become a monk… seeking only closeness with God and repentance for his sins. But St Nicholas’ good disposition and faithfulness could not be hidden and he was soon called into service as a parish priest. He worked very hard, conducting the services, instructing his flock, and helping those in need. He was a true spiritual father to all.
When the local bishop of Myra died, a successor needed to be chosen. It was initially unclear who should be the new bishop. The people kept a vigil and prayed all night long in the cathedral, begging God to guide them. God revealed to one of the bishops that the first priest to enter the church in the morning should be chosen as the new archbishop. At sunrise, a simple priest, Father Nicholas, came quietly into the cathedral to say his morning prayers. In this way the Lord God revealed His choice for archbishop.
St Nicholas faithfully and diligently led his flock. In the year 325 a great Council of the Orthodox Church was held in the city of Nicea. 317 bishops from all over the world came. At this Council part of the Creed we sing in every Divine Liturgy was written down and St. Nicholas was a staunch defender of the teachings of the Church against the heretic Arius who denied that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and was leading many people astray by his false teaching.
The pure heart of St. Nicholas manifested itself throughout his episcopate by his defense of the Orthodox faith, his kindheartedness and continued charity, and by his fervent prayers and intercessions for his flock. God rewarded his faithful servant by working many miracles through him. Innumerable are the stories of God’s mercy through the prayers of St Nicholas. During his lifetime he calmed the seas, he protected children, he was able to multiply food as did our Lord. And these miraculous intercessions continued and multiplied after his blessed repose in 343 and are reported even into our own day.
He was buried in his cathedral, but in the year 1087 his relics were taken to Italy to save them from the Turks who were persecuting Christians and destroying churches and holy objects, and they remain to this day in the city of Bari. As a sign of God's grace, myrrh comes forth from the relics of St. Nicholas and many who have been anointed with it receive healing.
Such a grace-filled life! The grace of God shone upon St Nicholas and that light found a pure and grateful heart which acted as a mirror – reflecting that light of grace upon all those around him.
God’s grace is indeed generously given – but whether that grace bears fruit depends on whether that grace falls upon a heart of gratitude, of indifference, or of rejection.
We see this illustrated in today’s Gospel with the story of the ten lepers who were healed by the grace of our Lord. That healing grace was generously offered to all ten of them, but only one returned to give thanks to God. The others received their healing… but it went no further than that. The man with the grateful heart, returned to the Lord to offer his thanks, and that connection multiplied the healing of his skin into the healing of his soul.
Gratitude is an important virtue, and it demonstrates the proper sense of truly understanding who we are and Who God is. Expressing our thankfulness is more than just a courtesy… it is a disposition of the heart, and it is the opening-up of a relationship between two persons. The most important difference about the one man who returned to thank our Lord is not that he showed courtesy to the One Who gave him the gift of his health. What did this man gain that the others did not? All ten of them gained their physical health, but only the one who returned to express his gratitude opened the door of establishing a loving relationship with God. This is part of the mystery and the importance of a grateful heart… it is the grateful heart that is open to the Lord and that enters into a living and loving relationship with Him.
And this is the key to the grace-filled life of our holy father Nicholas the Wonderworker. It was his grateful heart, open and directed toward the Source of light and grace that made him the great saint that he was as bishop of Myra and continues to make him the great saint that he is for us today.
Through the prayers of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, may we nurture a heart of gratitude to God… a heart that is awake to the innumerable miracles we experience every day: the rising of the sun, the beating of our heart, the people we encounter in this life, the ability and freedom to pray for ourselves and for one another. Dare we take these things for granted? They are assuredly given to us by the generosity of God. If we can live our lives in such a wakeful state of wonder and gratitude for all things, we become aware of the closeness and the lovingkindness of God. And this, brothers and sisters in Christ, fills our lives with His grace. As we pray in the Divine Liturgy, let us lift up our hearts… and let us give thanks unto the Lord!