Most of us are aware that St. Nicholas’ feast is on December 6th (thus the connection to Christmas), yet this is not his only feast. Whereas the feast day in December is when the Church commemorates his falling asleep in the Lord, on May 9th the Church commemorates the translation (movement) of his relics from Myra (in Modern day Turkey) to Bari, in Italy.
To be honest, this is somewhat of a puzzling feast day. There are many feasts that commemorate the movement of saint’s relics from one place to another; but generally all parties involved are somewhat in agreement about it all. But if one reads the story of this particular feast, it is pretty obvious there wasn’t a lot of agreemeent, as St. Nicholas’ relics were forcibly stolen by Venetians traders.
Yet even in this (and maybe especially because of this), the Lord’s merciful desire to save humanity is revealed. St. Paul asks us to consider these kinds of circumstances when he states “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rm. 8:28). There is something in this to consider, even in the face of the outright theft of such an important saint from his very home.
Given the erosion of the Romano/Byzantine Empire, and the increasing desecration of Christian sites and holy places by the Ottomans and pirates, there is something providential that St. Nicholas’ relics were moved to safety. As well, the people of Myra were given the opportunity to strengthen their relationship with the Lord and His saint, Nicholas; for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
It is not as if St. Nicholas stopped caring for the people of Myra (or anywhere else) once his relics were moved; nor did the people of Myra (or anywhere else) stop praying for his help because His relics were moved. One of the Vespers hymns for this feast beautifully states this “Not from Bari do we now invoke you, but from the Jerusalem on high, where you rejoice with the apostles, prophets and hierarchs in gladness”
Indeed the same compassion, that he visited on the poverty stricken father and his daughters, or intercessions he made for the unjustly condemned generals, could even shine brighter for the faithful of Myra (or anywhere else), that even having the relics of their saint being taken, his love for the Lord and them could not.
This is something that we should consider, as we will enviably face situations in our lives that don’t make sense, or seem/are unjust. It doesn’t mean that we should let people walk over us, but rather, we should ask the Lord to grant us wisdom to understand what it is He is teaching us, and ask for His strength to endure the changes. Most importantly we should like the people of Myra, give thanks to the Lord for his providential mercy and love, knowing nothing (let alone the forceable removal of a saint’s relics) “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8:39)
Just maybe, celebrating this feast, for our beloved patron and protector, in these puzzling times, should become for us a new tradition, especially as it reveals the love of God, and his heavenly intercessions all the more. By the prayers of St. Nicholas, may it be so.