Today we celebrate the summer feast of St Nicholas. This is a special day for me: ten years ago, as I was preparing to leave my old life behind and join a monastery, I went in Bari for four days, to pray to St Nicholas. Every day, I was in front of the Cathedral before it opened, and I prayed until closing time in the small Chapel where the Saint’s relics are kept. I remember eating a lot of strawberries those days – they were cheap, delicious and easy to sneak into the church. I also remember the cool air and semi-darkness of the underground Chapel; when I got outside, in the afternoon, the whole world looked different: it was hot, and violently light.
I received my blessing to become a monastic there, and I also received a blessing to make a pilgrimage St Seraphim’s monastery in Diveievo, Russia. This was to be my last pilgrimage before I entered the monastery in Bucovine. St Nicholas has helped me like no-one else: he is the protector of my father confessor’s church, he is the protector of my first monastery, and he is also the protector of the small Orthodox mission we founded in Newcastle during my PhD years at Durham University.
St Nicholas has taught me to ignore mistakes (my own and others’), to forgive (myself and others) and to continue to love. He has shown me so many times that all it takes is a heart-felt cry for help and forgiveness, and God’s Kingdom is ready to come into one’s heart. Above all, St Nicholas has taught me that I should love people for the Christ within them, not for who they are (or are not) now, in this life; not for what they do (or do not) now, on this Earth. He has always ignored the earth in me, and the horrible mistakes of this earthly man, and he has continued to love me for the Christ-like man I shall be (by God’d enduring Grace and never-changing love) after Christ’s Judgement.
There is something God-like in St Nicholas, which is mostly visible in the way he loves: his love knows no limit, no condition, no change. May God grant all of us the blessing of being loved, and being able to love like this.
On this Feast-day, I should tell you that we’ve reached 60% of the money we need for the land. With God’s help and your support, we have a real chance to raise the money we need to buy our land: please consider making a donation, and please tell everyone you know of our monastery. You never know what God tells people in their hearts.