By Matt LaBarre, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – For Orthodox Christians, St. Nicholas is renowned for his teachings, and for being the guardian of his people.
For those who worship at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, located at 34 Gold Street in Shrewsbury, the fourth century saint has a special significance. And thanks to a conversation between their pastor, Father Nicholas Apostola and a bishop in Italy, the church now has an important and rare connection to the saint.
That connection is a “relic” – a sliver from one of Saint Nicholas’s bones – which has been encased in wax, and embedded into a beautiful icon.
Fr. Nick (as he prefers to be known as) recalled he had mentioned his desire to obtain a relic several years ago in a conversation with an Orthodox bishop in Italy. That bishop was able to obtain the relic and then have it sent to St. Nicholas Church.
In the rush, and the push for “logical and tangible” explanations for everything, Fr. Nick suggested that most of us have lost the wonder all around us, and the faith that God creates signs every single day.
“Our faith is not dependent on relics, but we consider a relic to be a sign, one of a number of signs, of wonder,” he said. “One of my mentors suggested that there are really no miracles, but what we consider a miracle is a sign, or a wonder.”
“There are many signs available for us to see every day,” he added. “Relics are signs, and so are trees and a sunrise.”
Saint Nicholas has been venerated in the Orthodox Church for many ages, for his holiness and his closeness with God. In the fourth century he was the Bishop of Myra, a province of Asia Minor. Many Christians would be familiar with one version or another of the story of St. Nicholas, who heard of a poor man with three daughters who he could no longer support, and as such, could not provide them with dowries, which meant they could not marry.
Because of their poverty, the man decided he would have to turn the daughters over to a life of prostitution. When Nicholas heard this, he proceeded, under the cover of darkness, to throw a bag of gold through the man’s open window, providing the eldest daughter with a dowry. On succeeding nights (according to some versions it was all on the same night) Nicholas threw two more bags of gold through the man’s window, thus providing dowries for all three daughters. The man saw Nicholas and was extremely grateful. This story may have something to do, depending on who you talk to, with St. Nicholas “becoming” what many now know as “Santa Claus”.
When the Saracens took control of Myra, Saint Nicholas’ body was exhumed and carried to the city of Bari in Italy, where a Basilica was built to enshrine him. The body had a sweet – smelling myrrh surrounding it, which kept it from corruption and provided a health – giving remedy to sickness. The myrrh is called “manna of St. Nicholas” and is said to be present to this day.
“We’re blessed to have this relic in the church,” Father Nick said. “People approach, venerate, and pray at the icon and relic with great piety.”
St. Nicholas Church is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the congregation’s founding with celebrations on Saturday, Dec. 7 and Sunday, Dec. 8. The main reception for this celebration is an open house party on Dec. 7 from 3-7 p.m. at the church. The party will feature Mediterranean food stations, a live jazz trio, and holiday cheer. Admission is a $25 per person donation. Archbishop Metropolitan Nicolae will attend and be part of services on both Saturday and Sunday.
For additional details about the relic, or the anniversary celebration, visit www.StNicholasChurch.org.