Monthly Archives: December 2023

On the real “Saint Nick” – 2023

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The REAL Saint Nicholas – of Myra – “saved three innocents from death.”  (“Inter alia…”)

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December 17, 2023 – It’s that time of year again. Time to wonder – as if we don’t already have enough on our plate to worry about – Should Parents Tell Children the Truth About Santa? The short answer: Yes, there really is – or was – a Saint Nicholas. And actually, there are several foundational figures, prototypes for today’s “Santa Claus.” One of the first was Nikolaos of Myra.

He was a historic, bond fide 4th-century saint and Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of today’s Turkey). He was also called “Nikolaos the Wonderworker,” thanks to miracles “attributed to his intercession.” See Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, and also Saint Nicholas … Britannica:

Saint Nicholas, also called Nicholas of Bari or Nicholas of Myra [is] one of the most popular minor saints commemorated in the Eastern and Western churches and now traditionally associated with the festival of Christmas. In many countries children receive gifts on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day.

To which I would respond: “He doesn’t seem to be such a minor ‘saint’ these days.”

And speaking of corruption – nothing new these days – that brings up the three innocent men sentenced to death, in the painting atop the page. It was the “corrupt prefect Eustathios” who imposed the sentence. (After accepting bribes to “bring about the deaths of three men.”) This first St. Nicholas “was not one to be intimidated by the power of others, especially the power of the corrupt.” Accordingly, he “stormed into the prefect’s office and demanded that the charges against the three men be dropped.” Eustathios eventually “confessed … and sought the saint’s forgiveness.” Nicholas forgave him, but only after the ruler underwent a period of repentance. Which led me to think: “Boy, we could sure use him today!!!

Other stories told of Nicholas of Myra’s “love for God and for his neighbor.”  Like providing dowries for three poor unmarried daughters.  (Thus saving them from a life of prostitution.)  Or of three children killed and “pickled” by a butcher – during a time of extreme famine and cannibalism – who planned “to sell them off as ham.”  But Nicholas both “’saw through the butcher’s horrific crime’ and resurrected the three children from the barrel.”

And while it’s true that Christmas is only a week or so away, that famous festival is preceded by the Feast day of Thomas the Apostle (also known as “Doubting Thomas”), on December 21. And Thomas – in a big way – serves as a metaphor for all us “Doubters.”

That is, the term “Doubting Thomas” refers to a “skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience.” But as I’ve noted previously, that’s just what attending church and reading the Bible is supposed to provide: A chance at a direct and personal experience with the Force that Created the Universe. See also The Bible and mysticismwhich said that Christianity is all about “obtaining unity with God, through Christ.” So a mystic and a Christian both seek that “direct personal experience with God.:

In plain words there are two sides of the Christian experience:  The “corporate” or business side, and the “mystical” side.  The problem is that so many Christians get hung up on the “business side” of the Christian faith.  Mainly because it’s so much easier…  But it’s only the mystical side that can lead to a direct personal experience with God, and Thomas the Apostle is a reminder that – hard as that may be – it can be done….

On that note there’s the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, “a way to understand our four-sided approach to answering questions about Christian belief and practice.” Those four sides include Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. And of those four: “What Scripture teaches, tradition affirms and reason supports, must be experienced in Christian community and lives. Without authentic experience, we never move beyond the faith of the devils.” Put another way, “Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity.”

So here’s wishing you first a happy “original Doubting Thomas” day, then a happy “real St. Nick” festival day. And that if you haven’t found it already, that in the New Year coming up you can find that “direct personal experience with God.” (But not necessarily in the same way as those three “innocents condemned to death” at the top of the page…)

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Santa Claus – or “Saint Nick” – as pictured more recently…

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The upper image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center … Saint Who Stopped an Execution. 

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

Re: Santa. See also Should Parents Go Along With the Santa Myth? – Psychology Today.

For this post I borrowed from some of my earlier posts, On the original St. Nicholas (2014), On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas” (2015), There really IS a “Saint Nick” (Virginia…), from 2017, and Santa saves three men, and “Doubting” shows the way (2018).

Re: Quadrilateral. See also The Wesleyan Quadrilateral – The Wesleyan Church.

The lower image is courtesy of Santa Claus – Wikipedia, captioned, “1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, along with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.” As to the original, see St. Nicholas Center ::: Saint Who Stopped an Execution, which told of his hearing the news, then rushing to the site of the planned execution:

Informed that their execution was to be carried out that morning, he hurried to the executioner’s field. Here he found a large crowd of people and the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow. Nicholas passed through the crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed from their bonds. His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell…

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On Advent 2023 – “Happy New (Liturgical) Year!”

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The 2024 Church Year actually started on December 3, 2023 – as detailed in the text below…

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

The Book of Common Prayer says that by sharing Holy Communion, Christians become “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Jesus. The words “corporate” and “mystical” are the key. They show that a healthy church has two sides. The often-overlooked “mystical” side asks, “How do I experience God?” This blog will try to answer that.

It has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. As it says in Luke 24:45: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” The fourth theme – and most often overlooked – is that Jesus wants us to do even greater miracles than He did. (John 14:12.) 

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Sunday, December 3, was the First Sunday of Advent. That began a four-week church season that calls us to look in four directions at once: “back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth.” It is a time of anticipation, and not just for Christmas:

The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year [2020] has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.

Those comments were from a blogger back in 2020, and he was right. That year was filled with bad events that presented a host of problems, old and new. They included a just-new COVID epidemic and the Election That Seemed Like It Would Never End. (And looks to continue – “Part Two” – later in the calendar year 2024.) But then again, “man is born to trouble as as sparks fly upward. So it seems like this upcoming year too will present even more daunting problems.

But rather than opening up that can of worms, let’s get back to the start of Advent.

For one thing, Advent actually starts with the Feast of St. Andrew. He’s the disciple who met Jesus first, then brought his brother Peter along to meet Him too. As such he is called the “First Apostle,” and this year his feast day came on Thursday, November 30. The National Catholic Register said he was “one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but many people know little about him.” Which is another way of saying he was pretty important, but often overlooked:

Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four…   That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers[.  In fact,] because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”

See also Who Was Andrew the Apostle? The Beginner’s Guide. See the notes for cites to past posts, with a host of information on things like Advent Calendars, and also tradents. (They helped the men with the pen understand those “cheat sheets” that were the earliest Bible scrolls.) But for now it’s enough to repeat that Advent as a church season has been around a long time. For example, starting about 300 A.D. Advent was “kept as a period of fasting as strict as in Lent.” But then around 1917 the Catholic Church “abolished the precept of fasting …  but kept Advent as a season of penitence.” But it’s also a time of “joyful anticipation.”

Another thing to note is that for three of the four Sundays of Advent, the Old Testament readings – in many churches – will be from the prophet Isaiah, shown below:

Isaiah is the prophet who guides our journey through Advent as we prepare for Christmas. Advent is a season of joyful anticipation, and Isaiah invites us to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord.

Beyond that, Isaiah urges us to straighten out our crooked ways, tear down our mountains of misdeeds, and fill in the valleys of our bad habits.” Which sounds a lot like lyrics from Handel’s Messiah, a fixture of the Christmas season: “Woe to the concert hall in the United States or Britain that fails to schedule the piece around the holiday, when, as well, CD sales and Web downloads of the oratorio soar.” So have a Happy Advent, full of joyful anticipation…

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The prophet Isaiah, featured in this season’s Advent O.T. readings…

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The upper image is courtesy of Happy New Year 2024 – Image Results. The full link in the caption is Calendar of the Church Year – The Episcopal Church, noting Advent as the “first season of the church year, beginning with the fourth Sunday before Christmas.” See also Liturgical year – Wikipedia.

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

For this post I borrowed, from 2016, On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent, December 2020, Advent, and a “new beginning,” Advent 2021 – “Enjoy yourself…”,” and On Advent 2022 – and St. Andrew, from December 7 of that year, with information on Advent Calendars, including a cite to Advent calendars are raking it in while counting it down. Also, On Advent ’22, Tradents, and “Scriptio continua.” (12/21/22)

“Advent calls us to look back.” See the post by Boston College‘s Matthew Monnig. And the “man is born to trouble” quote is from Job 5:7.

The Old Testament reading not from Isaiah – on December 24, the last Sunday of Advent – is 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16. (Where David and the prophet Nathan discuss building a house for God, and God responds, in essence, “Did I ask you to build a house for me?”)

The full “Handel’s Messiah” link is The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah – Smithsonian Magazine.

The lower image is courtesy of Isaiah – Wikipedia, with the full caption, “Isaiah, by Michelangelo, (c. 1508–1512, Sistine Chapel ceilingVatican City).” See also, on “the prophet who guides our journey”: Isaiah: Old Testament prophet for the Advent season.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. From the Old Testament, Psalm 9:10, “You never forsake those who seek you, O Lord.” (In the Version in the Book of Common Prayer.) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…  (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.”

However, after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training. And as noted in “Buck private,” one of this blog’s themes is that if you want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The related image at left is courtesy of: “”

Re: “mystical.” Originally, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.” See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”) See also Christian mysticism – Wikipedia, “In early Christianity the term ‘mystikos’ referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative… The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.” As to that “experiential” aspect, see also Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Wikipedia, on the method of theological reflection with four sources of spiritual development: scripturetradition, reason, and “Christian experience.”

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR