December 24, 2010

The Victory of Saint Nicholas the Commander

St. Nicholas the Commander (Feast Day - December 24); Picture is a scene from the Battle of Pliska

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Some think this great saint was a Slav of Balkan ancestry. At the time of Emperor Nikephoros, Nicholas was a commander and had authority over a division of the army that went to war against the Bulgarians. Along the way, Nicholas spent the night in an inn, where he experienced a great temptation and had a strange dream. This dream fully came to pass in the war, where the Greeks were utterly defeated by the Bulgarians in the year 811. Nicholas was spared, and out of gratitude for God's providence he left his military rank and became a monk. He lived a long life of asceticism and became so perfect that he became a great clairvoyant and God-pleaser. He died peacefully in the ninth century and took up his habitation in the Blessed Kingdom of Christ the Lord.

A Reflection From His Life

Victory over temptation is victory over death. This is shown by a wondrous experience of St. Nicholas the Commander.

When this commander went off with King Nikephoros's army against the Bulgarians [Battle of Pliska], it happened that he spent the night in a wayside inn. The innkeeper had a daughter, a young girl, who, attracted by the imperial commander's outward beauty, began to entice him into sin. Nicholas refused her once, saying to her that this was enticing him into a satanic act. Nevertheless, the shameless girl came a second and a third time to the commander's room and again tempted him to an impure act. The commander refused both the second and third propositions even more decisively, counseling her to preserve her virginity and not to give her body and soul over to the devil. Finally, he said to her that he was a soldier and was going to war, and that it was unworthy and dangerous for a soldier to soil himself with such a misdeed, which would anger God and lead him to certain death. Thus, this God-loving man conquered temptation.

The following day, he moved farther on with the army. The next night, he saw the following vision: He was standing in a spacious field and saw near him a powerful man sitting with his right leg crossed over his left. Before them stood two armies in the field, one facing the other, the Greeks and the Bulgarians. This powerful man told him to watch carefully what was about to happen. Nicholas looked and saw the following: As long as the powerful man kept his right leg crossed over the left, the Greek army overcame the Bulgarian army, and when he changed his position and placed his left leg over the right leg, the Bulgarians charged and ferociously cut down the Greeks. Then this powerful man brought the commander closer to the slaughtered Greek army. The entire field was covered with corpses, body beside body. Only in the middle of these corpses was there an empty space, large enough for the body of a man. Then the man said to Nicholas: "This place was appointed for your body, but since you defeated the devil's temptations three times last night, you saved your body and soul from death."

That which Nicholas saw in his dream, he saw precisely in reality at the time of the battle. The entire Greek army perished on the battlefield, but Nicholas returned home alive, not to the barracks anymore, but to a monastery.