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February 4, 2016

Saint Nicholas the Studite and Confessor (+ 868)

St. Nicholas the Studite (Feast Day - February 4)


Resolved to stand firm as a rule of life,
And Nicholas measured out his life.

Saint Nicholas was born in Kydonia of Crete in 793. He was raised in the education and admonition of the Lord, and by the age of ten had an advanced reading and vocabularly comprehension. When he was ten, his parents sent him to Constantinople to continue his education, and there joined his uncle Theophanes who was a monk at Stoudios Monastery. Being young and beardless, Nicholas was enrolled in the school attached to Stoudios Monastery, and when he matured in age he was dressed in the monastic schema. Saint Theodore (Nov. 11) was abbot of the Monastery at the time, and young Nicholas greatly profited from his teachings and exemplary life, and was his lifelong disciple. Having attained the summit of virtue, Saint Theodore ordained Nicholas to the priesthood.

After a period of peace under Emperor Michael I (811-813), in 815 a new persecution was initiated by the iconoclast Emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820), causing the community of Stoudios to scatter, and Theodore was exiled to the fortress of Metopa on the Hellespont in Bithynia. He was followed by Nicholas, who willingly shared in the ill-treatment and privations endured by his spiritual father. He looked after him and transcribed his teachings, which, sent in secret to his scattered disciples, were a powerful support to the Orthodox cause. They remained imprisoned here for one year.

They were then exiled to the remote fortress of Bonita, when it was seen by the emperor that their exile worked to their advantage. There they were under the close watch of the guards and cruelly treated. When one of Theodore's letters was intercepted, which denounced both the emperor and the heresy of iconoclasm, the soldier Anastasios, who was appointed by the emperor to rehabilitate them, ordered the two Confessors to be flogged without mercy. Left bloodied and half-dead on the frozen earth, they recovered through binding one another's wounds with the rags supplied by their guards, although the prevailing conditions would not allow them to heal quickly. Then they were imprisoned and starved almost to death. Both endured such torments for three years, and remained steadfast, causing even some of the guards to pity them for their ill-treatment.

Three months after this brutal beating, the emperor decided to have Theodore and Nicholas transferred to Smyrna. They were again imprisoned and placed in stocks. In such appalling conditions, they remained for a year and a half.

In 820 Leo was assassinated, and Michael II became emperor. Although an iconoclast, he had the Confessors set free. They made their way back to Constantinople, desiring to return to their Monastery, but they were denied entrance into the City, so they sought refuge in Chalcedon with Patriarch Nikephoros, who was forced to retire there. He gladly received them with the honor reserved for Martyrs, and they stayed there for a time. Granted an interview in 821 with the emperor to discuss icon veneration, he remained stubbornly in his error, and prohibited anyone from setting up icons in the City, although it was allowed in the suburbs. Therefore they departed Constantinople with other disciples in order to pursue their Orthodox practice at Cape Akrites, near Nicomedia and the Church of Saint Tryphon, where Theodore liturgized daily. Then in 826 Theodore reposed in the Prince's Islands in Prinkipo. Nicholas did not leave the graveside of his spiritual father for a long time, but spent much time in the vicinity in asceticism and prayer.

Under Emperor Theophilos (829-842), the persecution against the Orthodox was savage, causing the monks to scatter once again. Nicholas found refuge in a European suburb of Constantinople called Firmopolis, on the estate of a devout iconodule woman, and this place eventually came to be a dependency of Stoudios Monastery. When Orthodoxy was restored under the devout iconophile Empress Theodora (842-856), wife of the now deceased Theophilos, and Patriarch Methodios, Saint Nicholas was able to return to Stoudios Monastery, which was now under the leadership of Abbot Naukratios. Soon Stoudios Monastery was returned to its former glory, and the holy relics of Saint Theodore were transferred there. Later, in 846, Nicholas became the Abbot.

The abbacy of Saint Nicholas did not last long. After three years he appointed the monk Sophronios as abbot in order to retire in Firmopolis, where he could live a life of prayer in peace. Four years later, after the repose of Sophronios, the brethren sought for the return of Nicholas, and he consented to their pleas.

New trials awaited Nicholas when Patriarch Ignatios was dethroned for opposing the anti-canonical marriage of Michael II, and the troubles that disturbed the Church following the election of Saint Photios. Nicholas did not consider the elevation of Saint Photios from a layman to a patriarch as valid, so he retired to Prenetos, a dependency of Stoudios on the gulf of Nicomedia. Meanwhile, Nicholas had appointed Evarestos as his successor at Stoudios. Wanting to escape imperial persecution, Abbot Evarestos and a monk named Paphnutios found Christian hospitality in the house of a rich man named Samuel. When Nicholas became ill, Evarestos brought Nicholas there. When a property in Constantinople became available, they went there with a number of monks from Stoudios, and this became known as Kokorobion Monastery.

When Nicholas recovered, he decided to seek a life of silence in Prokonnesos, the largest island in the Sea of Marmara. There he was visited by Emperor Michael and Caesar Bardas to have him return to Stoudios and acknowledge Photios, but in vain. Nicholas replied to them: "Unless you should repent of your wicked ways, you shall die sudden and evil deaths." With these words, the angered men drove the Saint off the island and appointed another abbot over Stoudios. Nicholas fled to Lesvos, and then went to Cherson on the Crimean peninsula. Seven years later he was arrested by the emperor there, and was imprisoned for two years in Constantinople. He was freed when both Theophilos and Bardas died the deaths that was foretold to them. Basil I the Macedonian assassinated Bardas in 865, was crowned co-emperor in 866, then had Michael murdered in his bedchamber in 867.

As sole emperor, Basil was Orthodox in his beliefs but had dangerous ambitions. Patriarch Photios was replaced with Patriarch Ignatios, and Nicholas was liberated from the dungeon and brought to the palace. Basil encouraged Nicholas to resume his duties at Stoudios, but being advanced in age, Nicholas desired retirement. However, at Basil's insistence, Nicholas returned to Stoudios, and Basil would often visit him for spiritual advice. Meanwhile Evarestos remained at Kokorobion, where Nicholas often visited until his repose. Following the repose of Nicholas, Kokorobion became independent of Stoudios, and Evarestos became its abbot, with Paphnutios as his assistant.

Being a vessel of grace, Saint Nicholas became renowned as a wonderworker. When Eudokia, the wife of Emperor Basil, became gravely ill and near death, she saw in a vision an elderly monastic shining forth with divine light, who advised her to place her hope in God, who would heal her. She then asked Basil her husband to bring to the palace all the holy elders of the area, and among them was Nicholas. When Eudokia saw him, she immediately recognized him as the man who appeared to her and encouraged her, and humbly bowing before him, she instantly recovered.

In another instance Helen, the wife of the patrician Manuel, succumbed to a serious and life-threatening disease. When she was near death, her family began to make funeral arrangements. Saint Nicholas, knowing of her illness, went to visit her on her sickbed. After making the sign of the cross over her body, she rose up completely restored and free of pain. Not too long after, her husband Manuel became gravely ill and was at the point of death. It had been his desire to receive monastic tonsure before his repose. From his sickbed he sent a message to Nicholas in this regard, but Nicholas responded that God would heal him and he would go on to serve an important position in the court, in which he would do much good. He also said that he did not deny him the monastic tonsure, but that it simply was not God's will for him at the time. Rather, he would depart to God in the appointed time adorned with many good works. These things came to pass, and when Manuel again became terminally ill, Nicholas tonsured him a monk and he reposed.

Another patrician named Theophilos, from the illustrious and noble family of Melissenos, suffered with his wife the loss of all their children soon after their birth. Finally, when a daughter was born to them, the father hastened to bring her to Nicholas, saying: "Abba, do stand as a sponsor for my little girl. I believe that through your prayers, we shall not lose her as those who have gone before her." Nicholas declined to be her godfather, but uttered a prayer to God on her behalf. He then prophesied to Theophilos, saying: "Thus says the Holy Spirit: Your daughter shall live and thrive. You shall indeed behold the sons of her sons." Indeed, this came to pass, for the daughter became great in beauty, and was married in a young age and bore children. Her father also lived to see the sons of his daughter's sons.

Saint Theodore the Studite had written of his disciple Nicholas: "Brother Nicholas suffered bravely and with fidelity." Truly he had fought the good fight, and is remembered by the Church as a Confessor, Abbot, Scribe and Wonderworker. In all he had spent thirty-four years in bitter exile, many times under the worst conditions. When he was seventy-five years of age, he fell ill and took to bed. He foreknew in the Spirit that this illness would usher in his repose, so he gathered all the brethren and asked them if they needed anything from him. Surprised at this inquiry, they mentioned that they were running low in grain. Nicholas assured the brethren that on the third day after his repose, God would supply them with the grain they needed. Then before he gave his final breath, he appointed Clement as his successor. The man of God then surrendered his holy soul on the 4th of February, in the year 868. And indeed, three days after the repose of the Saint, a ship laden with grain sent by Emperor Basil put in at the Monastery's harbor. Miracles continued to take place even after the repose of the Saint.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Divine offspring, of Kydonia, and example, of a venerable life, you were shown to be Nicholas the Studite; and you revered the icon of Christ, excelling in the struggles of your confession. Venerable Father, entreat Christ God, to grant us the great mercy.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
From Kydonia you rose like a brilliant luminary, and you illuminate the fullness of the Church with your steadfast confession God-bearer. The veneration of the icon of Christ you elucidated with your struggles and pains. Wherefore we cry out: Rejoice, Father Nicholas.

Rejoice, divine offspring of Kydonia, and the Monastery of Stoudios, inspiring example of virtue; rejoice, proclaimer of the divine confession, Nicholas thrice-blessed, trophy of Crete.