Sunday, February 24, 2013

FEAST OF ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS & BANANA PUDDING


Council of Seven Holy Archangels, Russian Icon

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, also known as Michaelmas, is celebrated on September 29 (November 8 in Eastern Orthodoxy). The archangels and angels are honored in the Anglican, Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic Churches, as well as in Islam and Judaism.
……………………………………………………………...........

Because there are so many differing traditions in the honoring of angels, I’ll answer some of my own questions about angels in general before continuing on to my study of the Archangels.

Are angels real?

Yes. They have prominent roles in the Holy Bible and other sacred texts. Angels are omnipresent (of God and present everywhere at the same time), genderless beings.

Are angels saints?

Saints are humans who’ve died and now reside in heaven with God. Angels are not, and were not, ever human. Although, angels sometimes take on human appearances and they also influence humans in doing angelic works. We refer to the main four archangels as St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael and St. Uriel, out of respect, much like some children refer to beloved adult friends as aunts or uncles.

Is belief in angels silly or even bad?

Although I've been a subscriber of Angels-on-Earth Magazine from its inception, and have always believed in angels, I mostly kept quiet about it due to fear of the cynical negative judgement from others. Also, I have a vague memory of learning something about angels and evil practices. So on the one hand I feared being mocked for childlike naiveté, and on the other hand I feared that dabbling with direct angelic communication was at the very least not an acceptable Christian practice. 


I didn't fully recognize these fears until I began my research for this post. I discovered that the names of the archangels are used in Occult and other dark practices. Aha!


Make sure you don’t engage in dark practices involving lower energies. You can tell if what you’re doing is dark or involves a lower energy by heeding your intuition or the physical feeling in your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. You can also pray for protection from and clearing out of lower energies. (See prayer to St. Michael for spiritual protection below.)

Further, I’ve learned that God relies on the angels to carry out his work with us. So if you pray to God directly or to an angel or saint to intercede on your behalf, the angels will intervene for you through God’s love, will, and bright holy light.

For example,

Dear Lord, please protect me during my morning commute. Amen.

Or

Dear St. Michael, please use your shield to protect me, my car, and everyone around me as I drive to work this morning. Amen.

This is exactly the same prayer because angels are the “worker bees” of God. Everything the angels do comes directly from God.

Why did I research the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels?

Recently, a friend gave me a gift of a professional aura reading. Aura is the distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, thing or place. In this case, the aura reader/spiritual coach read my aura using a biofeedback monitor to translate my electrical pulse points into corresponding colors of light.

During this process, I learned that Archangel Uriel was in contact with me and sending me messages related to using my full intellect and letting go of fearing others’ opinions of me. Although, I had previously believed that I was receiving answers to prayers from the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was open to this possibility.

In fact, I had an epiphany – last year during a challenging period of writer’s block, I prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for me with God and show me my writing path. I awoke one morning with the idea for a blog called Saints and Recipes. This message was actually delivered to me by St. Uriel who intervened between God and me upon the intercession by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I know that this seems more complicated than it is. One can simply pray to God and receive an answer to that prayer without having to understand how it was carried out. Personally, I want to recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate all the holy beings working on my behalf.
.………………………………………………………………………

Ancient Hebrew Scriptures mention Messengers of God, heavenly beings resembling human or taking on human appearance. Messenger in Hebrew is “Malach” and in Greek “Angelos.”

The Roman Catholic Church officially venerates only Archangels Michael and Gabriel as saints because they are the only ones mentioned by name in the Gospels. However, local or folk catholic tradition venerates the same four honored in the Anglican and Episcopal Churches: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael and St. Uriel.

Other sacred texts list seven archangels whom are honored in other Churches. The list of the names for the next three varies according to text and Church:

Selaphiel, Jesudiel, Barachiel

Raguel, Zerachiel, Ramiel

Raguel, Sariel, and Jerahmeel

Another complication is that some on the list are different versions of the same name. So, even though I trust that there are even more archangels than the ones named above, I will focus this post only on the four main ones.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things have been created through him and for him. 
                                                                        Colossians 1:15-16

Later, a follower of Paul, Dionysius the Areopagite, a fifth-century Syrian monk, wrote that there were nine choirs or order of angels separated into three triads:

Seraphim – highest order, closest to God, pure light

Cherubim – second highest order, pure love, portrayed as chubby children with wings

Thrones – act as bridge between spiritual and material, ensuring fairness and justice

Dominions – overseers or managers carrying out God’s will

Virtues – responsible for the physical universe including the sun, moon, stars, Earth and all the planets

Powers – purifiers of lower energies

Principalities – responsible for all of Earth, especially the nations and cities, strive for God’s will of peace on Earth

Archangels – Overseers of human kind, high ranking but also serve as guardian angels. Each one represents a particular aspect of God.

Guardian Angels – assigned to individual humans for life

Although I know Clarence, George Bailey’s Guardian Angel, so well from repeated viewings of the movie IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, I found no proof that he was anything more than a wonderful character in a work of fiction. However, MICHAEL portrayed by John Travolta in a 1997 movie is not only real, but he is the most powerful of all archangels.


Archangel Michael, Guido Reni 1575-1642

St. Michael the Archangel is the leader of the sacred warriors. Michael means “who is like God” in Hebrew.

We learn in Daniel 12:1, At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.”

And in Revelations 12:7, “Then the war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.”

The dragon is the fallen angel known as Lucifer, Satan, or the devil and his followers. Of course, Michael and his armies slew the dragon. But the battle continues on an individual basis.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is strongly devoted to the angels and celebrates many angelic feasts throughout the year. Archangel Michael is named in many hymns and prayers and appears accompanying Christ in their icons.

The Roman Catholic Church refers to Archangel Michael as a saint -- veneration of him is not required but encouraged as a path to increase spiritual strength against evil. He’s considered the Patron Saint of Protection and protectors such as police, military, paramedics, firemen and security officers. St. Michael has four main Roman Catholic roles:  Supreme Enemy of Satan and the Fallen Angels, Christian Angel of Death, giving each soul a chance to redeem itself, Weigher of Souls on Judgment Day, and Guardian of the Roman Catholic Church.

A common Catholic prayer to St. Michael:

St. Michael the Archangel
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness,
and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of heavenly host,
by the Power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
                                                             Amen.

The Anglican churches are catholic and follow these same beliefs and practices. Over time, English, Irish, and Welsh communities created secular practices in honor of the feast day of St. Michael which they call Michaelmas. On this day, accounts are settled and local elections held. The traditional feast consisted of a harvest goose and St. Michael's Bannock, a big scone cooked on a griddle. 

Michaelmas is the name of the autumn term at English and Irish universities and one of four legal terms during the year in Wales and England.

A general prayer to Archangel Michael:

Dear Archangel Michael, thank you for protecting me and my loved ones. Thank you for watching over us, our homes, and our vehicles. Thank you for giving me courage and confidence to move forward with my Divine life purpose.
                                                                            Doreen Virtue

St. Michael’s specialties are:

        Protection:
                  In vehicles
                  Of belongings
                  Spiritual
                  Job reputation

        Life-purpose guidance
        Repairing necessary items
        Clearing and shielding

A prayer for spiritual protection:

Dear Archangel Michael, please surround me, my loved ones, and my home with your royal purple light to dissipate and ward off any lower energies. Please guide me clearly so that I may only interact with people who are living in truth and integrity.                                                                        
                                                           Doreen Virtue

St. Michael is associated with autumn, his halo or energy color is royal purple or blue with golden light, and his crystal/gemstone is sugilite.

…………………………………………………………………

Annunciation, Sandro Botticelli, 1445-1510

St. Gabriel is the Patron Saint of Messengers. Gabriel means “God is my Champion” or “Strength of God.” Gabriel is particularly tasked with delivering messages from God to humans as seen in the Gospel:

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. . . .  Luke 1:11-13

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I’ve been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news.”  
                                                                  Luke 1:18-19

Also in Luke 1:26-38, Gabriel announced the conception of Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation

Although referred to as “he” in the Gospels, Gabriel is associated with pregnancy, childbirth and divine communication, and is therefore shown in most artwork as a feminine form. Although all angels are genderless beings, Gabriel has a strong, nurturing, feminine energy.

A general prayer to St. Gabriel:

Dear Archangel Gabriel, thank you for giving me clear messages about [issue at hand] and for guiding and supporting me to be a clear messenger to help others, as you do. Amen.                                                                          
                                          Doreen Virtue


St. Gabriel’s specialties are:

Messenger/communication
Nurturing children
All aspects of parenting including conception, adoption, and birth
Life purpose involving children
Clear messages
Helping other messengers such as teachers, writers, actors, and artists

St. Gabriel is associated with winter, her halo or energy color is copper and her crystal/gemstone is copper.

…………………………………………………………


Arcangel San Rafael, Bartolomé Roman, 1587-1647

St. Raphael’s name means “God heals.”  He appears in the Apocrypha Book of Tobit (Greek) or Tobias (Latin) which is considered canonical, an additional part of the Holy Bible:

At that time, the prayers of both were heard in the sight of the glory of the most high God. And the holy angel of the Lord, Raphael, was sent to heal them both, whose prayers at one time were rehearsed in the sight of the Lord.                                                             Book of Tobit 3:24-25                

I wholeheartedly recommend the reading of the Book of Tobit (Tobias) in which St. Raphael plays such a prominent role. It's got demons, bird droppings, dead husbands, faithful friends, matchmaking, fish guts, miracles, and true love.

A general request for healing prayer:

Dear Archangel Raphael, thank you for infusing me and my loved ones with your healing light of God’s pure love.  
                                                 Doreen Virtue

St. Raphael’s specialties are:

Healing of people and animals
Guiding healers in their education and practice
Guidance and protection of travelers
Connection with soul mate

Many times the archangels work together. For instance, St. Raphael and St. Michael often work together to clear away fear and stress both of which can greatly affect a person’s health.

St. Raphael is associated with spring, his halo or energy color is emerald green, and his crystal/gemstone is emerald or malachite.
……………………………………………………………………


Mosaic of St. Uriel in St. John’s Church, Boreham, Wiltshire
James Powell and Sons of the White Friars Foundry, 1888

St. Uriel’s name means “God is my light.” He is often shown in artwork surrounded by sunlight or holding the fire of God in one hand, which shows openness to receiving intense divine light; and a book or scroll in the other hand, which shows his talent for interpretation. He’s associated with spiritual awakenings such as those experienced by the apostles on Pentecost.

He appears in the Apocrypha section of the Holy Bible, II Esdras, when Ezra is perplexed about the problem of evil and ways of God:

Then the angel that had been sent to me, whose name was Uriel, answered.
                                                                       II Esdras 4:1

In other sacred, but not canonical texts, Uriel rescues Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist and his mother, Elizabeth, from the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, and brings them to the Holy Family in Egypt.

The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t officially recognize St. Uriel as a saint because he isn't named in the Gospels. But at an unofficial local level and among other churches, St. Uriel is the Patron Saint of the Sacraments of Confirmation.


Oh holy Saint Uriel, intercede for us that our hearts may burn with the fire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Assist us in cooperating with the graces of our confirmation that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may bear fruit in our souls. Obtain for us the grace to use the sword of truth to pare away all that is not in conformity to the most adorable will of God in our lives that we may fully participate in the army of the Church. 

General prayer to St. Uriel:

Archangel Uriel, thank you for giving me information, ideas, and insights about [topic you want to know more about].”                               
                                                                                                                                                                          Doreen Virtue

St. Uriel’s specialties are:

Intellectual understanding
Conversations
Ideas, insights, epiphanies
Studying, school, test taking
Writing and speaking

St. Uriel is associated with summer and bright sunlight, his halo or energy color is yellow and his crystal/gemstone amber.

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
                                Collect, HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN: CELEBRATING THE SAINTS


Sources:

Archangels 101: How to Connect Closely with Archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Others for Healing, Protection, and Guidance by Doreen Virtue
Holy Bible: New International Version
.........................................................................................

There are more archangels to recognize, study and communicate with, but I’m going to stop here because I have a banana pudding to make. It’ll only be the second one I’ve ever made even though I’ve lived in the south (U.S.) almost 20 years. I enjoy eating it, but I’ve never made it as it’s never occurred to me to do so until I read Banana Pudding, an article in Our State Magazine.

The basic premise of the article is that no matter how one prepares banana pudding, whether assembled from store-bought components or completely homemade, it’s delicious, comforting, and familiar to southern folk and perfect for any occasion.

As I read, I thought, hmmm all those different types of banana puddings, for all those different types of occasions -- sounds a lot like angels. I also thought that anyone who brings a comforting banana pudding to a family suffering a death or illness can definitely be considered an angel.

And then I read this amazing line, “For five bucks, you can make a bowl of banana pudding that would cause angels to weep.”


REAL BANANA PUDDING
Southern Living Magazine




Ingredients:

½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ cups, milk
4 large eggs, separated*
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups vanilla wafers
4 ripe bananas
3 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees. Whisk together first 3 ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together sugar mixture, milk, and 4 egg yolks in a medium-size heavy saucepan until well blended. Cover over medium heat, stirring constantly, 6 or 8 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat, stir in butter and vanilla.

2. Layer half of vanilla wafers in an 8-inch square baking dish. Top with half of banana slices and half of pudding. Repeat procedure with remaining wafers, banana slices, and pudding.

3. Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add 3 tablespoons sugar, beating until sugar dissolves and stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over pudding, sealing to edge of dish.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes or until golden. Let cool 30 minutes, and serve warm, or chill an additional hour, and serve cold.

*Separate egg yolk from egg white by first cracking the egg, then pour the yolk back and forth between the two egg shells allowing the egg white to slip out into a bowl. Place egg yolk in a separate bowl. Repeat. Be very careful NOT to get any egg yolk in the bowl of egg whites as this will prevent the meringue from forming.

Alternatively, you can assemble a banana pudding with store-bought vanilla (never banana-flavored) pudding and whipped topping.

Enjoy!    


My first homemade batch was a delicious success even though I uncovered in myself a vague fear of meringue making that went all the way back to high school home economics class, in which the teacher described all the ways meringue could go wrong. I also remember that my mom and dad, professional bakers, never baked with meringue either. My mom recently explained that it was because she could never figure out how to do it right.

Wow.

Open up to angelic communications and guidance and it just may be that you, too, will overcome fears, hidden or otherwise, and find the strength to tackle every challenge along your sacred spiritual path in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  

BONUS MATERIAL:

Amber, Copper, Sugilite, Malachite

Thursday, February 7, 2013

SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA & CHILI


Russian Icon (circa late 1400's)

St. Nicholas of Myra is the patron saint of everyone and every place. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but the long list of his patronages includes many types of people and places throughout the world. He was born in the year 260 in the town of Patara and served as Bishop in the town of Myra in Lycia, a Greek providence of the Roman Empire, now modern-day Demre, Turkey. As an early Christian church leader, he was imprisoned and tortured. He survived and later died of old age in the year 335. His feast day is December 6 and he's honored in the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox, Anglican (including Episcopal), Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Oriental Orthodox, Presbyterian, Reformed and Roman Catholic Churches. 

He's remembered for the practical ways he helped people in life as well as for the miracles performed after his death. In western modern times, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and is known as Santa Claus in the United States.

The following life story comes from the latest research by the most recent historians who reveal, as best they can, the bare bones of truth about the life of this most wondrous saint. Interestingly, the life story of St. Nicholas of Myra was combined by an early hagiographer (saint biographer) with the life story of St. Nicholas of Sion who lived about 200 years after St. Nicholas of Myra and was most likely named for him. (In fact, there are 14 other saints named Nicholas and a great many churches and places named for him as well.) St. Nicholas of Sion was similar to St. Nicholas of Myra in spiritual strength and life events which may have caused this confusion. 

Also, early hagiographers didn't focus on writing true histories to pass down through the ages. Instead they wrote spiritual stories that emphasized the lessons of the saints for their contemporary readers. With cross referencing, sifting of embellishments, and consideration of historic time and place, I offer this as-accurate-as-possible life story. (See sources below.)

Nicholas was the only son born to wealthy middle class parents whose names are not historically recorded. His parents were early devout Christians during dangerous times. The Roman Empire was split between the East and the West under two emperors. Sometimes the emperors were lenient with Christians, other times they persecuted them along with Jews in order to force them to worship the emperors as gods as well as give offerings to their gods and goddesses.

His parents taught him about Jesus and how to take care of fellow citizens in need. Nicholas attended an elementary school from the age of 7 to 12. Along with other boys, he learned to write on papyrus rolls with a pointed stylus. He was probably escorted to school by a family slave who was responsible for protecting and assisting him as needed.

Nicholas and his family lived along the coast and their diet included a great deal of fish. From their country’s farmlands, they obtained grapes, dates, chickpeas, lentils, olives and olive oil. They could also purchase imported foods such as corn, wheat, barley and cheese. As a member of the middle class, not only did Nicholas eat well, he attended secondary school with a private tutor from age 12 to 18.

Right around the time that he completed his studies, both of his parents died, most likely due to a plague. Nicholas inherited their Christian spirituality, generosity, and quite a bit of wealth.

Nicholas served as deacon and studied to become a priest in his hometown of Patara. The needs of his community and the ways of Jesus Christ in the Gospel were important to him. He probably thought and prayed on Jesus' words:  "If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the destitute, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come back and follow me."  
                                                                                    Matthew 19:21
Nicholas did not follow this directive exactly. Perhaps he continued to provide charity as individually needed because that’s how his parents taught him to do it. Or perhaps he was just a roll-up-his-sleeves-and-jump-in-to-help kind of guy.

One day, Nicholas heard about the plight of a formerly wealthy man in town who lost his invested fortune due to crop failure or shipwreck. With no bank loans or insurance in those days, this man suddenly faced the need to sell his three daughters into slavery. Barely able to feed them, he couldn’t pay the dowries required by society and law for them to marry.

As Nicholas had grieved the sudden loss of his parents, he didn’t want these girls to be separated from their family and social place. He figured out a way to help them without embarrassing the father or drawing attention to himself. One night, he tossed a bag filled with enough gold for a dowry through the open window of the family’s home. The father woke, rejoiced, and arranged for the marriage of his eldest daughter. He prayed and wondered who would give such a gift to him, he who was so unworthy as to have lost his fortune.

Soon after, Nicholas tossed another bag of gold through the window and the father arranged the marriage of his second daughter. The father desperate for the blessing to be repeated for his third daughter stayed awake at night to pray and wonder about the gift giver.

On the night Nicholas tossed in the third bag of gold, the father raced out the front door and blocked Nicholas’s way. When the father discovered that his daughters’ benefactor was a priest, he fell to his knees in thanksgiving to Nicholas and in a new dedication to Jesus Christ.

Nicholas raised the father up and demanded that he tell no one of his identity during his lifetime. Of course, the father “promised” and this story became one of the most famous saint stories of all times. Okay, maybe the father waited until after Nicholas died before he told the story to everyone he knew, but let’s get real. He talked. People listened and forever linked Nicholas with secret gift giving to children. The part that is sometimes forgotten is that Nicholas gives his gifts in love and in the name of Jesus Christ.

Years passed. Nicholas continued helping the people of Patara with charity and social justice. People came to him regularly to help them solve disputes. Of course, he also continued with his duties to the Church.

Around the year 295, Nicholas traveled to the neighboring town of Myra to pay his respects to the bishop who had recently died. Also in Myra were a group of bishops who had gathered together to choose the next bishop of Myra. They were having trouble choosing an available, eligible priest who would accept the dangerous role of Christian Church leader. The night before Nicholas arrived, one of the bishops dreamed that God told him that the first person to walk into the church would be the next Bishop of Myra and that his name would be Nicholas. He awoke and told his dream to the other bishops.

The next morning when Nicholas walked into the church to pay his respects, the bishops surrounded him and asked his name. When he replied, “Nicholas,” they elected him on the spot. Upon hearing about the dream, Nicholas accepted his new role.

Although Nicholas was called the “Boy Bishop” because of his youth, he had reached the required age of 30 by this time. Most bishops, however, were much older.

This miraculous election happened during a time of persecution of Christians as a succession of Roman emperors tried desperately to maintain control over those they ruled. Christians and Jews were persecuted for not worshiping each emperor as a god. Church leaders were regularly arrested and tortured in an attempt to break the will of the parishioners and get them to adhere to each emperor’s form of religion. Also, these brutal emperors tried to protect their rule by preventing the Christians from forming a rebellion even though the real danger always came from the next emperor.

Nicholas was arrested, placed in prison, and tortured. Many others were put to death and are known as martyrs while those who survived are remembered as confessors.

Although he was released, the persecution and discrimination lasted about 30 years. The level of brutality depended on the latest emperor’s orders and how severely they were carried out. Nicholas preached peace and perseverance to the people and continued his good works.

And then in the West, Emperor Constantine announced an end to the persecution of Christians in his realm and declared that he had become a Christian. Soon after, in the year 324, his strong army overthrew the Eastern Emperor Licinius, and Constantine became Roman Emperor of both the East and West. Nicholas and his people were no longer persecuted.

In fact, Constantine sent materials to rebuild the church of Myra that were distributed by the same civil administrators who had earlier discriminated against the Christians. Nicholas held no grudges and immediately began overseeing the rebuilding of the church.

A few months later, Emperor Constantine invited all the bishops to the Council of Nicaea to bring Christians together in peace to agree upon unified beliefs and customs. Aside from agreeing on standardizing feasts days on the calendar and other customs that had been formally decided regionally, they agreed on the definition of the Holy Trinity – God was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit equal and the same. Nicholas is remembered as gently persuading those who didn’t completely agree with nothing stronger than conversation. His name appears on the list of 300 bishops who created the Nicene Creed.

He returned home to oversee the completion of the new church of Myra and to teach his parishioners and visitors about the new unified Christian religion. He also helped his community as a civil leader and mediator in local disputes. As a holy man, he could be trusted to be neutral and fair. Many of the other bishops and holy men of this time period also fulfilled the role of father or patron to their community and this is the origin of the term patron saint.

When Nicholas was around 70 years old, a convoy of military ships disembarked in Myra and soldiers spread out through the town as tourists. Seeing an opportunity to get away with some mischief, three local men dressed up as soldiers and caused trouble including destruction of property and petty theft.

Nicholas was called to the center of town to act as a civil judge and to stop a riot started because the townspeople blamed the soldiers for this trouble. Nicholas discussed the situation with military officers named Nepotianus, Ursus, and Eupoleons. Just as Nicholas convinced the town authorities that the trouble was not caused by the visiting soldiers, he heard that three innocent local men had been imprisoned and were about to be put to death by the order of Eustathius, the provincial governor.

Nicholas ran across town and stopped the beheading just in time. Then he burst into the home of Eustathius and lectured him about proper legal proceeding and chastised him for accepting bribes. The three Roman officers witnessed all parts of this event and were impressed by Bishop Nicholas and his strong beliefs and actions.

Ironically, upon their return home to Constantinople from their victorious battle with the Goths, they were greeted with jealous accusations of conspiracy against Emperor Constantine. The accusations were brought to Ablabius, Constantine’s Praetorian prefect (legal administrator) who, probably due to bribery, lied to Emperor Constantine. Constantine ordered the military officers imprisoned and sentenced them to death at dawn.

They sat helplessly in prison. When they realized that no one would speak on their behalf, they despaired. Then it occurred to them to pray to the “God of Nicholas” for the miracle of their release. That night Nicholas appeared to Constantine in a dream and demanded the release of these men.

Emperor Constantine called in Ablabius who was terrified because he had the same dream. The three men were brought to the emperor, and he demanded to know how they performed their magic. They had no idea what he was talking about.

But when he asked them if they knew Nicholas, they happily told the story of their dealings with Nicholas and how they prayed to the “God of Nicholas.”

Upon seeing the divine in their story, Emperor Constantine apologized for his part in their false imprisonment and released them. The three men traveled to Myra with gifts in thanksgiving to God and veneration of the blessed Nicholas.

This story was most famous during the centuries immediately following the death of Nicholas. Because everyone knew the story so well, the earliest biographers supplied only short references to it. Icons were painted depicting this story as well as other stories of the life of St. Nicholas.



In the icon of this story, the three men are pictured in prison looking up at St. Nicholas. Now imagine that this icon is viewed by someone who can’t read but has a good imagination and story-telling abilities. That’s how over the years, different versions of this story have been told. In one version, three young children are killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a barrel so that he can later butcher them and serve them to customers. The next customer is Nicholas. He immediately denounces the innkeeper, raises the children from the dead, and sends them home.

I've included this horrible, little tale because I have vivid memories of “reading” picture books before I learned how to read. It’s really easy to make up different stories for pictures. It’s also interesting to note that this version of the story surfaced around the same time as the Brothers Grimm published their fairy tales.          
  
Another favored story is the miraculous way Bishop Nicholas provided grain for the people during a famine. A ship arrived in the port loaded with grain to be delivered elsewhere. Nicholas asked for a portion of grain and promised that when the shipment was delivered to their customer, the full amount would be there. It was. The people had all the grain they needed to survive the famine as well as enough to plant in the spring.

A champion for Christ and his people until the end, Nicholas died a gentle death from old age in the year 335. (Although, it may have been one or two years earlier and there’s no proof that his death took place on December 6.)

The people of Myra built a special church outside the walls of the city and placed the body of Nicholas in a marble and cement tomb. Shortly thereafter, the tomb began to leak a pleasant smelling liquid which the people called Myrrh. This miraculous liquid was said to have healing powers and it was collected and mixed with water or oil and taken home by pilgrims who traveled to this site.

Nicholas was soon declared a saint at a time when sainthood was determined by a vote of local bishops. But the people called him St. Nicholas even before his death.

St. Nicholas remained in the hearts of the people. In the year 555, Emperor Justinian built a shrine to St. Nicholas in Constantinople on a piece of land that jutted out to the Sea of Marmara. Many miracles aboard ships at sea have been attributed to St. Nicholas of Myra. (Although, some of those stories really belong to St. Nicholas of Sion.)

Sometimes invaders destroyed shines, tombs and basilicas. There is a record of Arabic Saracens destroying a St. Nicholas basilica on an island now called Gemiler Island.

In 1065, Seljuk Turks began to invade from the east. They destroyed Christian churches, chapels, tombs, etc. They harassed pilgrims on their spiritual journeys. To combat this threat, unorganized Christians painted red crosses on white shields and attacked the holy lands. Called the Crusades, these brutal wars caused death and destruction on all sides.

In an effort to save the relics of their beloved saints, Italian pirates, I mean, rescuers, talked their way into the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra. While the monks stood helpless, they broke open the tomb and took the bones of St. Nicholas. It should be noted that the 62 sailors listed as being involved in the adventure, smelled a lovely scent wafting from the water that held the bones at the bottom of the tomb which they interpreted as a sign that they were doing the right thing.

They arrived in Bari on May 9 and transported the bones of St. Nicholas to their new resting place in the Tomb of St. Nicholas, Basilica di San Nicola, in Bari, Italy. May 9 is celebrated throughout Italy, especially in Bari, as the second feast day of St. Nicholas, the day of his translation to Bari.

The people of Myra, modern-day Demre, Turkey, continue to petition for the return of these relics.

Amazingly, this second tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari also leaks liquid Myrrh. The liquid was analyzed in 1925 and determined to be mostly water. People who travel as pilgrims to this site can purchase a bottle of St. Nicholas Myrrh mixed with water or oil.

The sailors from Bari didn’t collect every bone at the bottom of the water-filled tomb. Relics of St. Nicholas of Myra are scattered throughout the world. Relics (bones or items belonging to saints) are extremely important to folks who believe that because they are part of a beloved saint, they are infused with his or her divine love.

Words, however, travel faster than bones. Stories about the wondrous St. Nicholas of Myra traveled from port to port shared by sailors over a pint in the pub or across mutton in the market place.

People retold the stories and maybe they added or changed the details to embellish the story or to make it more familiar to their audience. Over time, painters painted, writers wrote, and singers sang. 

This brings us to modern-day Santa Claus in the United States, Father Christmas in England, Sinterklass in the Netherlands, etc., – different versions of the same story of a man strong in person and spirit devoted to serving people, especially children, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

St. Nicholas is a saint whom I’ve loved under a different name as far back as my memory goes. Do I still believe in Santa Claus?


2002

2012

Of course.

If you are old enough to read this post, you are old enough to understand the absolute best part about Santa Claus is that he can’t do it all by himself. He needs our help. Santa’s helpers spread the spirit of Christmas not just to children who believe in a special magic, but to our family, friends, and anyone who needs a little extra love. Christmas spirit is love swaddled up with the Baby Jesus -- created to be shared. And just like the miraculous gift of Christ on Earth, the spirit of Christmas can be simply magical.

Sources:

THE SAINT WHO WOULD BE SANTA CLAUS:  THE TRUE LIFE AND TRIALS OF NICHOLAS OF MYRA by Adam C. English

St. Nicholas Center

....................................................................................................

Christmas spirit is spread particularly at Christmas time, on the feast day of St. Nicholas (December 6), or on Epiphany (January 6). But really, it can be shared anytime. Here’s an example:

A few weeks ago, during an appointment with my chiropractor, I asked him if he knew of a secret ingredient I could add to my chili because I wanted to jazz up my recipe for a chili cook-off at my church.

“You want my recipe? I won the 1995 Bud-light Chili Cook-off with it,” he said.

“You won that chili cook off?” I asked.

“Yup. It was me and 26 restaurants. You want it?” he asked.

“Yes, I want it!  But are you sure you’re okay with giving me your secret award-winning recipe?” I asked. 

“Sure. I’ll email it to you later,” he said.

I had such fun making this recipe -- first a trial run for friends, then the big batch for the chili cook off. Alas, we didn’t win.

However, I now have a delicious chili recipe that my family absolutely loves AND permission to share it with y’all.

The recipe makes a big batch. If you have a large enough pot, go ahead and make the whole thing. Otherwise, you’ll have to sharpen your pencil and do a little math to cut the recipe in half or quarter. This chili is easy to share, either with guests, at a party, or packaged into the freezer for later.

One more really fun thing about this recipe is that each mouthful starts off sweet and ends spicy hot. How did my Greek chiropractor create a chili recipe that could do that? 

Hard work and, perhaps, a dash of magic.


BACK BONE CHILI
1995 Bud Lite Chili Cook-Off Winner, Wilmington, NC
Recipe by Dr. Greg Demetrious 



Ingredients

 8 pounds           Ground beef, 90% lean
 2                         Very large onions, chopped fine
 1                         Bunch celery, chopped fine
 1                         Whole head garlic, chopped fine
 2                         Large green peppers, chopped medium
 2                         Whole fresh jalapeño peppers, chopped medium
 2                         Whole ripe tomatoes, chopped medium
 1                         8-oz jar jalapeño peppers, drained 
 1                         28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped large
 1                         12-oz can tomato paste
 36 oz                   Pace Picante Sauce, Medium spiciness
1 cup                    Sugar
12 oz                    Light beer (or beef broth or water)                       
4 teaspoons        Basil
4 teaspoons        Oregano
4 teaspoons        Onion powder
4 teaspoons        Garlic powder
4 teaspoons        Salt, or to taste
4 teaspoons        Pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon       Cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon       Chili powder, or to taste
½ cup                   Olive oil for sautéing

1. If you have a very large frying pan or wok, sauté, over medium heat, all the fresh vegetables together until translucent. Otherwise, sauté in batches and add to a large pot.                                          

2. Add pickled jalapeno peppers, canned plum tomatoes, tomato paste, Pace Picante sauce, sugar, beer, chili powder, and cayenne pepper to the pot.

3. Brown beef in approximately two-pound batches in a little olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. To each batch add 1 teaspoon each of basil, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir and mash with fork until cooked through. Drain fat. Place each batch in pot.

4. Cover pot and simmer over low heat for 3 ½ hours. Stir often. Add seasoning to taste.  

Optional garnishes – sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, chili peppers, red kidney beans.

Optional side dishes – corn bread, corn muffins or corn chips.

Or serve Chicago style, over a plate of spaghetti.

Enjoy!