Yesterday was the feast of St. Nicholas. Jonah and I attended Vespers Wednesday night, after which he was delighted to receive “the big holy bread and wine” (which he had earlier informed me would be his dessert). The bread was blessed in a service directly following Vespers called the Litiya—a fervent, prolonged prayer blessing bread, oil and wine on the eve of a major feast. In the prayer of blessing we ask our Lord that as He blessed the five loaves and fed the five thousand, to bless the loaves, wheat, wine and oil, and to multiply them in all the world; and to sanctify all the faithful who partake of them. Along with the bread, we were anointed with the blessed oil.
My boys love church bread, be it in the form of the Eucharist or the Antidoron (αντίδωρον, antídōron, i.e. a “gift returned” or “in place of the Gifts”), which is received both after the Eucharist and then at the end of Liturgy. Anyone can partake of this holy bread, and it’s fun to share—though difficult to keep the crumbs off pews and shirts and floors. I was very emphatically taught in my home Church that anything blessed should never touch the floor, including bread crumbs. I follow the boys around like a dog trying to catch their crumbs, instructing them to lick their hands, brushing the traces from the corners of their mouths and eating them myself. I know. Sounds a little weird, but we Orthodox take our sacraments seriously. If a thing is blessed, it’s holy dagnabit, and should be treated as such.
But as this holy bread tangent is taking over my post, let me return to St. Nicholas. He is beloved not only in our home (who wouldn’t love a saint who leaves gifts in your shoe in the night?) but across the world—for Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox alike. I like saints who bring the people together. A new friend of mine reminded me of a site (The St. Nicholas Center) pertaining to all things Nicholas, where I discovered these illustrations by Elisabeth Jvanovsky. They initially reminded me of the woodcuts done by Fritz Eichenberg for Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker (though significantly pared down). I profess no expertise in art whatsoever, but the simplicity of woodblock prints appeals to my sensibilities. Elisabeth Jvanovsky’s images show and tell as much as any story.
[If you want to read more about the specific events represented above, go Here.]
The Apolytikion or Troparion (Hymn) of St. Nicholas
the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia
In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.