St Nicholas the Wonderworker is commemorated on December 6 each year. He is one of the most beloved saints of the Church and has a popularity far beyond Orthodoxy.
I’ve often wondered why or how he became so popular as a saint when in many ways his actions seem to me to be what I would expect of any Christian bishop. He showed mercy to many, kindness to the poor, and is noted for his charity. Is it the case that there really were so few bishops who did these things that Nicholas stands out as such an exception? In the mid-9th Century when St. Methodius wrote a life of St. Nicholas, he noted that hardly anyone had heard of him. In the 11th Century his popularity is noted through much of Europe.
Since St Nicholas is noted for his acts of love and mercy, here is a portion of a sermon by St Gregory Palamas on love of neighbor, which is an appropriate theme as we honor St Nicholas of Myra. St Gregory is actually talking about St John the Theologian:
As he [St John] was amongst the foremost apostles, was particularly dear to Christ, and was called the beloved disciple, he speaks to us of the chief virtue, namely love (cf. Gal. 5:14), saying that God Himself is love, and anyone who has love has God, and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God dwells in him in whom love dwells (cf. 1 John 4:16). He shows that love’s energy within us is twofold, and divides it, without destroying its unity, into love for God and love for our neighbour, teaching that these two depend on one another for their existence, and calling anyone who thinks he has one without the other a liar (1 John 4:20).
The sign of our love for God, he tells us, is that we keep His word and His commandments (cf. John 8:31, 1 John 5:3), as the Lord Himself taught, saying, “He that loveth me will keep my commandments” (cf. John 14:15, 21). “This is my commandment”, He said, “that ye love one another” (John 15:12), and “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Do you see how love for God is inseparable from love for each other? That is why the beloved disciple says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20). (On the Saints, Kindle Location 830-843)