Orthodox Hymns about Saint Nicholas

Part of the Saint Nicholas Page honoring Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker

[St. Nicholas]

Orthodox Hymnology expresses much of the ancient doctrine and practices of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church. Among the hymns are those with the old Greek names of apolytikia, troparia, and kontakia. An apolytikion is sung at that point in the Divine Liturgy where one of eight weekly Resurrection Apolytikia (songs concerning the resurrection of Christ) are sung - the Apolytikion of Saint Nicholas is of the type of hymn called troparion, so the apolytikon and troparion of Saint Nicholas are one and the same.

Apolytikion of Saint Nicholas

The original Greek is here transliterated into Roman letters, and set opposite a literal translation (with word-order slightly different.) The word "kanona" or "canon" means a measuring-stick or ruler, a standard by which other things can be measured.

Transliterated Greek

Kanona pisteos ke ikona praotitos,
engratias didaskalon anedixe se ti pimni su
i ton pragmaton alithia;
dia tuto ektiso ti tapinosi ta ypsila,
ti ptochia ta psusia.
Pater ierarcha Nikolae,
presveve Christo to Theo
sothine tas psihas imon

Literal translation

As a canon of faith and an icon (image) of meekness,
(and) of self-control (abstinence) a teacher,
the truth of your deeds has shown you to your flock;
wherefore you acquired through humility the high things (greatness),
through poverty riches
Father hierarch Nicholas,
intercede with Christ the God
that our souls may be saved.

Singable translations

Orthodox English translations of hymns arise from many sources; since there is no central authority within Orthodoxy to dictate which translation to use (alas, the various Orthodox administrative bodies in America can hardly bring themselves to settle on one translation of anything at all, but some of them are working on it) the translation of the Apolytikion of St. Nicholas used by any one local Orthodox church is probably different from that used by the church across town. A couple of singable English translations in use by the Greek Orthodox:

An example of the Faith and a life of humility,
as a teacher of abstinence You did inspire and lead your flock,
and through the truthfulness of your deeds
were exalted by greatness;
through your humility uplifting all
and by poverty gaining wealth.
Father and Hierarch St. Nicholas,
intercede with Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

The truth of your deeds has shown you
to your flock as a canon of the faith,
an example of virtue, and a teacher of temperance.
Wherefore you did by humility acquire greatness
and by poverty riches.
Father and Bishop Nicholas,
intercede with Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

Translation by the late Fr. Leonidis Contos

KONTAKION of Saint Nicholas

The kontakion of a saint is featured less frequently than the apolytikion. For example, the kontakion of Saint Nicholas is sung in Great Vespers on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, December 6. Two different translations of this hymn:

You were truly a priestly worker in Myra,
for zealously living the Gospel of Christ,
you dedicated your life to your people;
you saved the innocent from death.
Therefore you have been sanctified
as one who has entered the mystery of God's grace.

Source: Byzantine Catholic Church

Thou wast a faithful minister of God in Myra,
O Saint Nicholas.
For having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ,
thou didst die for the people
and save the innocent.
Therefore thou wast sanctified
as a great initiator of the grace of God.

Source: Nick's Greek Orthodox Home Page, now archived at Web Archive.

From the Akathist to Saint Nicholas

Rejoice, deliverance from sorrow!
Rejoice, gift of Grace!
Rejoice, dispeller of unexpected evils!
Rejoice, planter of good desires!
Rejoice, quick comforter of those in misfortune!
Rejoice, dread punisher of wrongdoers!
Rejoice, abyss of miracles poured out by God!
Rejoice, tablets of the law of Christ written by God!
Rejoice, strong uplifting of the fallen!
Rejoice, support of them that stand aright!
Rejoice, for through thee all deception is exposed!
Rejoice, for through thee all truth is realized!
Rejoice, 0 Nicholas, Great Wonderworker!

Western Rite Orthodox Music

Orthodoxy does not require being Greek or Russian; nor does it require that the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom be the primary Divine Liturgy (although it is by far the most commonly used). The Orthodoxy of the West developed its own liturgy and had its own hymns. There are those that are trying to resurrect the Western expression of Orthodox worship, which died out under the might of the Roman Church and the various waves of Protestantism.

With permission of Fr. Aidan Keller of the ST. HILARION MONASTERY(New Amalfion), Austin, TEXAS (see also Orthodox Monasteries in America,) a western rite Hymn to Saint Nicholas:

Together rejoicing, let us exult in harmony of the voice, At the festive acclamations of the blessed Nicholas. For he, lying still within the cradle, kept the fasts; At the breast he was resolved to seize the highest joys.

As a youth he doth embrace the study of his letters, A joyful confessor, bound by no kind of carnal pleasure, a stranger thereunto, A voice from the heavens declareth of which rank he is found worthy; Promoted to the episcopate by it, he is exalted to the highest peaks.

Great loving-kindness lay within his soul; Gifts many and good did he lay upon the heavy-laden. By him with gold the virgins' ill-repute was taken from them And their father's penury relieved.

Men at sea aboard their ship, battling the fury of the waves, Despairing already of their lives, the boat being nearly shattered, They, being set amidst such fearsome danger, All cry aloud, with one united voice:

'O blessed man, O Nicholas, pull us from the straits of death To a haven of the sea. Pull us to a haven of the sea, thou who hast helped so many By reason of thy tenderheartedness.'

Whilst they were crying out aloud—for they cried not in vain— Behold, a man who told them, 'I am here to help you.' Straightway a favourable breeze was granted, The storm was stilled, the sea was made serene.

From his sepulchre streameth an abundance of anointing oil, Which healeth all the sick, at his interceding prayers. Us who in this world have suffered shipwreck in the abyss of sins, O glorious Nicholas, pull to salvation's harbour, where there is peace and glory.

Mayst thou obtain for us that very unction from the Lord Which healed the wound of many sinful deeds upon the billows of the sea. May those who celebrate thy feast be filled with joy throughout the ages, And may Christ crown them, following the race-course of this life. Amen.

from The Old Sarum Rite Missal, (c) 1998 St. Hilarion Press. Used by permission.

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Last modified December 31, 2009, Saint Melania, Nun of Rome

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