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An Orthodox priest at Bari; the story of St. Nicholas' bones
National Catholic Reporter ^ | 5/31/2005 | John L. Allen

Posted on 05/31/2005 7:56:38 PM PDT by sinkspur

As I walked back to my hotel in Bari, Italy, after Pope Benedict's May 29 Mass, which marked his first trip outside Rome, I decided to stop off at a bar to buy a couple of sandwiches for the train ride home. I noticed a man wearing a black cassock and a kalimafi, the black cylindrical hat characteristic of Orthodox clergy, sitting at an outside table eating an ice cream bar. I approached and introduced myself.

"Are you an Orthodox priest?" I asked, in Italian.

"Yes," he responded.

The answer made sense, because several dignitaries from the Orthodox world, including Metropolitan Kiril of Smolensk, the number two official in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, had been present at the 24th National Italian Eucharistic Congress in Bari, which concluded with the papal Mass. They heard Pope Benedict XVI launch a stirring appeal for Christian unity, especially between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox.

"How did you feel about participating in a Catholic liturgy?" I asked, knowing that this is a delicate matter, since there's a traditionalist wing in Orthodoxy that regards Rome as heretical.

"About the same as I do every day," he replied, grinning, "though it was a bit strange to be using the Latin rite."

The priest, it turns out, was Fr. Antonio Magnocavallo, pastor since 1975 of the local Byzantine Rite parish, called St. John Chrysostom in Bari. The members of his small flock are fully Orthodox, Magnocavallo insists, since they embrace the rites and spiritual traditions of the ancient Eastern church, but they are also fully Catholic, in communion with the Holy See. The Byzantine rite is one of the 21 Eastern churches that form part of the universal Catholic Church.

If you ask Magnocavallo if he's Orthodox, his answer is "yes"; if you ask if he's Catholic, it's also "yes."

Meeting people such as Magnocavallo is why I always make a point of going on papal trips. These are the unscripted, unanticipated encounters that provide a deeper sense of the story.

St. John Chrysostom in Bari is located in a neighborhood called "Trieste Village," where the majority of residents follow the Byzantine Rite. The neighborhood, coincidentally, is right next to the waterfront area of the Mariaisabella plain where Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass on Sunday. Parishioners from St. John Chrysostom who attended the papal Mass, or who simply listened to it by opening their windows, would have recognized one familiar feature - the gospel was chanted in Greek, as well as in Latin.

In southern Italy there are some 250,000 Eastern rite Catholics, organized into 32 parishes and two eparchies. Ravenna, also on the Adriatic coast, was the seat of the governors of Byzantine Italy from the mid-500s to 651, and that Eastern heritage has always been part of the cultural milieu in the southern part of the peninsula. Successive waves of immigration from Albania also swelled the membership of the Byzantine rite.

Magnocavallo, who was born in Calabria, believes that he and his fellow Byzantine rite Catholics represent a foretaste of the "full and visible" unity between Eastern and Western Christianity that was the core message of Pope Benedict XVI on May 29.

"Sustained by the Eucharist, we must feel compelled to apply every force to that full unity for which Christ ardently hoped," Pope Benedict said.

Bari is also the custodian of the bones of St. Nicholas of Myra, a fourth-century bishop venerated throughout the East, making Bari an important Orthodox pilgrimage destination.

"Precisely here, in Bari -- happy Bari -- the city that is custodian of the bones of St. Nicholas, a land of encounter and dialogue with our brother Christians from the East, I would like to reconfirm my desire to take up as a fundamental duty working with all my energy for the reconstruction of full and visible unity among all the followers of Christ," the pope said.

In a particularly vivid use of imagery, Benedict called on Christians not to allow "the termite of resentment to work in our soul."

"I'm aware that for unity, the manifestation of good will is not enough," the pope continued. "Concrete gestures are necessary that can enter hearts and stir consciences, calling everyone to that interior conversion that is the presupposition of every progress on the path of ecumenism."

Benedict XVI did not enter into details about what sort of "concrete gestures" he had in mind. In the past, however, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he stated that the lone condition for unity between Eastern and Western Christianity should be that the Orthodox accept papal primacy as it existed in the first millennium.

I quoted that line to Magnocavallo.

"Ah," he said, "but that's the problem. What did primacy mean in the first millennium? Getting people to agree on that is going to be difficult."

During the week-long eucharistic congress that led up to the May 29 papal visit, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top ecumenical official, led an ecumenical vespers service. Kasper used the occasion to announce a "well-founded hope" that the international theological dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy will resume in the fall, which had broken down in disagreements over "proselytism" and other issues.

Kasper also issued a bold proposal. Noting that Bari in 1098 hosted a synod of Greek and Latin bishops, he asked why we couldn't hope that in 2098 (or before), Bari could host a "synod of reconciliation" between Orthodox and Catholic prelates.

In Italian, Magnocavallo means "great horse," and I pointed out to him that many Orthodox believe the kind of church he represents -- following Orthodox traditions, but loyal to Rome -- is precisely what his name implies, a "Trojan horse" intended to split Orthodoxy apart. These so-called "uniate" churches, 21 in all, have been major sticking points in dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, especially the Russian Orthodox church.

He doesn't see things that way.

"The real issue between Rome and Moscow, as between Rome and Athens, has always been the preeminence of the pope," he said. "Solve that and all the other problems will go away."

Magnocavallo said he thought the Orthodox would react "very well" to the pope's words on Sunday.

"I believe Benedict will go to Moscow," he predicted. "They are working now to organize the trip."

Magnocavallo, who maintains close contacts with the Greek Orthodox world, said he perceives the Greeks as "a bit more closed" than the Russians in terms of relations with Rome, but said that relationship too is improving.

I asked when he thought a papal trip to Russia might happen.

"Boh," he responded, invoking a classic Italian expression for, "Who knows?"

"It's a very long historical process," he said. "We need patience."

"In the meantime," he said, "it's a beautiful day, the sea is clear blue, we're in a beautiful city, and the ice cream is sweet and cold. Perhaps we can be content with that for now?"

As ecumenical perspectives go, on a hot Sunday afternoon in Bari, it seemed convincing.

* * *

The story of how St. Nicholas' bones got to Bari illustrates the recrimination and bad blood that for a millennium have been part of the fractious relationship between Eastern and Western Christianity.

A fourth-century bishop in the city of Myra in Asia Minor, St. Nicholas is widely revered in both East and West. Orthodox pilgrims, especially members of the Russian Orthodox Church, regularly come to Bari to pay their respects to his remains -- which are believed to produce a miraculous fluid, the "manna of St. Nicholas," said to be a sweet-smelling resin with healing properties. In the West, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, which is how in a convoluted series of historical twists he provides part of the basis for the legend of Santa Claus. In the East, St. Nicholas, in addition to being one of the co-patrons of Russia, is a patron saint for sailors.

By consensus, the remains of St. Nicholas arrived in Bari in the 11th century. The circumstances are disputed.

According to local tradition, the bones were "rescued" from Myra in Asia Minor by 62 Italian sailors, saving them from the clutches of invading Saracens. One of the small, winding streets in the old town that leads into the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari is named "62 Sailors Street," recording this act of liberation.

An annual festival commemorates the arrival of St. Nicholas' bones, called the "translation," to Bari, which is conventionally dated to May 9, 1087. Thousands of people come for the festivities, which begin on the morning of May 7. Local clergy board a boat with an icon of St. Nicholas to spend the day at sea. The public square and other areas are festooned with large, lacy screens. When the icon returns, a procession of people in 11th century costumes follows it from the port of San Giorgio to the square in front of the Basilica of St. Nicholas.

After a special Mass on May 9, the rector of the basilica crawls into an opening at the front of the tomb and brings out the manna. A great exclamation rises as the vessel is elevated. The vessel is carried up into the church, where the faithful line up to venerate the manna. Outside, the celebration continues into the night.

Some Orthodox observers, however, aren't of a mind to celebrate. They charge that the relics were "stolen" from Asia Minor by Italian mercenaries who hoped to cash in on the saint's fame. Such behavior was not uncommon in the Middle Ages, when the possession of the relics of a famous saint could cause cities to prosper, acting as a magnet for pilgrims.

One Orthodox source, for example, writes that the relics of St. Nicholas were "carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Mohammedan masters." Another, who instead of the "translation" of the remains refers to their "abduction," charges that the Italian sailors took advantage of the confusion caused by the arrival of the Saracens to rob the bones from the saint's tomb, over the objections of the Greek monks who were their custodians.

This cycle of charge and counter-charge has, unfortunately, remained part of Catholic-Orthodox relations up to the present; anyone who has followed the "yes you are, no we're not" dynamic of recent exchanges over whether Catholics are engaged in "proselytism" in Russia knows this all too well.

For the most part, however, St. Nicholas seems to function today more as an agent of Catholic-Orthodox unity than division. During the annual festival in Bari in May, Orthodox clergy routinely join their Catholic counterparts in the processions, the veneration of the icon, and the exposition of the manna. The relics, and especially the miraculous manna that devotees believe they produce, still draw thousands of Orthodox pilgrims to Italy each year.

In that sense, perhaps St. Nicholas could be invoked as the patron saint of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, a figure whose own story illustrates that old wounds do not have to be decisive for the future.

TOPICS: General Discusssion
KEYWORDS: catholicchurch; orthodox

1 posted on 05/31/2005 7:56:39 PM PDT by sinkspur
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To: sinkspur
Benedict XVI did not enter into details about what sort of "concrete gestures" he had in mind. In the past, however, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he stated that the lone condition for unity between Eastern and Western Christianity should be that the Orthodox accept papal primacy as it existed in the first millennium.

I quoted that line to Magnocavallo.

"Ah," he said, "but that's the problem. What did primacy mean in the first millennium? Getting people to agree on that is going to be difficult."

There is that issue again; the lines of authority, made more acute since the Pope has assumed so much authority in relatively recent times. My guess is that the authority of the Pope would have to be elaborated upon, for any of this to go anywhere.

2 posted on 05/31/2005 8:03:33 PM PDT by Torie (Constrain rogue state courts; repeal your state constitution)
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To: Torie
My guess is that the authority of the Pope would have to be elaborated upon, for any of this to go anywhere.

Benedict knows that Papal authority is at the center of the rift between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, yet he continues to insist that "concrete actions" are all that matter.

Things will get interesting in the next years. If he makes the trip to Russia, it will mean that he will have convinced the Russian Orthodox that he is serious about reunion.

3 posted on 05/31/2005 8:22:26 PM PDT by sinkspur (If you want unconditional love with skin, and hair and a warm nose, get a shelter dog.)
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To: sinkspur

"Magnocavallo, who was born in Calabria, believes that he and his fellow Byzantine rite Catholics represent a foretaste of the "full and visible" unity between Eastern and Western Christianity that was the core message of Pope Benedict XVI on May 29."

The comment is arguably at odds with the June 1993 Balamand Declaration. I remember some years ago speaking with Greek Catholic bishop in, I believe, New Jersey about a matter involving some land. He and I had a very nice talk but he kept insisting that they were both "Catholic" and "Orthodox" also.

4 posted on 06/01/2005 7:23:38 AM PDT by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: sinkspur
American Catholic’s Saint of the Day


December 6, 2006
St. Nicholas
(d. 350?)

The absence of the “hard facts” of history is not necessarily an obstacle to the popularity of saints, as the devotion to St. Nicholas shows. Both the Eastern and Western Churches honor him, and it is claimed that, after the Blessed Virgin, he is the saint most pictured by Christian artists. And yet, historically, we can pinpoint only the fact that Nicholas was the fourth-century bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor.

As with many of the saints, however, we are able to capture the relationship which Nicholas had with God through the admiration which Christians have had for him—an admiration expressed in the colorful stories which have been told and retold through the centuries.

Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. In the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus—further expanding the example of generosity portrayed by this holy bishop.


The critical eye of modern history makes us take a deeper look at the legends surrounding St. Nicholas. But perhaps we can utilize the lesson taught by his legendary charity, look deeper at our approach to material goods in the Christmas season and seek ways to extend our sharing to those in real need.


“In order to be able to consult more suitably the welfare of the faithful according to the condition of each one, a bishop should strive to become duly acquainted with their needs in the social circumstances in which they live.... He should manifest his concern for all, no matter what their age, condition, or nationality, be they natives, strangers, or foreigners” (Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office, 16).

5 posted on 12/06/2006 11:53:55 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: sinkspur

Saint Nicholas


First Thursday of Advent

Isaiah 26:1-6
Psalm 117: 1, 8-9, 19-21,25-27a
Matthew 7:21, 24-27

Saint Nicholas Between East and West

The Church in East and West commemorates today Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The very first journey of Pope Benedict XVI as Supreme Pontiff in May 2005 was to the southern Italian port city of Bari, home to the relics of Saint Nicholas. At the time, few American Catholics realized the profound significance of that gesture. Orthodox Christians, however, were sensitive and attentive to the presence of the Pope in a city that John Paul II had called “a bridge to the East.”

The Slammer of Heretics

Saint Nicholas is celebrated for his role at the First Council of Nicaea. According to legend, he became so incensed upon hearing the views of Arius that he rushed over to the hapless heretic and gave him a mighty blow on his ears, sending him sprawling. That, of course, was when the testosterone of Catholic bishops was proportionate to their orthodoxy.

Saint Nicholas at the Altar

To my mind, the most important thing to remember about Saint Nicholas is the spirit of godly fear and adoration with which he stood before the Holy Altar at the moment of the Divine Liturgy. Everything else in his life — including the countless miracles attributed to him — flowed from the Holy Mysteries. The Divine Liturgy served by Saint Nicholas must have been like the Mass of Padre Pio. While the holy gifts were being carried in procession to the altar, the people sang of Our Lord’s Eucharistic advent among them: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the life–giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts. alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The Saints in Advent

Saint Nicholas and the other saints of Advent surround the Eucharistic Advent of the Lord just as they will surround Him with the angels in the glory of His Advent at the end of time. How important it is to acknowledge the saints of Advent, to seek their intercession, to rejoice in their lives. Those who would banish the saints from the celebration of the Advent liturgy are misled and mistaken. The mission of the saints of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christ: for His final advent as King and Judge, yes, but also for His humble daily advent hidden under the species of bread and wine. In no way do the saints detract from the intensity of the Advent season. Each of them is given us as a companion and intercessor, charged with making ready our hearts for the advent of the Bridegroom–King.

Saint Nicholas in New Amsterdam

Saint Nicholas arrived in America with the Protestant Dutch settlers in 1624 in what was then called New Amsterdam. As much as the gloomy Protestant Reformation in Holland tried to suppress the cult of the Saints, the Dutch would not give up their beloved Saint Nicholas. Dutch customs, expressions, and even language persisted in New York right into the opening years of the last century, but by that time others had come through Ellis Island, New York’s port of entry — Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Greeks. They came bringing icons of Saint Nicholas lovingly wrapped in the trunks that contained all their worldly possessions. They came bringing prayers to Saint Nicholas learned as little children, and armed with a confidence in the intercession of Saint Nicholas that withstood poverty, prejudice, hunger, sickness, and all the vicissitudes of a new life in a strange land.

Saint Nicholas the Glorious Patron and Wonderworker

Saint Nicholas has always had enormous appeal. He is recognized as the patron saint of more causes than of any other saint, of classes of people, cities, churches, and whole nations. He is the patron saint of thieves — not because he helps them to steal — but because he helps them to repent and change; of pawnbrokers and bankers because he knew how to use gold in the service of compassion and charity; of pharmacists, fisherman, lawsuits lost unjustly and the lawyers who lost them, prisoners, orphans, prostitutes, unmarried men, scholars, haberdashers, and bishops. He is best known as the patron saint of children, especially children who are threatened by the circumstances of a troubled family life, or by abuse.

Saint Nicholas and Priests

I like to think of Saint Nicholas also as a patron and friend of priests. More than ever before it is crucial that priests place themselves under the protection of the saints and live in their friendship. Saint Nicholas has much to teach priests: passionate devotion to Christ true God and true Man; compassion for the poor; and the courage to defend children from all dangers of body and soul. Thursday is a day of intercession for priests. Pray to Saint Nicholas today for all priests, but especially for those who have grown fainthearted and weary, and for those attacked by the noonday devil. It saddens me to hear the carping commentaries on the plight of the Connecticut priest who was sentenced to three years in prison in Federal Court in New Haven on Tuesday. How many of those who make smug remarks about the wrongdoing of Father Fay, and persist in recounting the juicy details of his downfall, are willing to spend an hour, or two, or three in reparation before the Eucharistic Face of Our Lord on his behalf?

Saint Nicholas and the Eucharistic Advent of Christ

Saint Nicholas is present to us today. He will accompany me to the altar, taking his place there among the other saints and angels invisibly present in every Mass. More than anything else, I would ask Saint Nicholas to open the eyes of our souls to the Eucharistic advent of Christ. If we are prepared for Christ’s coming in the Holy Mysteries, we will be prepared for His final coming in glory. One who lives from one Holy Mass to the next need not fear the Day of the Lord. Glorious Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the advent of Christ.

6 posted on 12/06/2007 10:13:07 PM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation

Bishop of Myra – Saint in Bari
For use by the Society of St Nicholas

O God, Creator of heaven and earth
O God, Redeemer of the world
O God, Sanctifier of the faithful

O Christ hear us

Blessed Mary, full of grace
Blessed Joseph
Blessed St John Baptist
Blessed Lucy
All holy women and men of God

Blessed Nicholas
Holy Bishop of Myra
Holy Saint in Bari

Patron of children and seafarers
Gift-giver and Wonder-Worker
Friend of the poor and needy
Patron of Palestine’s freedom
Model of meekness and charity
Defender of the Christian Faith
Myrrh of the fragrance of Christ
Help of those who suffer wrong
Faithful steward of the mysteries of God
Guide of the penitent sinner
Source of joy and thanksgiving
Saint who points us to the Manger

Jesus Lamb of God
Jesus bearer of our sins
Jesus Redeemer of the world

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Let us pray:
Grant that we, aided by the prayers of St Nicholas and all the saints,
may be strengthened on our earthly pilgrimage to live and work for the
praise and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and our in service God’s people
and God’s whole creation. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

(Our Father, Glory to the Father, Hail Mary…)

Let us bless the Lord
(+)May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace

7 posted on 12/06/2011 12:24:32 PM PST by stfassisi ((The greatest gift God gives us is that of overcoming self"-St Francis Assisi)))
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