A couple brief incidents from the Life of St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, whose feast we celebrate today, which are perhaps less well-known than other tales of the Wonder-worker:
After the persecution of the Church was lifted in AD 313, St. Nicholas began to travel freely throughout his diocese of Myra in Lycia. He found that there were many altars built throughout his diocese which were dedicated to pagan gods. And, as the Synaxaristes says, “The saint recognized that these unhallowed precincts were the habitations of the demons who received homage from men who were deceived by the ancestral imposture.” That is, the locals believed that they were worshiping pagan gods, but they were actually worshiping demons, and these pagan temples were actually the houses of demons.
So St. Nicholas began to do what any good Christian bishop would do in the face of such a discovery. He began to pray. And then, as it is written, “The saint, by the lever of his prayers alone, demolished these accursed haunts into dust and drove out the unclean spirits with authority. The demons could be heard fleeing in the air, crying over their misfortune.” So Nicholas literally would stand outside a pagan temple and begin praying. And not only would the demon inside the temple run away at his prayers, but the temples themselves crumbled into dust. God heard Nicholas’s prayers and answered them spectacularly.
One time, Nicholas approached a particularly large temple, dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, who was also called Diana. This temple was in Myra itself. When Nicholas came to this temple, the demons began to shudder, because they knew how powerful his prayer was. And then he began to pray, and immediately, the idols in the temple fell down on their faces, and the altar itself also fell over.
And the demons cried out, “Do us no wrong! Though we have committed no offense against thee, yet thou dost drive us from our home. It is here that we have long dwelt and led astray the people who worshipped us; and now, where are we to go?” And the saint replied, “Go to the fire, the everlasting one, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels!” (cf. Matt. 25:41). And so all the pagan altars in the region were also destroyed by this same method.
And there was one final outpost which the saint came upon, a place where certain people practiced their worship of Artemis under a tree which was dedicated to the demon who claimed to be that goddess. And so St. Nicholas saw to it that the tree was chopped down, giving that demon no place to dwell.
So, while our world is not one where the Church’s fledgling existence is threatened as it was in Nicholas’s time, we are still called upon to do battle against demons and all false worship. That battle is waged primarily in our own hearts, which can be as barren of love for the one true God as ancient Lycia. May we in our hearts stand outside all the temples of idolatry and hiding places of demonic influence and with our prayers drive out all darkness through God’s gift of grace.