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St. Nicholas of Myra

St. Nicholas of Myra St. Nicholas of Myra
One of the most popular secular figures associated with Christmas, Santa Claus, actually began as a very Christian saint – St. Nicholas.  Although we have few facts about this Fourth-Century bishop, the many stories which grew up about him, coupled with the widespread devotion people have expressed toward him in many times and cultures, give us a glimpse into the holiness of the man.  And the picture it paints is very appealing.
 
Nicholas was born into a wealthy family during the latter part of the Third Century on what is now the southern coast of Turkey; his parents, devout Christians, died in an epidemic when Nicholas was still a very young man. As a result, he suddenly found himself in possession of a fairly substantial fortune. However, rather than keep his money, he obeyed Jesus’ command to “sell all you have and give it to the poor” and distributed his earthly wealth among the poorest and neediest around him.
 
Nicholas was ordained a priest and was subsequently made bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, which was a province of Asia Minor. Sources tell us that he was imprisoned during the Christian persecution, which took place under the Roman Emperor Diocletian but lived to see the legalization of the faith under Constantine. Likely present at the Council of Nicaea in 325, Nicholas died in the city of Myra on Dec. 6, 343.
 
Nicholas was known during his lifetime for his expansive generosity.  One of the most popular stories about him concerned a man who was too poor to provide dowries for his three daughters; at the time, a lack of dowry meant that a woman could not marry, and so it was likely that these girls would end up being sold, either into slavery or prostitution. When Nicholas heard of the situation, he is said to have gone to the house on three separate occasions, each time tossing a bag of gold through the window, thereby providing each daughter with the needed dowry.  According to legend, the gold landed in the stockings of the young women, which they had washed and hung over the fireplace to dry – thus beginning the tradition of hanging stockings at Christmas that persists to this day.
 
Miracles also were attributed to Nicholas after his death. One of the oldest stories tells of a young boy who was kidnapped from Myra by pirates who raided the city during the celebration of the saint’s feast day. A year later, as the child’s grieving mother prayed for his safe return, Nicholas is said to have appeared to the boy where he was being held as a slave, sweeping him up and returning him to his parents.
 
Another story has Nicholas restoring to life three children who were murdered by a wicked innkeeper.  Still another, which reportedly took place during the saint’s lifetime, says that while on a voyage to the Holy Land, the ship on which he was traveling was caught in a terrible storm. The terrified sailors were sure that the ship would be lost and that they would drown, but Nicholas calmly prayed for their safety. Within minutes, the waves were stilled and the storm abated, sparing everyone on board.
 
While many of these tales are unsubstantiated, their persistence over the centuries nevertheless point to a man who was both generous and holy, a model for those who would also live a compassionate life. There are many who claim him as their patron, among them children, sailors, brides and the country of Greece. 
 
His feast day, which falls near the beginning of Advent, is Dec. 6.
 
Sources for this article include:
www.americancatholic.org
www.catholiconline.come
Ott, Michael. "St. Nicholas of Myra." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
“Saint Nicholas of Myra." CatholicSaints.Info. 11 June 2016.
 www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/
 
Last modified onFriday, 04 November 2016 09:44
Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

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