Okay, so, one of my favorite saints, is Saint Nicholas. (And I'll explain why, a bit later. It's not why you think.)
Since his feast day is December 6th, I thought I'd make a post. I need no other excuse. :)
So, we all know him as 'Santa Claus'. You know, the jolly guy who sneaks into your house at night and leaves oodles of presents for the kids. It shouldn't surprise anyone that St. Nicholas was not, actually, a supporter of rampant commercialism and turning your children into spoiled brats.
St. Nicholas was born in the Middle East, it's believed he was born in Patara (now known as Demre in modern day Turkey) between AD 260 and 280.
His election to the position of Bishop of Myra was a little...unorthodox. :)
After the death of the bishop of Myra, other bishops came together to select his successor. During the conclave the wisest bishop heard a voice in the night, telling him to watch the doors of the church the next morning at matins. The first person to enter, named Nicholas, was to be the new bishop. He did so, waiting at the door while counseling the others to be at prayer. When the time came, the first person to arrive was a young man. When asked his name, he replied, 'I am Nicholas.' The bishop addressed him, 'Nicholas, servant and friend of God, for your holiness, you shall be bishop of this place.' They brought him into the church and placed him in the bishop's seat, where he was consecrated the new Bishop of Myra.
As Bishop of Myra, Nicholas lived the qualities that caused his fame and popularity to spread throughout the Christian world. His vigorous actions on behalf of his people and in defense of the Christian faith reveal a man who lived his convictions. Nicholas was not timid—he did what was necessary and was not easily intimidated by others' power and position. His concern for the welfare of his flock and his stand for orthodox belief earned him respect as a model for bishops and a defender of the faith.
For example, Myra experienced famine in AD 311 and 312, and again in 333. Crops had failed and people were hungry. Bishop Nicholas learned that ships bound for Alexandria with cargoes of wheat had anchored in the harbor. The holy man implored the sailors to take a measure of grain from each ship so that the people would have food. The sailors said, "No," as the wheat was "meted and measured" and every bit must be delivered. Nicholas replied, "Do this, and I promise, in the truth of God, that it shall not be lessened or diminished when you get to your destination." So the sailors took a measure from each ship and continued on their way to Alexandria. When the wheat was unloaded, the full amount was accounted for and the tale told—all the emperor's ministers worshiped and praised God with thanksgiving for his servant Nicholas. Throughout the famine people came to Bishop Nicholas for wheat. He gave it to all who had need and the grain lasted for two years with enough remaining to plant new crops.
- In the time of Emperor Constantine, all was not peaceful in the empire. When unrest would break out, soldiers would be sent to restore order. Some such soldiers were on shore leave in Andriaki, the port which served Myra. As they were in the marketplace, disputes began and there was some disturbance and looting. Bishop Nicholas went to the port to help settle the trouble. On his way back to the city, he saw people crying and saying, "If you had been in the city three innocent men would not have been handed over to death, as they have been ordered beheaded." Nicholas ran to the place, asking if the men were still alive. The three men were in position-faces covered, hands bound behind, expecting death. The executioner's sword was up and ready to fall. Nicholas fearlessly grabbed the sword, throwing it down. The freed men went on their way while Nicholas sought to have the charges against them cleared.
- The people of Myra begged Bishop Nicholas to ask the emperor for relief from the high taxes which were causing much hardship. Nicholas went to plead their cause with Constantine. The emperor granted a large reduction, giving Nicholas a copy of the order. The bishop immediately put the document on a stick and threw it into the sea. Soon afterwards it was found and taken to the authorities in Myra. The order was immediately put into effect, substantially lowering the taxes. Meanwhile Constantine, whose finance ministers had convinced him that this lost revenue would seriously harm the royal treasury, summoned Nicholas to return the document for revision. Nicholas reported that the order was already in effect in Myra. Doubting this, Constantine sent a runner to determine the truth. When Nicholas' words were confirmed the emperor allowed the reduction to stand. A century later Myra still enjoyed low taxation which the people attributed to St. Nicholas.
- After Galerius, and later, Constantine, declared tolerance for Christianity, the Christians who had been imprisoned under Diocletian returned home. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, was one of them. He found many idol shrines still present and they harbored disturbing demons. So by the power of God, Nicholas set about with great force and zeal to destroy these shrines, drive the demons away, and bring calm to the land. The most supreme deity of the pantheon of Myra was Artemis and her temple was the most stunningly beautiful and impressive structure in all Lycia. Nicholas attacked this temple with great might and vigor, causing its total destruction. So complete was its fall that the foundation stones were on top and the pinnacle was driven into the ground. The evil demons then fled, inspiring the people's awe of God.
Details of Nicholas' death are not known, but early reference is made to the manna of St. Nicholas, a liquid that formed in his tomb and was renowned for its healing properties. For 750 years St. Nicholas' tomb in Myra was an ever-increasingly popular pilgrimage site as reverence for the saint grew and spread throughout the Christian world.
As a bishop, Nicholas, servant of God, was first and foremost a shepherd of the people, caring for their needs. His active pursuit of justice for his people was demonstrated when he secured grain in time of famine, saved the lives of three men wrongly condemned, and secured lower taxes for Myra. He taught the Gospel simply, so ordinary people understood, and he lived out his faith and devotion to God in helping the poor and all in need.
The story of the three impoverished maidens is (likely) where the whole, Santa Claus delivering presents got its origin: There was a man, once rich, who had fallen on hard times. Now poor, he had three daughters of an age to be married. In those days a young woman's family had to have something of value, a dowry, to offer prospective bridegrooms. The larger the dowry, the better the chance a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery, or worse.
Word of the family's misfortune reached Nicholas, who had the wealth inherited from his parents. Coming in secret by night, he tossed a bag of gold into the house. It sailed in through an open window, landing in a stocking* left before the fire to dry. What joy in the morning when the gold was discovered! The first daughter soon wed.
Not long after, another bag of gold again appeared mysteriously. The second daughter was married. The father, now very anxious to know who the secret benefactor was, kept watch during the night.
A third bag of gold landed inside the house and the watchful father leaped up and caught the fleeing donor. "Ah, Nicholas, it is you!" cried the father, "You have saved my daughters from certain disaster."
Nicholas, embarrassed, and not wishing to be known, begged the man to keep his identity secret. "You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance."
And *this*, *this* is why I have a great deal of affection for this Saint: In AD 325 Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea. More than 300 bishops came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church's most intense theological questions. Arius, from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. Arius forcefully argued his position at length. The bishops listened respectfully.
As Arius vigorously continued, Nicholas became more and more agitated. Finally, he could no longer bear what he believed was essential being attacked. The outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.
The bishops stripped Nicholas of his bishop's garments, chained him, and threw him into jail. That would keep Nicholas away from the meeting. When the Council ended a final decision would be made about his future.
Nicholas was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness, though he did not waver in his belief. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared, asking, "Why are you in jail?" "Because of my love for you," Nicholas replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him an omophorion, so Nicholas would again be dressed as a bishop. Now at peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.
When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishop's robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor asked that Nicholas be freed. Nicholas was then fully reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.The Council of Nicaea agreed with Nicholas' views, deciding the question against Arius. The work of the Council produced the Nicene Creed.
(Amber's mental image of the event)
What's the first rule of Ecumenical Council?
We do not *talk* about Ecumenical Council! *rofl*
Okay, okay, *wipes eyes*. In all seriousness, I love this. Look, if Arianism had persisted, we'd all believe that God created Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and that they were subservient to Him, as opposed to being equal parts of the Godhead. We'd be polytheists. So...St. Nicholas punching Arias...just kinda works for me. That's how serious this was, a normally nice person got so pissed at the heresy and evil he was hearing, he had to hit the guy. :)