December 5, 2017

Saint Nicholas of Myra, the Wonderworker

St. Nicholas

December 6th is the optional memorial of Saint Nicholas, (270-343) also called Nikolaos of Myra, (present day Demre, Turkey) known for his tireless generosity and defense of orthodoxy. Although we have few facts about this 4th century bishop, the many stories about him preserved by tradition and popular piety together with the widespread devotion the faithful have expressed toward him across many times and cultures, give us a glimpse into the holiness of the man.

He was born into a wealthy family during the latter part of the 3rd century in 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 wealth to 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. Various sources tell us that he was imprisoned during the Christian persecution, which took place under the Roman Emperor Diocletian but lived to see the Faith legalized under Constantine. Likely present at the Council of Nicaea in 325, Nicholas died in 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 today.

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 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. Soon the waves stilled and the storm abated, sparing all on board.

While many of these legends are unsubstantiated, their persistence through 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. We humbly implore your mercy, Lord: protect us in all dangers through the prayers of the Bishop Saint Nicholas, that the way of salvation may lie open before us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who reigns with you. Amen.

No comments :