Our Life in Christ

Our Life In Christ 

Saint Nicholas of Myra in Lycia – December 6, 2021

by Fr. Jonathan Cholcher

St. Nicholas St.Nicholas relics in Bary, Italy

Perhaps no saint is more popular among so many people throughout the world as Saint Nicholas of Myra in Lycia. As with the observation of Christmas, popularity does not always equate with proper veneration. However, Saint Nicholas’s almost universal popularity underscores the existence of the saint and the need to appreciate the true importance of this saint in the lives of both the faithful and unbelievers alike. We venerate Saint Nicholas not because of any mythical powers he might possess, but because of the faith in Christ which enabled, and continues to enable, him to be an instrument of God’s grace of salvation.

Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, etc.) was an Orthodox bishop in the late third and early fourth centuries along the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. He was born in the town of Patara and eventually served the Church in both Patara and Myra in the Roman province of Lycia. Saint Nicholas was imprisoned for the Faith for almost a decade during the great persecution ordered by the Roman Emperor Diocletian (284-305). He was one of 318 bishops present at the First Ecumenical Council of the Church convened by the Emperor Constantine at the city of Nicea in the year 325. So zealous for the Faith, at the Council Saint Nicholas is reported to have struck the heretic Arius on his face; this action necessitated Saint Nicholas’s suspension and restoration to episcopal duties after several of the Fathers had the same vision of Christ and the Virgin Mary returning the Gospel and omophorion to the bishop.

Saint Nicholas came from a wealthy family but displayed remarkable devotion to God in the Church and charity to his neighbors almost from infancy. While a priest, having learned that a desperate father was going to sell his three daughters for food, Saint Nicholas secretly delivered a bag of gold through their window delivering the young women and their family from physical and spiritual destruction.

 On pilgrimage to Jerusalem while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, by his prayers Saint Nicholas saved the ship and its passengers from death by calming a storm, also healing a sailor from a mortal wound suffered when he fell from the mast. Three men were unjustly condemned to death by a governor who was bribed. Saint Nicholas went to the place of execution and from the executioner took the sword already suspended over the men’s necks. The governor repented of his judgment. Saint Nicholas appeared in a dream to the Emperor Constantine causing him to overturn the sentence imposed unjustly on three military officers. By his prayers Saint Nicholas delivered Myra from a famine appearing to an Italian merchant and giving him three gold pieces to deliver grain to the city.

The influence of Saint Nicholas is not restricted to the time of his physical sojourn in this world. Saint Nicholas reposed in old age and was buried at Myra. In 1087 his relics were transferred to Bari, Italy, where a healing myrrh still flows from them. Ancient Kiev witnesses the deliverance of an infant from drowning by which Saint Nicholas took the child from the water and placed it alive before his wonderworking icon in the choir loft of the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). Accounts of Saint Nicholas’s appearance for help and deliverance are attested in every century since his bodily repose, including a well-known incident during World War II involving the preservation of Russian soldiers in the winter of 1944, the soldiers learning the identity of their host when they later went into a Church and saw the icon of the saint.

Thus many churches – too many to count – are dedicated to and bear the name of this great saint. The Orthodox Church possesses several wonderworking icons of Saint Nicholas by which many miraculous deeds have been performed. Many travelers and sailors have implored Saint Nicholas as their patron for safety and success during their voyages. 

 The holy Bishop Nicholas lived to glorify God in Jesus Christ, and he continues to do the same. Saint Nicholas provides a singular example of both faith and love for all to emulate. Saint Nicholas still lives in the Kingdom of God to help those who ask his assistance, leading all to that same Kingdom in the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ