Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dec. 6: St. Nicholas of Myra (Santa Claus)

Today, Dec. 6, is the Feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and model of Christian charity, celebrated in both the East and the West. The following description of his life is from

…So it is with our Great and Glorious Hierarch and Wonderworker, Nicholas of Myra, whose feast day is celebrated in the Eastern and Western Churches on December 6. What is actually known about Nicholas is little, but as far as can be determined he was born toward the end of the 3rd century the son of Theophanes, a celebrity in his own right in the city of Patara in Lycia in Asia Minor, part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Nothing is known about his childhood, but legend has it that after his birth, while still in the baptismal fond, he stood on his feet for three hours supported by no one to render honor to the Holy Trinity. In his youth he was influenced by his uncle, Nicholas, bishop of Patara, to chose the monastic life. As a young man he was imprisoned during the persecutions of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximilian. In time he became known for his piety and acts of charity. While the Arian heresy was rampaging throughout Christendom, he sided with the Catholic party. The arch-heretic, Arius, had taught that Christ is neither equal to nor of one substance with the Father, but merely an intermediary between God and man. To crush this heresy, Emperor Constantine summoned the bishops into solemn conclave in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325. At this council the Catholic party prevailed over the heretics and Arius was condemned. The story goes that Nicholas was present at the council and was so incensed by the heretic's arrogance that he struck him, for which reason he was expelled by the council fathers. Nicholas is nowhere to be found on the lists of bishops who attended the council.

Another story tells that Nicholas gave three bags of gold to three girls as dowry to spare them from prostitution. He is also said to have raised three boys to life after they had drowned and to have saved three wrongly condemned prisoners from execution and sailors from drowning.

Nicholas' reputation for charitable works grew during his lifetime and after his death on December 6, 343. After the Virgin Mary and St. John the Forerunner he was the most revered saint in the early Church. The Emperor Justinian instituted his feast day in the liturgical calendar on December 6 and dedicated a splendid church in his memory in Constantinople. By popular acclamation he was declared a saint worthy of universal veneration.

St. Nicholas is venerated as patron saint of Greece, Russia, Kingdom of Naples, Sicily, Lorraine, and by several cities of Europe including Moscow. On his feast day he was celebrated as benefactor of children in both the Eastern and Western Churches.

When the city of Myra was threatened by the invading Muslims and fell into their hands, out of fear that his remains might be desecrated by the heathens, his body was transported by Italians to Bari on the east coast of Italy in the year 1084 where it remains to this day within a magnificent basilica built in his honor. His remains are reputed to exude a fragrant myrrh-like substance known as myron. This phenomenon known as "manna of St. Nicholas" was present during the reinternment of his body in the 1950s.