1 Where was he from?
Nicholas was born in Patara in A.D. 270 and served as Bishop of Myra, both seaport towns off Turkey’s southern coast where he lived all his life dying in 345. You may know Myra as the place that St. Paul passed through on his way to stand trial in Rome. St. Luke records that “crossing the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia” (Acts of the Apostles 27:4-5).
2 The BEGINNINGS of sainthood
Perhaps Nicholas developed his love for poor children as a result of his being an orphan at a tender age? When he was a young man his parents died having caught a disease whilst serving the needs of the sick. As he was their only child, he inherited everything and was now in the care of his uncle who was the Bishop of Patara. They had been a wealthy family and Saint Nicholas used the money wisely and grew in piety.
3 The basis of the myth
Knowledge of his wealth helps us to understand precisely why St. Nicholas was able to engage in his anonymous gift-giving. In his hometown of Patara the ancient tradition has been transmitted through the generations that, in order to deliver a destitute widower and his three daughters Nicholas secretly threw three bags of gold coins through their window on three consecutive nights. The father had faced the heart wrenching prospect of selling them into slavery as a result of his dire poverty. In this way Saint Nicholas’ actions mirrored Christ’s liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin. He was also a testament to the parable of the talents.
4 He was physically brave
Saint Nicholas not only shared his fortune with the less fortunate, but he used his wealth and position to enable him to fight for the oppressed in other ways too. There are accounts of him saving three men who had been sentenced unjustly to death. The governor Eustathius who had heard the case had been bribed and was willing to let them face death to increase his personal wealth. In spite of the threat to his personal safety Nicholas walked up to the executioner and grabbed the sword from his hand!
No wonder then his myth is one of someone rewarding the good and punishing the bad.
5 He suffered for the truth
St. Nicholas didn’t just liberate the unjustly accused; he was imprisoned himself. He spent seven, torturous years imprisoned for his faith during the Diocletian Persecution. He was finally released under the first Christian emperor, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313 that gave religious liberty to all Christians.
6 And obviously intelligent as well as pious!
St. Nicholas is sometimes referred to as the “boy bishop” because he was consecrated Bishop of Myra at the very young age of 30.
7 He was a (too) passionate theologian
He attended the Council of Nicaea; the first Church council called by Emperor Constantine in in A.D. 325. There where 300 bishops in attendance to debate the central issue; the nature of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was necessary as a result of the Arian heresy.
Arius, a bishop from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus was not equal to God the Father and when he was given the opportunity to speak he forcefully argued his point at some length.
Nicholas became increasingly enraged by what he saw as a slight against Jesus his Saviour. Perhaps his youth was a factor in his following actions; he got up, walked across the solemn arena full of his fellow bishops who were piously listening to the points being put before the council and proceeded to slap Arius!
Inevitably his fellow bishops considered him too young and hotheaded at this point, as well as clearly being in the wrong. It was not just morally wrong, but legally too! As striking someone in front of Constantine himself was an offence.
8 His story involves bishops who act!
Constantine differed his judgement of Nicholas and allowed the council itself to make a decision in relation to Saint Nicholas’ shocking behaviour.
If only modern bishops had acted so swiftly against their colleagues!
9 His continuing journey to sainthood – repentance!
As he sat in jail he prayed for forgiveness. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared, asking, “Why are you in jail?”
Nicholas simply replied; “Because of my love for you”. Jesus, the wise teacher, then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him bishops clothing. He studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night, his chains miraculosuly unbound and lying on the floor nearby.
When the jailer came in the morning and found him like this Constantine was alerted of the fact. Nicholas was reinstated immediately.
The Council of Nicaea decided against Arius’ argument and the Nicene Creed was written to communicate that the Son is “consubstantial” with the Father — the Creed we pray at Sunday Mass to this day.
10 His Journey to heavenly glory
The accounts are unanimous that St. Nicholas died and was buried in his episcopal city of Myra, and by the time of Justinian, there was a basilica built in his honor at Constantinople.
An anonymous Greek wrote in the tenth century that;
“the West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. Images of him are set up, panegyrics preached and festivals celebrated. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence his memory and call upon his protection. And his favors, which know no limit of time and continue from age to age, are poured out over all the earth; the Scythians know them, as do the Indians and the barbarians, the Africans as well as the Italians.”
11 How devotion to Him spread
Possibly as a result of the Emperor of Constantinople’s niece Princess Theophano. She is brought a mosaic icon of St. Nicholas for her future husband, Emperor Otto II, as a wedding gift when they were married by Pope John XIII on Apr. 14, 972, in old Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
12 His move to italy
When Saracens invaded the land and seized where he was buried several italien cities wanted the saints relics and pirates stole them. On May 9, 1087 St. Nicholas’ relics safetly landed in Bari and a new church was built to shelter the relics. Pope, Bd. Urban II, was present at their enshrining.
The Feast of the Translation of the Holy Relics of St. Nicholas from Myra to Bari is celebrated in Italy to this day on May 9 in the basilica there built as a shrine to him and completed in 1089.
13 Manna of saint nicholas
A pure liquid known as the Manna of St. Nicholas has flowed from his bones for 17 centuries. Each Feast of the Translation of his relics a Dominican priest siphons the manna of St. Nicholas into a glass vial. This is used to bless the Christian faithful.
14 Little French nuns and his legacy
The stories of his charity led French nuns in the Middle Ages to start to bring food, clothing, treats and money to help the poor as anonymous gifts under the cover of night on the Eve of his feast, December 5th.
When the poor tried to find out who their benefactor was, they got the answer, “It must have been St. Nicholas.”
15 Who else is he a patron saint of?
St. Nicholas is celebrated as the patron of sailors as well as children. The former is due to the legend that during his lifetime he appeared to storm tossed mariners who invoked his aid off the coast of Lycia and brought them safely to port. Sailors had their “star of St. Nicholas” and wished one another – “May St. Nicholas hold the tiller.”