Saint Nicholas – the real Santa Claus

​(December 6)


Some people think that the church emphasizes doctrine, liturgy, fasting, etc. too much, whereas the most important thing about being a Christian is being loving and forgiving towards others. There is much truth in this idea, but it is too one-sided. There are other people so concerned with doctrine, liturgy, etc. they do forget the heart of our faith. In a sense, these people can be like the priest and the Levite who ignored the wounded man by the roadside in the parable of the good Samaritan. This is also one-sided.
​The saints of the church are not one-sided. They hold together all aspects of the faith. Such a saint is Saint Nicholas, commemorated on December 6th. St. Nicholas lived in Myra, in what is now Turkey, from 270-343 AD. As a bishop he was a very active in helping the poor and needy. Perhaps the most famous story about him is the story of his helping three poor sisters. St. Nicholas heard about a family with three daughters who did not have enough money go get married so they were going to have to earn their money in immoral ways. St. Nicholas come to their house in the middle of the night while all were sleeping and tossed bags of gold through the window, which landed in the young women’s stockings hung on the fireplace to dry. Another variant says that the saint actually threw the bags of gold through the chimney. Whatever the case, we see this charitable bishop who later became the model for Santa Claus.
​However, there was more the St. Nicholas than almsgiving. In the year 325 AD the first ecumenical (or general) council of the church was held. It met to respond to the false teaching of the priest Arius who said that Jesus was not genuinely God, but only the most holy creation of God. St. Nicholas attended this council and together with the other bishops realized this false teaching would destroy the Christian faith, so they condemned Arius and proclaimed the first part of the Creed (I believe in one God. etc) which we recite at every Divine Liturgy. So we see in St. Nicholas an example who was very concerned with helping the poor, but also with correct doctrine, showing that they go together.
​By the early 11th century the city of Myra hadimage been seized by the Turks and the Christians who lived there were afraid that the relics of the saint would not be accessible to Christian pilgrims, so crusading knights from Europe removed the relics of St. Nicholas from Myra to Bari, Italy where they remain today in the Roman Catholic cathedral in that city.

imageThe Catholic Church in Bari has given the Orthodox Church a chapel in this cathedral so that the Orthodox can celebrate the Divine Liturgy there.
​There is also an Orthodox Church in Bari, the construction ofimage which had begun before the Russian Revolution, which was later handed over to the city of Bari in 1937 when the Orthodox Church lacked funds to complete and maintain it. However, in 2007 the church building and property were returned to the Orthodox Church.
​In conclusion, we see St. Nicholas as one who was zealous for the poor and for the faith and we see his relics in Bari as a place of pilgrimage not only for Orthodox and Catholics but for all Christians.

Fr. John

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