In our preparation for the coming Saviour, we commemorated the Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas, on Dec. 6.
St. Nicholas was a very real person who lived in the early 300s in Turkey. His parents died in an epidemic when he was a child, leaving him a fortune, and he was raised by his uncle, the bishop of Patara. Nicholas was said to be very pious from an early age and, as a young man, was ordained to the priesthood. He spent time in a monastery, from which he was called to be made bishop of Myra. He never lived for riches and gave his money away at every opportunity.
Nicholas is a Greek name meaning “conqueror of the people”, and he conquered people exactly the way Jesus Christ did, by loving them, by helping them, by teaching them and by serving them.
There are many stories about the saint. One of the more popular involves a poor man who had three daughters. The man was unable to provide a dowry for them, which meant they were unable to be married. Instead, the three young women were destined for a life of slavery and prostitution. As each girl came of age to marry, the saint snuck by their house at night and secretly tossed a bag of gold through the window. Each girl was able to marry well.
Once a ship in the Mediterranean became grounded in shallow water during a storm. At this time, Bishop Nicholas was known for his compassion and aid, and the sailors called on him to pray for them. Miraculously, an image of the saint appeared and assisted the men to leverage the ship back into deeper water.
He resurrected three children who had been killed by a cruel innkeeper. He intervened and stopped the execution of several prisoners who had been unjustly accused.
There are several stories about Bishop Nicholas intervening to feed people during a famine. Once he removed wheat from a ship in port to distribute locally. The ship was destined for the capital and the crew was scared since their load would be underweight when they arrived. Miraculously, they had the same amount of wheat upon their arrival as they did when the ship was originally loaded. The bishop also loaded a boat with wheat, fruit and nuts to take to another town and there he left baskets of food at each doorstep in the middle of the night.
In 325, he was one of many bishops who attended the First Council of Nicaea. There, Nicholas confronted the heretic Arius who denied the divinity of Christ.
Some of these stories may be based in fact and others may be apocryphal but they are all true because they convey the truth of St. Nicholas for us to emulate.
Jesus announced His ministry by reading from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,” then telling the people, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled”.
It is fitting that during this time of preparation for the Saviour’s birth, we are given the ultimate example of a man who continued to fulfill Christ’s mission on earth, the mission with which we are all entrusted.
Even the modern-day caricature of the red-suited Santa Claus and his reindeer can’t fully hide the true St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas possessed the fruit of the Spirit. He lived daily with the Lord and was godly in all his words and deeds, proclaiming the Word of God. He defended the rights of the oppressed and afflicted. He battled injustice with compassion and mercy. He was a man who from his youth kept the great commandment to love God with all his heart and mind and soul, and to love his neighbour as himself.
“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves,” said St. Nicholas.