Russia and St. Nicholas of Myra
St. Nicholas of Myra
When the Greek, Constantine, became emperor, the center of the empire was moved to Constantinople which is modern day Istanbul, Turkey. Constantine did more than tolerate Christianity, he made it the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. The persecution of Christians ceased, prisoners were released and the Emperor called for the convening of a sacred council, which we know as the Council of Nicea or the First Ecumenical Council. Nicholas, now Bishop of Myra, in Turkey, attended this council in AD 325.
Nicholas' remains were, originally, entombed at Myra, modern Demre (Myra = myrrh). In 1087, the Saint's relics were moved to Bari, Italy, where they are still enshrined in the Basilica of St. Nicola.
What is the connection between this venerable Bishop and Santa Claus? Legend has it that Nicholas worked numerous miracles for those in need. He is also known as the Wonder Worker. Possibly the most famous and popular story concerns a nobleman and his three daughters.
The nobleman had fallen on hard times and did not have the money to pay his daughters' dowries. Without this, the girls could not marry. Nicholas, learning of their despair, went to the house, at night, and dropped a bag of gold coins in one of the daughter's window. Later, he returned and deposited a bag of coins in through the next girl's window. When he returned to bestow his gift on the third girl, all the windows of the house were locked. So, the good Bishop climbed up on the roof and dropped the bag of money down through the chimney. The coins fell into the girls' stockings that were hanging on the fireplace mantle to dry. Sound familiar? This legend is where we get the tradition of hanging stockings for Santa to fill with treats and gifts on Christmas Eve!
Some of Nicholas' acts are documented and, thus, amount to more than legend. One of the earliest such accounts is found in a sixth century Greek text. Three officers, sentenced to death, were saved by Nicholas who appeared to Constantine in a dream. Nicholas is credited with resurrecting three children burned to death in a fire and saving, yet another child, from drowning. He calmed a storm off the coast of Lycia, saving several sailors from certain death. The Bishop is said to have done many charitable acts. For example, Nicholas purchased a rug from a poor street vendor for an inflated price and then gave the rug to the vendor's wife as a gift. Thus, the couple gained financial help and retained their property. This act shows Nicholas' sensitivity to human dignity. (Icon of St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker and scenes from his life). Nicholas quickly became a beloved saint worldwide. He is a favorite patron saint, especially in Greece and Russia. In fact, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Moscow. A church was built in his honor, in the sixth century, by Roman emperor Justinian, at Constantinople. St. Nicholas' Feast Day is December 6th, the date of his death in ca. AD 350. In many Eastern traditions, this is a festive day of thanksgiving and gift giving.
popularity created many surnames worldwide; Nichols, Colson, Collins, etc. His transition
to Father Christmas occurred first in Germany where the Reformed Protestant churches were
in a majority. In the Dutch Reformed Church, St. Nicholas was known as Sinter Claes which
became Santa Claus in English speaking countries. Christmas is the season when Christians
celebrate the Nativity of Christ. It is, also, a holiday associated with the celebration
of the family; especially children. The legends and accounts surrounding the Bishop of
Myra, his charity, miracles and love for children and family make him the real Santa.