St. Nicholas of Myra
The Eastern Churches have a special love and devotion to Saint Nicholas. This love has been enhanced by the liturgical cult that has grown around the virtuous life of Nicholas, who was to be Bishop of Myra in Lycia. Saint Nicholas was born in Patara-Lycia, Asia Minor, in the latter part of the third century. He was raised in a good Christian home by his parents, Theophanus and Nina.
Nicholas, blessed with a good memory, loved to read the Holy Scriptures and sing in Church. His uncle, who was the Bishop of Patara, realized that Nicholas was leading a holy life and had sufficient learning to become a priest. His parents agreed and Nicholas was ordained a priest at age 21. He led a simple life as a priest devoted to God in service to the poor and needy. When his parents died, he inherited their property, which he sold to help the poor. His charity and service to those in need are undoubtedly the virtue by which he is known to us.
Many legends and miracles have been attributed to Saint Nicholas. Each of them personifies him as a "model of faith and an example of virtue."
One legend tells that the father of a destitute Christian family decided to sell his daughters into slavery. When Nicholas heard of this, he secretly threw some money into the house. He did the same for all three daughters. When the father discovered that Nicholas was the benefactor, in compliance with his wishes, he promised not to reveal Nicholas' name. Most of Saint Nicholas' great works of charity were done in secret. He firmly believed in the Gospel command: "Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see. Otherwise expect no recompense from your heavenly Father," (Mt. 6:1).
After a brief time in monastic life in the Holy Land, Nicholas returned to Myra at the time the bishop of this city died. A council was held but they could not agree on a candidate to be the next bishop. One bishop was told in a dream to stand at the doors of the church and select the first man who entered and make him the bishop. At Matins the next day, Nicholas was the first to come into the church. Nicholas, being a man of great humility really wanted to refuse the appointment as bishop. There is a tradition that says Nicholas was so troubled in spirit about accepting the episcopacy that he only gave full consent on the day before his episcopal ordination, after having a dream. In this dream Nicholas saw Jesus Christ handing him a Gospel Book and the Mother of God holding a bishop's omophorion. Many popular icons of Saint Nicholas have Christ and the Mother of God pictured on each side of Nicholas depicting this dream.
Bishop Nicholas was a model of Christian living and leadership. He eagerly fulfilled his tasks as preacher, defender of the faith and provider of the poor. Saint Nicholas did not have an easy life as a bishop. Though he and his flock were persecuted Nicholas brought courage and spiritual comfort to his people.
Many more miracles and legends have come to us showing Saint Nicholas' great mercy, uprightness and service to those in need. Nicholas lived to an old age and died on December 6th, 342 or 345. We pray with our Church to follow his lifestyle and gain "greatness through humility and wealth through poverty." O Holy Father Nicholas, pray to God for us!
By Fr. Michael Hayduk