Saint of the Week: St. Nicholas of Myra

A Version of a Post from 2007

Happy St. Nicholas’ Day!

That’s right, my friends, today is the feast day of jolly old Saint Nicholas–or, as the Eastern Orthodox call him, “Our Father Among the Saints, Nicholas the Wonderworker.” People these days seem to doubt that he ever existed, but considering that his bones were buried in Myra itself before being stolen by some Italian merchants and taken to Bari, I cast a vote in favour of his being real. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that all we can be certain of is that he was Bishop of Myra in the fourth century.

The reason I think most people doubt his existence is the fact that, like St. George, he is most famous for the sort of thing modernists aren’t in favour of believing. In poor St. George’s case, it was because he had the terrible misfortune of slaying a dragon, the sort of thing that one really ought to leave up to mythological heroes, so people doubt he existed, even though the bulk of his story deals with his torture and martyrdom.

St. Nicholas is most famous for two things:

i. Being Santa Claus.

ii. Giving money to three daughters of a man who couldn’t afford dowries. The legend says something or other involving chimneys and stockings. According to abbamoses.com, he threw the money through the window because he was trying to give it in secret.

We don’t really know much about St. Nicholas. He is very famous in the East for his miracles (the sort of thing modernists don’t believe — for a highly intellectual and brain-stretching discussion of miracles, read C. S. Lewis’ book by the same name), and I have no reason to doubt whether or not they happened outside of the documentation, none of which I have access to. He didn’t much want to be a bishop but originally wanted to be a monk. I have a feeling he’s the sort of saint who lived by St. Seraphim of Sarov’s words, “Keep your heart in peace and a multitude around you will be saved.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia doubts he was at Nicaea in AD 325, whereas abbamoses says he was. I think he was but have no scholarly reason why.* The Orthodox tradition says that he approached Arius in the council and slapped him on the face for saying such blasphemies regarding Christ (Arius denied the divinity of Christ). The other bishops, while the agreed with St. Nicholas’ sentiment, felt that this was not entirely the way to go about things at the council, so they put him in prison overnight as punishment. As the story goes, he had a dream that night of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin gave him the bishop’s stole and Christ gave him a copy of the Gospels, the symbols of a bishop’s authority. When they came to let him out the next day, they found him with these objects in reality. The miracle confirmed St. Nicholas’ righteousness and the truth of Christian orthodoxy.

Who knows if it’s true or not. But if St. Nicholas of Myra was in Nicaea in 325, he is in part responsible for something much bigger and better than hopping on a sleigh with 8 or 9 flying reindeer and bringing baubles and toys for the greedy children of the world. He would have helped craft this, which was later revised as this.

*His name does not appear on any of the earliest lists of bishops at the council. Therefore, there is no historiographical reason to assume his presence. However, it is difficult to know who exactly was present at Nicaea, because we have no actual Acta as we do for later councils such as Chalcedon (451).

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