The story begins…
In a land where the beauty of creation was all around, when a boy named Nicholas came to birth, there began a holy journey for this boy whose name means ‘Victor of the People.’
Nicholas’ parents were devout Christians. It was a family full of love. Unexpectedly a plague swept the land and brought with it the death hundreds including Nicholas’ parents. It was a sad time. It turned out, his mother and father were very wealthy. With this revelation, Nicholas was led to the realization that many others in the world were not as fortunate, with many having very little to live on day by day.
Young Nicholas was now living in his uncle’s monastery and people came to the door with more needs than you could imagine. His parents’ money, now his money, would eventually help so many. Especially when a time came when the community experienced a devastating famine in the land and the needs of the people increased day by day.
Nicholas loved reading the Bible and worshipping with other Christians. As he grew in age and stature, he chose to be more eager in helping the poor. He found inspiration in the Bible and from receiving Holy Communion with his uncle, the priest, every day. Little did he know, of course, one day Nicholas would become a priest himself.
“Many came to love him”
Soon many came to love him as a pastor, friend, and counsellor. He was a great storyteller and even now his legends embrace peoples’ hearts in times of trial and sadness as well as with thanksgiving and joy. Nicholas always felt his parents would be pleased in how their money was used—just as Jesus taught. He epitomized generosity and gentleness. His faith was strong and his desire to be a compassionate pastor would later be tested when he was imprisoned for confessing the Christian faith.
Nicholas was born in Patara, a coastal region abounding in natural beauty. In this part of the world, news travelled fast, especially bad news. Word came to Nicholas that a father had no money to offer dowries that enabled his three daughters to be married–the alternative would be selling the girls as slaves. Money was indeed the need and not possessed by the father. In the midst of his sadness, a surprise gift was about to be revealed, saving all three daughters from being enslaved.
For three miraculous nights in a row, Nicholas threw gold coin bags down the chimney that landed in the stockings on the fireplace. The saga came to a close, when the father found out where the money came from, namely from the generous Nicholas. Encountering the father on the third night in the dark streets, Nicholas asked the father to give thanks to God, not him, for the miracle of generosity shown to the family in need. There would be many others who would call upon this ambassador of goodwill with numerous desires and needs.
Nicholas’ adventures and his support of sailors, children, innocent prisoners, kidnapped children now resurrected, unwed women, and bakers come to us as legends do—through the never-ending sharing of what this man of God who loved his Lord and his people did without hesitation.
One of his most earnest desires was to visit the Holy Land and walk in the steps of Jesus. He did it, and a cave-chapel in Beit Jala marks his visit to this community. On the voyage back to his homeland, our Nicholas dramatically calmed the sea during a fierce storm, saving the lives of people in peril. The sailors shouted Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, and mercy was shown. In Greece, boats often have an icon art of Saint Nicholas on display. He is hailed as wonderworker, and lived into that title day by day.
The nearby city of Myra, a shipping port, had a lovely cathedral, led by a now very old and infirm bishop, with many people under his spiritual direction. Nicholas visited to the large church frequently. One day, news came that the old Bishop of Myra had died. Nicholas was about to enter a new phase of life but he had no clue—well not yet—what was to be. Soon some of his dreams would come true, including the presence of Jesus and Mary offering him symbols of being a bishop.
“My name is Nicholas a servant of Christ”
The pastors and bishops gathered in Myra to pray and select a new leader of the cathedral. One bishop said he had a dream that the first person who entered the church the next morning would be the one destined to be Myra’s new bishop. Sure enough, morning came bright and early, and Nicholas entered the holy place. The bishop who had the dream saw young Nicholas enter the church and boldly asked his name. He said, ‘I am Nicholas, a servant of Christ, at your service.’ Taking the hand of the newly designated bishop, Nicholas was led to the great bishop’s chair as all gathered were singing alleluia.
A new life’s challenge now awaited Nicholas. Soon, Bishop Nicholas could speak with more authority and he used his platform to challenge the secular authorities when he saw things being done that hurt the people of his church. His witness was to a church that would face persecution in the years ahead. Nicholas was loved by his people and he loved them as well.
The ruling emperor issued an edict that forbade Christians from practicing their faith and church leaders were imprisoned. Our beloved bishop was led from the cathedral during Christmas Midnight Mass by soldiers and thrown into jail. Thankfully, he survived his prison sentence and returned to his church. The people rejoiced. Nicholas openly proclaimed his faith and confidence grew among the people. You see, the new emperor, Constantine, was himself a Christian and helped the church regain its worship and its carrying out good works in the somewhat beleaguered city.
“Remember, he is the real one”
Nicholas was a true disciple of Christ, even at his death as an old man. He was honored by the early church and later canonized a saint in 1466 with his feast day celebrated on the day he died, December 6. We must always remember he is the real one. His memory and witness lead us to Bethlehem, not himself. Here, with Saint Nicholas, we marvel at the great miracle of the Child Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and it is this that our saint wishes we, too, share with the waiting world.
If, while Christmas shopping, you see a person with a white beard seated for all to see, you might gently approach him and say ,’I know your real name.’ So let the people shout with glee. Hail Nicholas the gift-bearer loved by all. May we, too, follow the Master’s call, and may we remember there is a bit of Saint Nicholas in all people of goodwill. So be it. That means you!