St Nicholas, Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia: 10 Things
1. St Nicholas was a
bishop in Myra, in the land of Lycia in the fourth century. This area is
present day Anatolia (a part of modern day Turkey), on the South coast, in Asia
Minor. St Paul preached here.
2. The name “Nicholas” means “victory of the people”, or “namesake of victory”. This meaning is mentioned in some of the hymns of his service:
As a true namesake of victory, / to the faithful people thou hast shown thyself / to be mighty amid perils, / O holy Nicholas, hierarch of Christ; / for whenever thou art invoked, / thou dost quickly hasten / to those who with love have recourse to thy protection. / For, appearing to the faithful by day and by night, // thou savest them from dangers and evil circumstances. (Vespers, Lord I have Cried)
3. We do not know exactly when St Nicholas was born, but he is known to have died peacefully about (345-351).
4. There are many stories in many countries about St Nicholas. No doubt, some are myths. How can one know which is which? It stands to reason that our service for St Nicholas, which is very old and has been used by countless saints and holy ones, would contain the accurate stories. We do know for sure that he was not a fat man who wore a red suit.
5. St Nicholas is know as the “Myrrh streaming”, because his relics have exuded sweet myrrh, and caused many healings. In our time, his relics abide in Bari, Italy.
6. St Nicholas is the most celebrated Saint other than the Apostles, the Most Holy Theotokos and John the Baptist. He is commemorated every week on Thursday (along with the Holy Apostles), when his troparion and kontakion are sung.
7. St Nicholas had the benefit of good parents. His parents, Theophannes and Nonna were very pious, and gave great alms because they were wealthy. One of his uncles was a bishop (also named Nicholas).
8. St Nicholas is known as a patron to the oppressed, especially prisoners. Also, travelers and sailors have traditionally had a great devotion to him.
9. St Nicholas, perhaps more than any other holy father, caused the defeat of Arius in the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea, 325 AD). He is remembered for slapping Arius, who was expounding his heresy at the council with great eloquence.
Nowadays, things are more defined, but at the time of the council, the Arian heresy was a real threat to the true Christian faith. Simply put, it posited that Jesus Christ was a creature, created by the Father, and having god-like qualities. Arius had many sympathizers, and excellent rhetoric was highly valued and influential in that day.
Holy Nicholas could not bear to see Arius spewing his poison, so he slapped him and rebuked him. For this, he was removed from the council. The next day, the bishops planned to depose him, however, at night, some of the bishops had a vision where Nicholas was standing between the Lord Jesus Christ, Who was holding the Gospel, and The Theotokos, holding an omophorion. They proceeded to give these tokens of Episcopal rank to Nicholas. Due to this vision, Nicholas was restored to his rank with great honor, and Arius was put to shame. The moral to this story: Sometimes you can slap a heretic, but only if you are holy!
With what songs of hymnody shall we praise the holy hierarch, / the opponent of impiety and champion of piety, / the leader, great ally and teacher, / who putteth to shame all the infamous, / the destroyer of Arius and his minions? / For his sake hath Christ, Who hath great mercy, // cast down the arrogance of the enemy. (Vespers, Lord I have cried)
10. History has preserved nothing written by St Nicholas.
11. St Nicholas is asked to intercede for prisoners partly because he saved some military commanders who were unjustly condemned to death.
Let us all praise Nicholas, / the great archpastor, hierarch and prelate of Myra; / for he saved many men / who were unjustly condemned to be executed, / appearing to the emperor and to Ablavius in a dream, // annulling the unjust verdict. (Matins, Expostilarion)
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