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Previous Message From Virtual Church

The Real St. Nicholas

Commentary By The Pastor

It has always been a concern of mine that when Christians rant about Santa Claus they act very un-Christlike. As I have collected what I could find about the real St. Nicholas, I have often wondered what he would think about Santa Claus as we adopted him into the secular world. I wonder what the real St. Nicholas would think about giving all those gifts to children on Christmas morning. I wonder what the real St. Nicholas would think about all those people across the United States who, on Christmas, spend most of the day working in soup kitchens and homeless shelters serving a big turkey meal to the less fortunate. I wonder what the real St. Nicholas must think about the monumental sharing of love through gift giving we do as adults. I suspect, as he peers down at us from heaven, St. Nicholas beams with joy. I also wonder if God doesn't send St. Nicholas, in his spirit form, around the world on Christmas eve to make sure as many children as possible receive the joy of Christ. After all, St. Nicholas started something that the secular world can't stop. In addition, in every secular heart on Christmas day, there is that reminder to every secular heart, that this day is not Santa Claus day, it is Christ's birthday.

Here is the real story, as best as we can determine, about the real St. Nicholas.

Reprinted for educational purposes only.

ST. NICHOLAS, THE GIFT GIVER (about AD 280- 349)

By Kathie Walters, Good News Ministries (www.goodnews.netministries.org/kathie.htm)

Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia. As a child he loved God and every Weds. and Fri. fasted. He served in the monastery of Holy Sion, near Myra and he eventually was ordained as Abbot. He was considered very pious and charitable, and many great miracles were attributed to him.

Nicholas became Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor and was imprisoned for his faith by the Emperor Diocletian during the persecutions.

He was present at the famous Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, where the Arian doctrine was condemned officially by the church.

A rich merchant in Myra went bankrupt during Nicholas' tenure as Bishop. The merchant had three daughters and no dowries for them (a real disgrace). Incredibly, the merchant decided that his daughters might as well become prostitutes, at least they would earn a living. When Nicholas heard of this he devised a way to save the girls. He surreptitiously tossed a bag of gold through the window one night. The next day the father, amazed, used the money as a dowry for the eldest daughter. A second time Nicholas did this, and the second daughter had her dowry. The third time the father caught him and thanked him. Nicholas, because of this and many other "anonymous" acts of charity, became known as "the gift giver." Nicholas was also known for his great charity to the outcasts, and rescue of children, prisoners, and famine victims.

He died in Myra in 349 AD and was buried in the church there. The Emperor Justinian built a church in his honor in Constantinople in 430 AD.

In 1087 AD, when the Saracens (Muslims) captured Myra, Nicholas bones were stolen by merchants from Bari, Italy, and taken to the west. It was reported that when they opened the casket a wonderful aroma filled the whole area around.

Nicholas's bones arrived on May 9. Two Italian cities, Venice and Bari vied for the honor of being selected to be the place where the bones remained. There were many miracles that occurred during the pilgrimages. These are reported about by John, Archdeacon of Bari. The same account is also reported by Nicephonus, also of Bari, and confirmed by an eyewitness who was commissioned by a magistrate of the city. It is quoted in manuscripts by Baroniuis, and published by Falconiuis (see the book, "Acts of St. Nicholas.)

Nicholas became a patron saint of children because from a small child he loved and served God with all his heart. He loved to give and so he gave and gave. He could not bear to see people in need. When he did see people in need, he would devise ways to help them. He lived a holy and uncompromisingly righteous life. In England alone there were 400 churches dedicated to him in the middle ages.

From Yahoo Britannica Concise:

Minor saint associated with Christmas. He was bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. He is reputed to have provided dowries for three poor girls to save them from prostitution and to have restored to life three children who had been chopped up by a butcher. He became the patron saint of Russia and Greece, of charitable fraternities and guilds, and of children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, and pawnbrokers. After the Reformation, his cult disappeared in all the Protestant countries of Europe except Holland, where he was known as Sinterklaas. Dutch colonists brought the tradition to New Amsterdam (now New York City), and English-speaking Americans adopted him as Santa Claus, who lives at the North Pole and brings gifts to children at Christmas.

Excerpts From
Will the Real Santa Please Stand? Inviting Saint Nicholas Into Our Christmas
by Daria Gray and Jan Bear

Reprinted for educational purposes only.
http://www.(---snip---)

No, Myra wasn't located at the North Pole. It was an important seaport of the early Christian centuries, situated in what is now known as Turkey. Nicholas, a wealthy young man brought up in a godly home, gave away his inheritance to the needy. The young Bishop Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith during the persecutions under the Roman emperor Diocletian, and he was set free when Constantine released the religious prisoners.

One of the most famous legends about his life tells of a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters. If he couldn't get them married, he'd have to sell them into prostitution. Hearing of the family's predicament, Nicholas took a bag (or a sock, as some versions have it) of gold, enough for a dowry, and tossed it into the family's house through the window (or down the chimney). He repeated his anonymous gift for each of the daughters, enabling the girls to marry.

Another legend says that Saint Nicholas participated in the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea. He was so incensed at some remark of the heretic Arius about Christ and the Theotokos that he punched Arius in the nose. That was considered an inappropriate debating technique, even in that distant time when theology was important enough to fight about, and the leaders of the council took away Nicholas' bishopric and put him in prison.

Christ and His mother appeared to those leaders, one bearing Nicholas' omophorion (the stole marked with crosses that he and other bishops of that period wear in iconographic depictions), and the other the book of the Gospel. Taking their meaning, Nicholas' fellow bishops set him free and returned him to office.

"Saint Nicholas, Hold the Tiller!"

There are many early legends about the miraculous interventions of Saint Nicholas in the lives of those in peril. In one, Bishop Nicholas helped three prisoners wrongly condemned to death. Coming to the scene of their execution, he stopped the executioner and berated the governor until he repented of having taken a bribe to have them killed. Three imperial officers passing through the area learned of these events.

Later, back in Constantinople, these three officers were themselves imprisoned and sentenced to death because of the intrigues of an official in Constantine's court. Remembering Nicholas' mercy, the officers prayed to God that through the bishop's intercession they might be saved. That night, both the unjust official and Constantine himself received a very early visit from Bishop Nicholas, in a dream. The next morning, Constantine and the official agreed to set the officers free.

When sailors in the Christian East bless each other with the words, "May Saint Nicholas hold the tiller!" they are alluding to a story of sailors caught in a terrible storm. Having heard of the holiness and power of the bishop of Myra, these sailors called on his intercession. Nicholas came to them in a vision and took the helm himself and guided the ship into port. When the sailors reached Myra, they went to the Church, where they recognized their mysterious pilot.

Another time, a famine hit Lycea, and ships loaded with wheat came into the harbor on the way from Alexandria to Constantinople. Bishop Nicholas asked the crews to leave some of the wheat for his starving people. The sailors refused at first, afraid of arriving at their destination with less than a full load. At Nicholas' promise that there would be no trouble, the sailors relented. And even though they left two years' supply in Myra, the ships were full when they arrived in Constantinople.

These and many other acts of virtue have become Saint Nicholas' legacy to the Church. His feast day, December 6, goes far back in Christian history - at least to the ninth century, and very likely further than that. And the Church has celebrated his memory in many ways: in processions, in pageants, with special foods - some of which have become American Christmas customs without our even realizing it.

Many of the fun activities that we now associate with the holidays arise from commemorations of Saint Nicholas. Our practice of giving gifts at Christmas time came from the commemoration of the dowries, as well as the gifts of the Magi. The foil-covered chocolate coins that find their way into Christmas stockings are reminiscent of the dowries, as are the stockings themselves. And when we awake to find gifts that arrived anonymously in the night, we can recall the socks full of gold that came through the chimney (or the window) to save the lives of the three young women.

Our hooked candy canes are symbols of the bishop's crosier. And, early in their history, gingerbread men wore bishops' robes. The image of Saint Nicholas appeared on Byzantine seals more often than the image of any other person, and stamps are still available to imprint the seal of Saint Nicholas on cookies and other baked goods.

The Spirit of Saint Nicholas

These Christmas remembrances can save our religious life from a dreary solemnity, but if they're the whole focus, we've missed the point. The more important lesson of Saint Nicholas' miracles is that he sacrificed to help people in need. And if we look carefully at those miracles, we see that people like the ones he helped are still with us today: The young women about to be sold into slavery? Our cities are full of young people enslaved to drugs, prostitution, and violence. The prisoners? Penitentiary inmates and their families have many needs, which translate into opportunities to serve. The drowning sailors? In many parts of the country, nonprofit organizations provide equipment and rescue teams to save drowning boaters, lost hikers, and snowed-in skiers. The famine in Lycea? We can find hungry people from the downtown of our nearest city to the most remote place in the world.

The more we understand the spirit of Saint Nicholas - the real man behind the myth - the more we can begin to pattern our lives after his godly example. Why should our children's only glimpse of this saint be that of a phony dime-store Santa with a fake beard, before whom they must wait in line for the opportunity to rehearse their list of Christmas "gimmees"? The real Saint Nicholas has so many wonderful traits around which we all could be patterning our lives.

  

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