Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church

Saint Nicholas

St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

His parents died when he was yet a young man, leaving him well off, and he
determined to devote his inheritance to works of charity. An opportunity soon
arose. A citizen of Patera had lost all his money, and had moreover to support
three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the
wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. This came to the
ears of Nicholas, who thereupon took a bag of gold and, under the cover of
darkness, threw it in the open window of the man's house. Here was a dowry
for the oldest daughter, and she was soon duly married. At intervals, Nicholas
did the same for the other two sisters; and on the last occasion the father was
watching, and recognizing his benefactor, overwhelmed him with gratitude.

Coming to the city of Myra when the clergy and people of the province were in
session to elect a new bishop, St. Nicholas was indicated by God as the man
they should choose. This was at the time of the persecutions at the beginning
of the fourth century. "As he was the chief priest of the Christians of this town
and preached the truths of the faith with a holy liberty, the divine Nicholas was
seized by the magistrates. He was tortured, then chained and thrown into prison
with many other Christians. But when the great and religious Constantine,
chosen by God, assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners
were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas, who
when he was set at liberty returned to Myra."

St, Nicholas was zealous in his duties as bishop and took strong measures
against paganism: and one of the temples that he destroyed was that of Artemis,
and the evil spirits fled howling before him. He was the guardian of his people in
temporal affairs as well. The governor Eustathius had taken a bribe to condemn
to death three innocent men. At the time fixed for their execution Nicholas came
to the place, stayed the hand of the executioner, and released the prisoners.
Then he turned to Eustathius and did not cease to reproach him until he admitted
his crime and expressed his penitence. There were present on this occasion
three imperial officers who were on their way to duty in Phrygia. Later, when they
were back again on Constantinople, the jealousy of the prefect Ablavius caused
them to be imprisoned on false charges and an order for their death was procured
from Emperor Constantine. That night St. Nicholas appeared in a dream to
Constantine, and told him with threats to release the three innocent men, and
Ablavius experienced the same thing. In the morning the emperor and the prefect
compared notes, and the three condemned men were sent for and questioned.
When he heard that they had called upon the name of the Nicholas of Myra who
had appeared to him, Constantine set them free, and sent them to the bishop with
a letter asking him not to threaten him anymore, but to pray for the peace of the
world.

St. Nicholas died and was buried in his episcopal city of Myra, and by the time
of Justinian there was a basilica built in his honor at Constantinople. When Myra
and its great shrine finally passed into the hands of the Saracens, there was a great
competition for his relics between Venice and Bari. Bari won and the relics were
carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Mohammedan
masters, and on May 9, 1087, were safely landed at Bari. At Myra, "the venerable
body of the bishop, embalmed as it was in the good ointments of virtue, exuded a
sweet-smelling 'myrrh,' which kept it from corruption and proved a health-giving
remedy against sickness, to the glory of him who had glorified Jesus Christ, our
true God." The transfer of the relics did not interrupt this phenomenon, and the
"manna of St. Nicholas" is said to flow to this day.

He is venerated as the patron saint of several classes of people, especially, in the
east, of sailors and, in the west, of children. The first of these patronages is due
to the legend that, during his lifetime, he appeared to storm-tossed mariners who
had invoked his aid off the coast of Lycia, and brought them safely to port. Sailors
in the Aegean and Ionian seas, following a common eastern custom, had their
"star of St. Nicholas" and wished one another a good voyage in the phrase "May
St. Nicholas hold the tiller." The legend of the "three children" gave rise to his
patronage of children and various observance, secular and ecclesiastical, especially
the giving of presents in his name at Christmas time. The deliverance of the three
imperial officers naturally cause St. Nicholas to be invoked by and on behalf of
prisoners and captives, and many miracles of his intervention are recorded in the
middle ages.


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