The Truth about ‘Santa Claus': St. Nikola of Myra Dec.6/Dec.19

by 1389 on December 6, 2010

in 1389 (blog admin), Christianity, Christmas, France, graphic arts, heroes, history, icons, Italy, music, Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox hymnography, Serbia, Sveti Nikola, video and film

Serbian fresco of Sveti Nikola

St. Nikola of Myra is venerated on December 6 (civil calendar) or December 19 (in Orthodox jurisdictions that follow the Old Calendar).

From The Prologue from Ochrid:

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

1. St Nicolas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia.

This saint, famed throughout the entire world today, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nona, citizens of Patara in Lycia. They dedicated to God the only son He gave them. St Nicolas was instructed in the spiritual life by his uncle Nicolas, Bishop of Patara (see below), and became a monk at ‘New Sion’, a monastery founded by his uncle. On the death of his parents, Nicolas distributed all the property he inherited to the poor and kept nothing back for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charitable works, fulfilling the Lord’s words: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth’ (Matt. 6:3). When he embraced a life of solitude and silence, thinking to live in that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: ‘Nicolas, set about your work among the people if you desire to receive a crown from Me.’ Immediately after that, by God’s wondrous providence, he was chosen as archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia. Merciful, wise and fearless, Nicolas was a true shepherd to his flock. He was cast into prison during the persecutions of Diocletian and Maximian, but even there continued to instruct the people in the Law of God. He was present at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325, and, in his zeal, struck Arius with his hand. For this act, he was removed from the Council and from his episcopal duties, until some of the chief hierarchs had a vision of our Lord Christ and His most holy Mother showing their sympathy with Nicolas.

This wonderful saint was a defender of the truth of God, and was ever a spirited champion of justice among the people. On two occasions, he saved three men from undeserved sentences of death. Merciful, trustworthy and loving right, he walked among the people like an angel of God. People considered him a saint even during his lifetime, and invoked his aid when in torment or distress. He would appear both in dreams and in reality to those who called upon him for help, responding speedily to them, whether close at hand or far away. His face would shine with light as Moses’ did aforetime, and his mere presence among people would bring solace, peace and goodwill. In old age, he sickened of a slight illness, and went to his rest in the Lord after a life full of labour and fruitful toil. He now enjoys eternal happiness in the Kingdom of heaven, continuing to help the faithful on earth by his miracles, and to spread the glory of God. He entered into rest on December 6th, 343.

2. St Nicolas, Bishop of Patara.

The uncle of the great St Nicolas, he set his nephew on the spiritual path and ordained him priest.

Incidentally, the above-mentioned Arius, whom Sveti Nikola struck with his hand, was an infamous heretic who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Icon of St. Nicholas of Myra

From Abba Moses – Orthodox Saints for December:

December 6
† Our Father among the Saints Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra (345)

Our beloved holy Father Nicholas is, along with St George (and second to the All-holy Theotokos), probably the best-loved Saint of the Church. His numberless miracles through the ages, on behalf of the countless Christians who have called on him, cannot be told.

He was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. His love of virtue, and his zeal for observing the canons of the Church, were evident from his infancy, when he would abstain from his mother’s breast every Wednesday and Friday until the evening. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Though ordained a priest by his uncle, Archbishop Nicholas, he attempted to withdraw to a hermit’s life in the Holy Land; but he was told by revelation that he was to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls.

When his parents died, he gave away all of his inheritance to the needy, and thereafter almsgiving was his greatest glory. He always took particular care that his charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to give them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man’s house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus).

God honored his faithfulness by granting him unparalleled gifts of healing and wonderworking. Several times he calmed storms by his prayers and saved the ship that he was sailing in. Through the centuries he has often done the same for sailors who call out to him, and is considered the patron of sailors and all who go to sea.

He was elected Bishop of Myra not long before the great persecutions under Diocletian and Maximian (c. 305), and was put in prison, from which he continued to encourage his flock in the Faith. When the Arian heresy wracked the Church not long after Constantine came to the throne, St Nicholas was one of the 318 Bishops who gathered in Nicea in 325. There he was so incensed at the blasphemies of Arius that he struck him on the face. This put the other bishops in a quandary, since the canons require that any hierarch who strikes anyone must be deposed. Sadly, they prepared to depose the holy Nicholas; but in the night the Lord Jesus and the most Holy Theotokos appeared to them, telling them that the Saint had acted solely out of love for Truth, not from hatred or passion, and that they should not act against him.

While still in the flesh, he sometimes miraculously appeared in distant places to save the lives of the faithful. He once saved the city of Myra from famine by appearing to the captain of a ship full of grain, telling him to take his cargo to the city. He appeared in a dream to Constantine to intercede for the lives of three Roman officers who had been falsely condemned; the three grateful soldiers later became monks.

The holy bishop reposed in peace around 345. His holy relics were placed in a church built in his honor in Myra, where they were venerated by throngs of pilgrims every year. In 1087, after Myra was conquered by the Saracens, the Saint’s relics were translated to Bari in southern Italy, where they are venerated today. Every year, quantities of fragrant myrrh are gathered from the casket containing his holy relics.

Hymns from OrthodoxWiki:

Troparion (Tone 4)

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion (Tone 3)

You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.

What did the real St. Nicholas look like?

Nothing at all like the modern depictions of Santa Claus, it turns out!

In fact, this Byzantine icon from approximately 1000 AD may have have been a fairly accurate representation:

Byzantine icon of St. Nikola of Myra, c. 1000AD

From Proceedings of the Royal Society blog:

A certain Professor Francesco Introna (coincidentally from Bari, Italy) has studied the relics in the modern day, and comissioned Dr Caroline Wilkinson of Manchester University to reconstruct the face of the bishop, using tools now familiar through forensic police work, which have also shed light on the faces of Tutankhamun and Copernicus through similar reconstruction.

Essentially, the skull was subjected to a number of measurements based on both photographic and Roentgenographic images. With these data, Dr Wilkinson was able to infer the size, shape, and thickness of some 26 facial muscles. With the musculature laid over the skull, a layer of (digital) skin may be applied over the muscles, thus completing the facial features. Hair, skin, and eye colour would be chosen based on ethnologic traits of the population in IV century Myra, producing perhaps the closest facsimile possible of a person dead some 1600-odd years.

Interestingly, analysis of the skull pointed towards a broken nose, which would have likely caused a visible (though perhaps not distracting) deformity, one that the modern world may associate more with a rugby player, or boxer.

Click here to view the article and the reconstructed image.


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