The above image is Saint Nicholas of Myra Saves Three Innocents from Execution by the famed Ukrainian artist Ilya Repin. Another work by Ilya Repin is featured here.
Saint Nicholas a hero? Who knew?
The “Santa Claus” celebrated in Western pop culture is a myth that has been built up around a real historical figure, namely Saint Nikola of Myra, known and loved by the Serbs as Sveti Nikola.
Why are we telling children to wait for “Santa Claus” to arrive on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, when the truth is far more inspiring?
Instead, we should be teaching children and adults to follow the real “Saint Nick” as a role model. Not only did the good Saint spend the entire fortune that he had inherited on helping the poor, but he also was a brave man who fearlessly fought for truth and justice.
From the website of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George in Des Moines, Iowa:
One story about Nicholas tells us that, while visiting a remote area, the saint received news that the ruler of Myra, Eustathius, had condemned three innocent men to death. Nicholas rushed home and arrived in time to physically intervene in the execution by grasping the executioner’s sword and throwing it to the ground. He ordered the condemned men freed from their bonds. Approximately 1500 years later, in the 19th century, a controversy arose over capital punishment in Russia. Russian artist Ilya Repin studied ancient icons of Nicholas grasping the blade with his bare hand and used the images to make his own painting (in a realistic style instead of an iconographic style) depicting the incident and making his own comment about the controversy through art.
Such was the reputation of the good Bishop of Myra that the executioners immediately set free the three condemned men. Later, when Eustathius had repented of his wrongdoing and had performed a suitable penance, Saint Nicholas forgave him.
Below is one of the traditional Russian icons of the type that Ilya Repin studied for his own art:
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia, of Greece, and of many other cities, regions, occupations, and circumstances of life. Most famously, he is the patron saint of children, of boatmen, watermen, mariners, and sailors, of travellers and pilgrims, and of students and scholars. He is also the patron saint of judges, of repentant thieves, and of those victimized by injustice.