The Story of the Greek Orthodox Saint Nicholas

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Saint Nicholas

Those of the Greek Orthodox faith celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. While there are many saints named Nicholas, the first and most popularly asked for intercessions is St. Nicholas of Myra, the Wonderworker and Bishop. This is the same St. Nicholas that became known to the wider world as Santa Claus, but let me tell you in advance, if you are looking for reindeer and the North Pole, you are not in the right place. No, this Nicholas was born in the city of Patara, which would now be found in southeastern Turkey.

St. Nicholas was born in the year 270 AD to wealthy parents. He was very involved in the Church at an early age and always observed the Wednesday and Friday fasts. His parents died as a result of a widespread infectious disease. This left the orphaned Nicholas to live with his uncle, also named Nicholas, who was the bishop of Patara. His uncle Nicholas tonsured him a reader and later ordained him to the holy priesthood. After inheriting from his parents he gave generous gifts to those in need. (So yes, there are gifts involved, but not in the same way Santa gives gifts.)

Before 313 AD, it was illegal to be Christian in the Roman Empire, even though thousands of citizens were Christian. The Emperor Diocletian, showing that he would not waiver in his faith, imprisoned St. Nicholas for his faith. He was eventually released once Constantine had gained power. By 325 AD, Fr. Nicholas had become Bishop Nicholas of the city of Myra, also in what is now southeastern Turkey. In 325 AD, St. Constantine, the emperor of the Roman Empire, called for a gathering of the bishops of the Empire to come together and to discuss issues that the Christians were facing. In this meeting, the first heretic of the Church, Arius, was presenting his view of the theology of the Church.

St. Nicholas in outrage of listening to his faith being violated, he is said to have gone up and either punched or slapped Arius. For this St. Nicholas was stripped of his bishop robes and thrown into prison because it was illegal to strike someone in the presence of the emperor. Overnight St. Nicholas repented of his actions, while not repenting of his views, and was visited by Christ and the Theotokos who gave him both an omorphorion (what the bishop wears over his shoulders) and the gospel. He stayed up the rest of the night reading the gospels and in the morning St. Constantine freed St. Nicholas because he wasn’t in his shackles and was dressed as a bishop.

Another important story about St. Nicholas’ generosity may be why he eventually became morphed into Santa Claus. There was a man who was once wealthy, but had lost most of his wealth. This man had three daughters near the age of marriage, but could not offer a dowry or prika for them to be married to good men. This father feared that his daughters would become slaves. St. Nicholas heard of this family and coming in secret by night, he threw a sack of gold in the window and it landed in a shoe or stocking. This mysteriously would happen before each daughter was to be wed. For the last daughter, the father saw that the secret donor was St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas begged that this man not share the things that had happened.

About Andrew Athanasiou

Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.

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This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou

About Andrew Athanasiou

Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.