FEAST–DECEMBER 19TH (EAST), DECEMBER 6TH (WEST)
ST. NICHOLAS is one of the most popular saints in both the Eastern and Western Churches. He was the bishop of Myra in Lycia (Modern Turkey) and was present at the Council of Nicea. Beyond this, all we know of him is legend. His first “life” was written in the 10th centyury by Simeon Metaphrastes.
At the Council of Nicea he was fierce defender of the eternal Divinity of Christ and opponent of Arius of Alexandria who delcared: “..there was a time when the Word was not!” One legend has him so outraged at Arius that he took a swing at him and knocked him to the ground. His brother bishops were outraged at so un-episcopal behavior that they removed him from the order of bishops. That night, Jesus and his holy Mother appeared to him and the Savior returned the Book of the Gospels to him (and thereby his authority to preach) and the Blessed Virgin gave him back his Episcopal robes (thus the authority of his office.) In icons of the saint, the figures of Jesus and Mary are often shown on either side of him giving him the Gospels and his Omiphorion (bishop’s stole.)
St. Nicholas is also the patron of Children. During a famine he heard about a butcher who seemed always to have ready meat even when no one else did. He came and blessed the barrel of pickled meat and out came three children that the butcher had slain and was preparing to sell.
He is also the patron of unmarried young women due to a legend that when he was a young man and received his inheritance, he used the money to help the poor. He heard about a poor man who has 3 daughters but no money to give them dowries. The night before he is going to sell his oldest daughter into prostitution, Nicholas comes and throws a bag of gold through the window. In the morning, the man finds the gold and is able to marry his daughter with a dowry. When the second daughter is about to be sold off, Nicholas again throws in the dowry. When the third daughter comes of age, the man determines to find out who his benefactor is. He hides and sees Nicholas throw in the bag of gold. The man runs to him and grabs him by the knees and begs his forgiveness for the evil he had been going to do to his daughters. Nicholas forgives him but makes him promise not to tell anyone that he has been helping him. The man promises but, of course, can’t keep such a secret. This story was the origin of the 3 gold balls that is one of his symbols. The de Medici family of Florence took these as their family symbol which led to their use as the familiar gold balls of the pawn shop.
Nicholas is a Patron Saint of Russia, Greece and several other countries. Rare is the Russian or Greek city that doesn’t have a church named for him. He is also a patron of sailors and is frequently shown with a ship in his hands.