St Nicholas Day - Dec. 6, 2013

St Nicholas Day - Dec. 6, 2013

You may have seen this post last year, but it is still good stuff.  If nothing else, just remember that the REAL Santa Claus wasn't a 'jolly old elf' in a red suit.  He was a heretic fighting, miracle working, war stopping, poor feeding, servant of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. Who was a real person that our western culture has morphed into a rotund, red and white suited, jolly old elf, that breaks into our homes once a year and tries to make us think that Christmas is about presents and not about Jesus. But that is in no way who the real St. Nicholas was, and on his feast day, I thought it would appropriate to put up some information about the real saint who was a major part of the history of the early Christian Church.

St. Nicholas lived in the third and fourth centuries and was the Bishop of Myra (which is in modern day Turkey). During his lifetime he was reputed to be a man of great piety who was known for the working of miracles. It was said that during Nicholas' tenure as Bishop a famine broke out in Myra. While this was going on a ship docked at the city full of grain, which was the property of the Emperor. Bishop Nicholas asked the sailors to leave some of the grain to relieve the starving city. The sailors were hesitant at first but relented after the Bishop promised them that God would make sure that they had the amount they needed for the Emperor. The sailors off loaded the wheat to feed the city, and when they arrived at the royal palace they were astonished that they had their full allotment of grain for delivery. That which had been offloaded had been miraculously replaced. What had been taken off was enough to feed the city for two years - it was no small portion that had been left in Myra. For this and many other miracles of healing and demonstrations of the power of the Most High, Nicholas was known by the name Nicholas Thaumatouryous (Greek) or Nicholas the Wonderworker.  The stories of St. Nicholas are full of mighty acts of power, which work to save people, stop wars, heal relationships, and turn people to and back to Jesus Christ.

How then did this fourth century saint become associated with reindeer, and sleighs, and presents. Well the first thing we need to know is that our modern name of Santa Clause - is simply the Dutch for Saint (SANTA) and Nicholas (CLAUS). But the tying of St. Nicholas to presents and generosity goes back to the generosity of the Saint himself.

The famous story of St. Nicholas is that in Myra there was a father who had three daughters. In that time if you were going to get your daughter married (at least to a respectable person) you had to provide a wedding dowry, money that would be given to the groom to help the new family as they began their lives together. However this poor father didn't have enough for a dowry. So St. Nicholas feeling sorry for the man, went to the man's house at night and threw a bag of gold through the window - so that the first daughter could be married. Traditions of the story differ as to whether St. Nicholas went back on three consecutive nights, or did this over a period of years as each daughter came of marrying age - but the story holds that St. Nicholas secretly provided this gift of a dowry so that each of the girls could be married.

One version of the story, says that the Father hid in the house on the last night so that he might see who was throwing the bags of gold into the window. The Father caught St. Nicholas and began to thank him for his generosity in providing for his daughters. St. Nicholas then looked at the man and told him that thanks should only go to God, for God is the provider of all good gifts.

From this, the tradition rose in Central and Eastern Europe of leaving gifts on St. Nicholas Feast Day of Dec. 6th. In many places around the world this day, children woke up to find that "St. Nicholas" had left a small gift in their shoe. Usually is is something practical like a set of pencils, or an orange, or maybe a bit of candy.

So it made sense in years later when people began to more regularly make Christmas a day of gift giving, in remembrance of the great gift which God has given to us - JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD - that people would transfer the gift giver Nicholas into this day of celebration and we would have children around the world awaiting Santa Claus.

Other points of interest about St. Nicholas are that he was very likely present at the Council of Nicea and was therefore a part of the Church's affirmation of the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and that Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Council of Nicea is where we got our standard confession of faith - The Nicean Creed.

Council of Nicea

At Nicean, Nicholas was not just a benevolent and patient Bishop biding his time.  The Council had been called to deal with the Arian heresy (to put an end to this heresy) and Nicholas was vehemently opposed to Arias. 

The Arians (Arias' followers) stated that Jesus was not divine.  But that Jesus was the first born of all creation.  This may not sound like a big deal at first - but the implication is that God did not come to save us.  That God would send a substitute - someone to go to the cross in his place.  The unity of the Trinity points to the fact that God loves us so much that he would come to us IN PERSON and give his body and blood for our sake in Jesus Christ

Nicholas, like Athanasias, was a strong supporter of Orthodoxy.  At one point in the disputation he apparently became so fed up with Arias that he walked across the room and either slapped across the face, or punched Arias in the head.  He was forced to apologize for this and came close to being censured by the Council for his actions - because Christians, especially Bishops, are not supposed to go around hitting people. Even Heretics like Arias. 

According to the story, as a result of his assault on Arias St. Nicholas was imprisoned for the night.  He was stripped of his episcopal vestments and left essentially naked in a holding cell.  There in the night he prayed that God would forgive him.  Christ died for the sins of the world and showed love in the face of wickedness and therefore Nicholas repented of his actions.  Some time in the middle of the night and angel of the Lord appeared to Nicholas in his cell and returned his bishop vestments to him.  So the next morning when they came to check on the saint, he was waiting in his cell fully clothed and ready to attend the Council.  The Council saw this reinstatement of his clothing to be a sign that God had forgiven Nicholas for striking Arias and allowed him to return to the council.

The Death of Arias (this one is just wild)

Eventually the Council of Nicea, after much debate, prayer, and heretic slapping - did uphold the Orthodox faith that Christ is not created but is eternally one with the most high God.  Or as we know from statement of faith that eventually came out of this council, Christ is "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not Made, of One Being with the Father, through Him all things were made." 

So the decision had been made and now there was a problem.  Arias and his followers still did not hold to the Orthodox faith, and Arias would not recant his position or reject it after the judgment of the Council.  The problem came that the entire body was to conclude the Council with a massive service in which all would receive the body of Christ.  It would not seem like a problem, but clearly Arias did not believe in the Orthodox faith, the body then was unsure if this meant that he should receive with the rest of the church.  There was much debate and the council was unsure what to do.

So the bishops decided to turn the matter over to God.  They prayed that God would help them know what to do and would show them how to deal with this situation. 

The next day before the service there was a large meal that all the members of the council attended along with Arias and his band.  During the meal Arias excused himself - he had to go to the restroom.  He went away and was gone for a long time.  The meal ended and they continued to wait for Arias until someone said that perhaps they should go and check on him.  According to the stories, they found Arias in the restroom (whatever made for a restroom in the 3rd century).  He was dead.  And while sitting on the facility, he had become disemboweled.  Like the story of Judas whose bowels burst and he dies face down in the field he bought with the money given him for betraying Christ (Acts 1) - Arias was gone.  That is what the story says.  It is a lot to stomach (pardon the pun) but that is the story of what happened. 

Back to St. Nicholas

I don't know how much you know about saints and how they are treated after they die. But usually pieces of the saint's body are distributed out to many churches and sent to many places as holy relics. Yes it is a rather grizzly and grim practice (if you really want to be shocked look into what happened to the body of St. Thomas Acquinas after his death - when it was made into relics). But this was not the case for St. Nicholas. Most of the remains of the saint are in one place - strangely enough that place is not Myra in Turkey but in the town of Bari, Italy.

 St. Nicholas is entombed at the Basilica of St. Nicholas. Today, 1500 yrs after his death, the bones of St. Nicholas The Wonderworker, still secrete a clear and aromatic liquid which is called myrrh by the church. This liquid secreted by the bones of the saint is claimed to have healing properties.

So that is a little on the Saint who is the true Santa Claus. He was devoted his life to the service of God, who gave and helped his people, and who hopefully reminds us that Christmas isn't about presents, it is about the Christ who Nicholas followed and served.

Blessings be to you Now and Always

Pr. Mike

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