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Lives of Saints

Saint Nicholas of Myra

Born: between A.D. 260 and 280     Died: A.D. 345 or 352
Feast Day: December 6th

What he said

Father Alban Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, wrote that Nicholas was known for his "charity in comforting and relieving the distressed."

What the world was like

Nicholas was born in a time of great changes. The Roman Empire ruled the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, but all across the Empire people were turning away from the pagan gods the Romans worshiped. Many were becoming followers of Jesus Christ. Emperor Diocletian, who ruled the empire from 284 to 305, persecuted and killed Christians. But in the year 313 the Emperor Constantine passed a law called the Edict of Milan. This law allowed Christians to worship freely. Then, in 325, Constantine called all the bishops of the Church to a great council in the city of Nicaea, which is in present-day Turkey. It was the first ecumenical council in the Church's history. Constantine even became a Christian himself before he died in 337. Constantine's conversion made his mother, Saint Helena, very happy. She was a Christian and had prayed for her son to become Christian also. Some of the other saints who lived at this time were Saint Anthony of Egypt, Saint Basil the Great, and Saint Martin of Tours.

 

Who he was

Saint Nicholas of Myra is one of the most popular saints in the world. He is honored as the patron saint of Greece and Russia. He is the patron of unmarried girls, brides, sailors, and travelers. He is most famous as the patron saint of children. It has been said that his image has been painted and drawn by Christian artists more often than that of any saint except Mary, the Mother of God. But despite his popularity, we know almost nothing about Nicholas's life. We do know that he was Bishop of Myra, a city on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. According to early accounts, the Holy Spirit inspired the clergy and the people of Myra to appoint Nicholas as their bishop because he was known for his goodness and his many acts of charity.

Traditional accounts say that Nicholas grew up as the only son of devoted Christian parents. His mother and father died when he was young, and Nicholas inherited a large fortune. He decided to use this money to help the many people he saw around him who were in need. He also decided to perform these acts of charity quietly, even secretly, and not to brag about them.

Nicholas learned that one of his neighbors had lost all his money and could not afford to pay for weddings for his three daughters. According to the custom of the time, this meant that the man's daughters could not get married at all. One night, Nicholas crept up to the man's house. He waited until everyone in the house was asleep and then tossed a bag of gold into the house. Some stories say that he dropped the bag down the chimney so that it would land on the hearth below. The oldest girl would find the gold first thing in the morning when she went to make a fire to cook the family's breakfast.

The man and his daughters rejoiced when they found the gold, and the oldest girl soon was married. One night after the wedding, another bag of gold appeared for the second daughter. So she too was soon married. After the second wedding, the father decided to stay up and watch for the mysterious gift-giver. He wanted to thank this person for the gifts. The father sat by the window and waited. When Nicholas arrived with his bag of gold for the youngest daughter, the father rushed outside to thank him.

The story of Nicholas's secret acts of charity soon spread. Today, Saint Nicholas's is known as a gift-giver all around the world. But we no longer think of "Saint Nick" as a kindly bishop. Over the centuries and across the continents, we now know "Saint Nick" as "Santa Claus."

 

What this saint means to us

Saint Nicholas is an example of kindness and generosity for us today. This year, as we prepare for Christmas, we should remember Nicholas's quiet acts of selfless charity as we give our Christmas gifts.

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