6 December 2017
A woman lights a candle before a large icon of St. Nicholas in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior last May. A relic of the saint was sent from Bari, Italy, to Russia for veneration at the Moscow cathedral and at an Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg from late May to late July.
(photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Today marks the feast of St. Nicholas — the figure who would become immortalized in the popular imagination as Santa Claus.
As Michael J.L. La Civita noted a few years back:
According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the mid-third century to a wealthy Christian couple in Patara, a town near the southern shores of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After the premature death of his parents, Nicholas gave up his wealth and entered a monastery, later traveling to Egypt and the Holy Land. He returned to his monastery, hoping to live quietly as a hermit. However, against his will, he was elected as Bishop of Myra, a small town near Patara.
Although little else is known about Nicholas, his popularity rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
The Byzantine Catholic Church website today offers this tribute to the beloved saint:
Most of the stories that come to us through history are of him living the Christian life — such as providing a dowry to three young women so they could marry and avoid slavery (the three bags of gold he threw through their windows landed in their stockings, and so today we hang our stockings by the chimney with care). All of the stories about St. Nicholas that come to us through history are about his love for people, especially the poor. St. Nicholas was good. So good that his goodness shines through history — and radiates even from the man in the red suit. Such goodness can only be found in one who dwells intimately with Lord — for He is the only good One (Mt 19:17).
O holy father,
The fruit of your good works enlightens and delights the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot wonder at your measureless patience and humility?
At your tender care for the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O holy Nicholas,
You have divinely taught all things well,
Now wearing your unfading crown,
You intercede for our souls.
(From the Vespers of St. Nicholas)
St. Nicholas, pray for us!