Recapturing the Heart of the True Saint Nicholas
Every year we see American culture feed the flesh and cling to the world view of celebrating Christmas, which is the surmise of misrepresenting a person’s good name. This is especially true of Saint Nicholas, who is referred to now by the modern-day name, Santa Claus. (St. Nicholas – The Man Behind Santa Claus; Saint Nicholas and the Origins of Santa Claus; December 17, 2018) It must be understood there are articles written about Saint Nicholas which indicate he was a true servant of the Lord. There are also articles which try to discredit the works God did through him.
According to some, Saint Nicholas exercised his Holy Spirit gift of giving to meet the needs of the poor. He exercised his Christ apportioned gift of preaching to boldly stand up against false teachings and to fulfill his part of the Great Commission. Just as Jesus was falsely attacked and hated by the world – Saint Nicholas has been falsely discredited and his name adulterated by a world view. The Bible says those in the world will hate Christians because of Jesus. (Matthew 10:22; 24:9)
This article is meant to reinstate the truths the real Saint Nicholas lived by and encourage you to follow his life as he strived to live for the Lord Jesus Christ. This article is not a complete exposition on the life of Saint Nicholas, nor am I (Bible Teacher, Terry Laughlin) ignoring the fact there are those who believe the information in this study is simply legendary elaborations.
I would propose to you: Let the life applications presented in this article enable you to overcome the world view of feeding the human flesh at Christmas time and become a true blessing by meeting the needs of the poor in a way that prepares you to enjoy eternal blessings from God.
The Points in This Article:
- The Simple Facts about Saint Nicolas
- Ordained Servant of the Lord
- His Exploits
- He Withstood the Cost
- Gave Secretly and Generously
- Miracles God Did Through Saint Nicholas
The Simple Facts
Very little is known about the historical Saint Nicholas and the earliest accounts of his life were written centuries after his death, with many being legendary elaborations. We do not have original writings of Saint Nicholas because he lived during turbulent times of the Roman history, a time when writings were often destroyed as well as written on papyrus and parchments which were not durable. In order for his writings to be kept for us to read, someone would have had to recopied them as time brought deterioration on the writings, of which they could not have been read clearly. This gives us a good explanation why we do not have any original writings of Saint Nicholas. (Wheeler 2010, page VIII)
The earliest mention of Saint Nicholas (Blacker, Burges & Ogden 2013 pp 249-250) tell us by the 6th century, his [life and work had a great influence on many]. Saint Nicholas was also called Nikolaos of Myra a Historic 4th century Christian saint born 270 AD in Patara, Turkey and died 343 AD in Myra, Turkey. (Who Is St. Nicholas St. Nicholas Center; St. Nicholas Orthodox America) According to Wikipedia and other known resources, “Saint Nicholas was an early Christian Bishop of the ancient city of Myra in Asia Minor during the time of the Roman Empire. He provided for the poor and sick of which he was in the habit of giving secretly and whom the modern-day Santa Claus arose to popularity.” (biography.com/people/st-nicolas; Wikipedia: Saint Nicholas; Who is St. Nicholas; St Nicholas; Facts About Saint Nicholas: listverse.com; Church Honors St. Nicholas Day December 06, 2021, Fox 21 Local News, Duluth, MN)
According to an article in The Orthodox Church in America (Founded in 1749 – Granted Autocephaly in 1970): “Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great saint pleasing unto God. He was born (as the fruit of prayer) in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula) and was the only son of [Christian] parents, Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God.” Much like Samuel of the Bible for Hannah said, “I asked for him from the Lord (1 Samuel 1:20).” Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to God’s work (1 Samuel 1:22-28).
Eastern Emperor Theodosis II (ruled 401-450) ordered the building of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Myra, which thereby preserves an early mention of Saint Nicholas. (Wheeler 2010, p. ix) The Byzantine historian Procopius also mentions that Emperor Justinian I (ruled 527-565) renovated churches in Constantinople dedicated to Saint Nicholas. (Blacker, Burges & Ogden 2013 pp 249-250; Wheeler 2010. P. X)
St. Nicholas’ name occurs as “Nicholas of Myra of Lycia” on the tenth line of the list of attendees at the Council of Nicaea recorded by historian Theodore in the Historiae Ecclesiasticae Tripartitee Epitome, written between 510 and 515. (Wheeler 2010 p. ix; Blacker, Burges & Ogden 2013 pp. 249-250) The biography of Saint Nicholas of Sion mentions Nicholas of Myra. (Seal 2005, pp.14-15) In, The Life of Saint Nicholas of Sion holds information, stating he the author visited the tomb of Saint Nicholas of Myra to pay Saint Nicholas honor. (Seal 2005, pp.14-15; Wheeler 2010. P. X; Blacker, Burges & Ogden 2013 pp. 250)
There seems to be evidence there was a tomb that could be visited and there are highly respected theologians who have shared their research on the accounts and life of Saint Nicholas. Theologian Eustratius of Constantinople, in his treatise, De statu animarum postmortem (written c. 583), gave references dating back to the late fourth and early fifth centuries one of them being the “Life of Saint Nicholas,” all indicating Saint Nicholas was a real person and lived by truths we should be considering.
The earliest complete account of Nicholas’s life which has survived to the present time is Life of Saint Nicholas, written in the early ninth century by Michael the Archimandrite (814-842) nearly 500 years after Nicholas probable death. (Wheeler 2010, pp. xi) Catholic Historian D.L. Cann and medievalist Charles W. Jones both consider Michael the Archimandrite’s Life of Saint Nicholas as being the only account of Saint Nicholas which is likely to contain any historical truth. Despite its extremely late date, Michael the Archimandrite’s Life of Saint Nicholas is believed to have heavily relied on older written sources and oral tradition. (Introduction to Michael the Archimandrite’s Life of Saint Nicholas; Lendering 2006, p. Nicholas of Myra)
Like everyone who is or has enjoyed a great work with the Lord, their labors have been drawn into question, accusations made and been ridiculed by criticisms of which Saint Nicholas is no different. Everyone’s work will be examined by the Lord and will receive their reward according to their faithfulness. This includes Saint Nicholas, those who have written to enlighten us about him and those who feel they need to discredit his work to protect us from worldly fables. (1 Corinthians 3:15; 2 Peter 3:10)
Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox believers in God has revered Saint Nicholas as a great saint who walked with the Lord. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Reformed churches have been named in honor of Saint Nicholas. (Patheos, on the Way, Phil Fox Rose, December 06, 2012; Wikipedia, St. Nickolas)
Both the Eastern and Western churches honor him. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia, Greece, Apulia, Sicily, and Lorraine. He is regarded as the special patron of children. His feast is December 6. (St. Nicholas Day Blessing – December 06 – Thomas G. Simmons)
Research has uncovered information which should move us to want to grasp the truths Saint Nicholas lived by, so we can truly honor what he stood for. The Bible tells us to “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:7)
Ordained Servant of the Lord
The Orthodox Church in America tells us all through Nicholas’s childhood, he studied the word of God, spending his days in the church and at night he prayed and read books. In doing so he equipped himself to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced over the spiritual growth and righteous living of his nephew, he ordained him as a reader, then elevated [his nephew] to the priesthood, making him his assistant. Saint Nicholas taught the congregation the truth of God’s Word. In serving the Lord, Saint Nicholas of Myra was able to effectively, gently and accurately teach the truths of God, much like a Biblical Elder of the church of Jesus Christ. Saint Nicholas of Myra was constant at work, unceasing in prayer and walked in step with the Holy Spirit enabling him to be kind-hearted toward the Body of Christ and to people who were afflicted by sin and the devil. (Nicholas Chosen as Archbishop; Linda Funk; St. Nicholas Center)
Listen to these testimonials about Saint Nicholas being a Bishop:
1.) “The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, a model of meekness, and a teacher of temperance. Therefore, thou hast won the heights by humility, riches by poverty. Holy Father Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.” (Troparion – Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese)
2.) Thou was a faithful minister of God in Myra, O Saint Nicholas. For having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ, thou didst die for the people and save the innocent. Therefore, thou was sanctified as a great initiator of the grace of God. (Kontakion, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese)
3.) On December 6, we celebrate St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, the fourth-century archbishop of Myra in Lycia (on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey). None of his writings exist, but his examples of Christian generosity, virtue and love endure to this day. St. Nicholas is the living embodiment of the words “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20). (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese)
One of the accounts of Saint Nicholas exploits is the intervening for three innocent men who were convicted to die. (Wheeler 2010, p. 38) According Michael the Archimandrite, three innocent men were condemned to death by the governor, Eustathius. As they were about to be executed, Nicholas appeared, pushed the executioner’s sword to the ground, released them from their chains, and angrily chastised a juror who had accepted a bribe. (Michael the Archimandrite, Life of Saint Nicholas Chapter 31) Michael the Archimandrite also tells another story in which the consul Ablabius accepted a bribe to put three famous generals to death, in spite of their actual innocence. Saint Nicholas appeared to Constantine and Ablabius in dreams, informing Constantine of the truth and frightening Ablabius into releasing the generals, for fear of hell. (Michael the Archimandrite, Life of Saint Nicholas Chapter 33)
Withstood the Cost
“When the Roman emperor Diocletian took power, he instigated a horrific persecution of Christians. Nicholas was imprisoned and physically tortured (pinched with hot iron pliers) for refusing to deny Jesus as God. One account mentions the prisons were so full of church leaders there was no room for the actual criminals.
After the reign of persecution ended, Nicholas would still face a fierce testing of his faith—this time within the church. A preacher named Arius began promoting a heresy that Jesus was not God in the flesh. Arius even went so far as to set his false teaching to music by putting words to popular drinking songs. Constantine, the new leader of the Roman Empire, called together church leaders at Nicea to discuss Arius’ teachings and other issues dividing the church. This was called the Council of Nicea. According to legend, as Arius was making his presentation, he began singing one of his blasphemous songs about Jesus. Unwilling to see this man shame Christ, Nicholas stood up and punched Arius in the mouth. Those in attendance were shocked! Although they understood Nicholas’ need to stand up for Christ’s reputation, they did not believe they could allow such behavior since Christ taught us to love our enemies and live a life of peace. Therefore, Nicholas was no longer allowed to serve as bishop. But this action did not stop Nicholas from serving the sick and needy.” (The Voice of the Martyrs; St. Nicholas: The Real Story of the Man Who Became Santa Claus; December 08, 2014) (It’s noted he was later restored to his position.)
Gave Secretly and Generously
The modern-day presentation of Santa is a great contrast of the original life of the true St. Nicholas. The real Saint Nicholas knew the truths of what Jesus taught. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
Saint Nicholas reputation evolved among the faithful early Christians as being a person who did secret giving, (The Patriot Post; William Federer, December 06, 2021; St Nicholas Center / Seal, Jeremy The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus New York: Bloomsbury Publishers 2005 pp. 152, 153; Pathway for Families Ministries) which is in line with how Jesus taught Christians in regard to giving to the needy. He was often seen by others making his way through the night to leave money in shoes which were laid on the porch outside doorways or tossing money bags into open windows of people who were in need. (Catholic INSIGHT; Saint Nicholas’ Love for the Destitute and Needy Father Mario Attard, OFM, Cap – December 06, 2021)
Miracles God Did Through Saint Nicholas
Historians have written about the amazing miracles that have been enjoyed by many as Saint Nick prayed in faith to God, in Christ name.
Miracle 1.) Tells how during a terrible famine, a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he killed them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher’s horrific crime but also his prayer to Christ birthed forth the resurrections of the three children from the barrel. (The Many Miracles of St. Nicholas, Colton Kruse, December 19, 2019)
2.) According to another story, during a great famine that Myra experienced in 311–312, a ship was in the port at anchor, loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Constantinople. Nicholas invited the sailors to unload a part of the wheat to help in a time of need. The sailors at first disliked the request, because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor. Only when Nicholas promised them that they would not suffer any loss for their consideration, the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in the capital, they made a surprising find: the weight of the load had not changed, although the wheat removed in Myra was enough for two full years of food and could even be used for sowing. (The Chestertown SPY, December 03, 2020, Beverly Hall Smith; The Story of Saint Nicholas)
3.) Making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Christianity—the Holy Land. Desiring a serene time of preparation, Nicholas set sail on an Egyptian ship where the other pilgrims did not know who he was. The first night he dreamed a storm would put them all at peril. When he awoke in the morning, he warned the sailors that a severe storm was coming, but they need not fear, for “God will protect us.” Almost immediately the sky darkened, and strong winds roared round the ship. The wind and waves made it impossible to keep the ship under control. Even with lowered sails, the sailors feared for their very lives and begged Nicholas to pray for safety. One sailor climbed the main mast, tightening the ropes so the mast would not crash onto the deck. As he was coming back down, the sailor slipped, fell to the deck, and was killed. While Nicholas prayed, the storm did quiet, relieving the sailors. Their comfort, however, was dampened by grief over their comrade’s death. As Nicholas prayed over the dead sailor, he was revived, “as if he had only been asleep.” The man awakened without pain and the ship finished the journey to the Holy Land. Nicholas then embarked on his pilgrimage to the holy places, walking where Jesus had walked. (Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land)
4.) One night while staying with a family in Jerusalem, he wanted to pray at the only church remaining in Jerusalem at that time. It was the Church of the Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion. As he approached the heavy locked doors, they swung open of their own accord, allowing him to enter the church. Nicholas fell to the ground in thanksgiving (8SA.NET: Nicholas Miracles and Other Stories)
5.) His most famous exploit: He gave money secretly to a poor family whose three daughters could have ended up being forced into prostitution or at the very least being accused of being prostitutes, making it impossible to find husbands. Saint Nicholas’ generosity kept the three daughters from a life of prostitution. (Claus of the North Pole, Curious and Unusual Tartans)
In Closing: A prayer written by Richard Roman grasp the heart of Saint Nicholas titled, Santa’s Prayer: “Dear Baby Jesus, please fill my bag this year, with all your love tonight. And help me find each tear, to make their burden light. Too many look to me at this time of the year. I pray that they will see why you came down here.”
Here are some ideas for you as you take time to pray through this Christmas season. 1.) As you pray, acknowledge the reason for the season, thank God for Jesus. 2.) Thank Jesus for leaving heaven and coming down here. 3.) Pray that God’s servants will be obedient to get the word out about the truths of Christmas 4.) Pray that God would send his holy Spirit to draw people to His Son. 5.) Pray that God will enable you to enjoy your family, His precious gift to you. 6.) Pray that God will have His hand, guidance and protection on all your families.
Let the life applications presented in this article move you to give to the poor in a Biblical way, motivate you to live for the Lord Jesus Christ and have expectations of God using you as He chooses. Make time to reinstate the heart of Saint Nicholas!
A great application for us as we desire to bless the people we love with a Christmas gift:
Selecting a Christmas Gift
It is that time of the year when people really start to get serious about selecting Christmas gifts. When purchasing Christmas gifts, one must first remember what is being celebrated. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The key thrust surrounding the first Christmas was proclamation. The angels proclaimed, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). After the shepherds heard the good news, they went into Bethlehem and found Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child; all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2: 16-18).
It has been over two thousand years since this historical event and there is just as much need today as there was then to proclaim the birth of Christ. The Christmas celebration is the perfect time to remind or tell people about God’s plan of redemption. After all, it is the time of year we have chosen to celebrate the birth of the Savior who came into the world to save people from their sins.
Before you can select the perfect Christmas gift, one that will proclaim the message of the birth of Christ, you must first understand who Jesus is and the purpose of His coming to earth. Jesus is God’s perfect gift to the world. He is fully God and fully man. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). He is God in the flesh. The beloved John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1: 1,2). “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14). Mark Lowry wrote about the incarnation wonderfully when he wrote these words, “Mary, did you know, that when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God? Mary, did you know?”
Jesus’ key purpose for coming into this world is for the redemption of fallen man. The price He paid on the cross meets the need of all mankind, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3: 23, 24).
The perfect Christmas gift that will proclaim the gospel message meets two qualifications: 1.) It must represent the personality of the giver, and 2.) It meets the need of the recipient.
People in this world know the value of a thoughtful gift. When Pastor John Bisagno was working as chaplain to the Houston Oilers, the players gave him an autographed football which every player had signed inscribed with a Scripture from the Bible. Whenever he looks at the football, it reminds him of every player to whom he ministered the Word of God as chaplain.
Christians, among the gifts you give this year, give some that reflect the Christ who lives in you and expresses the need of the recipients to receive Christ as Savior and Lord.
Have a Joyous Christmas celebrating the Greatest Gift!