Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas

We've all heard, and probably sung, some songs lately about Santa Claus. We watch movies about Kriss Kringle. We take our kids to visit Jolly Ole St. Nick at the mall. I recently nearly ran into a dancing and singing robot Santa. 'Tis the season for hearing about the man who may be the most beloved (and frequently entreated by Protestant and Catholic alike - though more often in malls than in churches) saint of all the saints known in the world. But who is he?

Christian History did an article on the real St. Nicholas, whose feast day was December 6th.
Apparently (our information is sketchy) St. Nicholas was (like so many other "canonical" saints) born into a rich family but gave away his inheritance to help others. The most common tale is that he threw bags of gold into the windows of three young maidens who, were it not for his gifts, would have embraced a life of prostitution.

He was reputed to have a spiritual gift of miracles and was made bishop of Myra, in modern Turkey, around the beginning of the 4th century. During the great Diocletian persecutions he was imprisoned for being a Christian disciple (possibly for years) only to be released later, when Constantine became Emperor.

So, St. Nicholas lived during the great Christological controversies that led to the Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 and, though we do not know that he was present at the council, became a staunch defender of orthodoxy against the Arian heresy until his death in 342. But you'll not likely hear any songs about that, I would expect.

During the middle Ages St. Nicholas was extremely popular in both East and West and had more Churches named in his honor than any other saint, save for Mary the Mother of the Lord. It was during this time that his legends began to be intertwined with some Germanic myths.

What will I think of when I see "St. Nick" at the mall this year? That by sacrificial (and very un-capitalistic) giving of our money we may transform the lives of people we have never met. That by our words and teachings we can help preserve life-giving orthodoxy in the church (as opposed to spiritually poinsonous heresy) and that even if nobody remembers us for it, we can help pass along the gift of the true faith "once delivered to the saints" to future generations.

"Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of you servant Nicholas, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen." -Book of Common Prayer, page 250.

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