St. Nicholas the Wonderworker
Archbishop of Myra in Lycia
This saint, famed throughout the entire world today, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nona, citizens of Patara in Lycia. They dedicated to God the only son He gave them. St. Nicholas was instructed in the spiritual life by his uncle Nicholas, Bishop of Patara (see below), and became a monk at `New Sion', a monastery founded by his uncle. On the dealth of his parents, Nicholas distributed all the property he inherited to the poor and kept nothing back for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charitable works, fulfilling the Lord's words: `Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth' (Matt. 6:3). When he embraced a life of solitude and silence, thinking to live in that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: `Nicholas, set about your work among the people if you desire to receive a crown from Me.' Immediately after that, by God's wondrous providence, he was chosen as archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia. Merciful, wise and fearless, Nicholas was a true shepherd to his flock. He was cast into prison during the persecutions of Diocletian and Maximian, but even there continued to instruct the people in the Law of God. He was present at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325, and, in his zeal, struck Arius with his hand. For this act, he was removed from the Council and from his episcopal duties, until some of the chief hierarchs had a vision of our Lord Christ and His most holy Mother showing their sympathy with Nicholas.
This wonderful saint was a defender of the truth of God, and was ever a spirited champion of justice among the people. On two occasions, he saved three men from undeserved sentences of death. Merciful, trustworthy and loving right, he walked among the people like an angel of God. People considered him a saint even during his lifetime, and invoked his aid when in torment or distress. He would appear both in dreams and in reality to those who called upon him for help, responding speedily to them, whether close at hand or far away. His face would shine with light as Moses' did aforetime, and his mere presence among people would bring solace, peace and goodwill. In old age, he sickened of a slight illness, and went to his rest in the Lord after a life full of labor and fruitful toil. He now enjoys eternal happiness in the Kingdom of heaven, continuing to help the faithful on earth by his miracles, and to spread the glory of God. He entered into rest on December 6th, 343. [According to the Coptic calendar, his martyrdom is celebrated on Koiahk 10 (December 19)].
On icons of St. Nicholas, our Lord and Saviour will often be seen on one side with the Gospels in His hand, and the most holy Mother of God on the other with an episcopal stole in hers. This has a twofold historical significance: it denotes, firstly, Nicholas's calling to episcopal office, and secondly his vindication and re-instatement following the punishment for his clash with Arius. St. Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople, writes: `One night, St. Nicholas saw our Saviour in glory, standing by him and holding out to him the Gospels adorned with gold and pearls, and the Mother of God standing on his other side and placing a pallium on his shoulders. Shortly after this vision, John, the then Archbishop of Myra, died, and Nicholas was installed as Archbishop of that city.' That was the first occasion. The second occurred at the time of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. Unable to put a stop by argument to the senseless blasphemy of Arius against the Son of God and His most pure Mother, St. Nicholas struck Arius in the face. The holy fathers at the Council strongly disapproved of such behavior, and they banned Nicholas from the Council and stripped him of all marks of his episcopal rank. That very night, several of the fathers had the selfsame vision: how the Lord stood on one side of Nicholas with the Gospels and the Mother of God on the other with a pallium, offering to the saint those marks of rank that had been stripped from him. Seeing this, the fathers were amazed, and quickly returned to Nicholas that which they had taken from him. They began from that time to respect him as a great man, and to interpret his action against Arius not as some senseless rage but as the expression of great zeal for God's truth.