Generosity and Wonder: The Life of St. Nicholas


Earlier this week, we celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas, perhaps one of Christianity’s best-known saints.  While many commonly refer to St. Nicholas as the holly jolly “Santa Claus” (derived from Dutch immigrants’ celebration of St. Nicholas, or “Sinterklaas” in 17-18th century New York), the life of the venerated saint did not feature reindeer, a North Pole toy factory, or chimneys.

The true story of St. Nicholas began in the third century on the southern coast of Turkey in a the small village of Patara.  Nicholas was born to wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nonna.  The life of St. Nicholas is filled with many miracles which began nearly at birth: mother Nonna was miraculously healed of illness immediately after giving birth.  It is also said that the infant Nicholas inherently fasted, refusing to eat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Unfortunately, Nicholas was orphaned at a young age; his parents leaving behind a large inheritance.  “Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.”   

At a young age, the devout Nicholas was made Bishop of Myra.  Devoted to helping others, Nicholas soon became known throughout Myra for his generosity and love of children.

Another unfortunate blow was to strike the young man, however.  Christians were persecuted under Roman Emperor Diocletian and Bishop Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith.  While imprisoned, Nicholas prayed that his fellow Christians would endure their brutal punishments and many came through unharmed.  Under the rule of the devout St. Constantine, Bishop Nicholas was freed and able to continue his work.

Upon his death, Bishop Nicholas was canonized.  He is not only celebrated on his feast day of December 6th (the date of his death), but also on May 9th (when his relics were transferred) and July 29th (the date of his birth) as well.

He is the patron saint of many people and causes (perhaps more than any other saint) including: sailors, children, pawnbrokers, butchers, and navigators.  The St. Nicholas Center has listed them all here:

The St. Nicholas Cross

At Gallery Byzantium, we celebrate the life and miracles of St. Nicholas with our St. Nicholas Cross.

This design incorporates the three-barred St. Andrew Cross with extensive lettering “King of Glory” appearing in Slavonic abbreviation at the top. “IC XC” for “Jesus Christ” is on the upper cross bar, Sn Bzhii for “Son of God” on the lower cross bar, and “NI KA” for “conquers” on the lower upright. At the base there is a skull for the skull of Adam. The skull, as we discussed in an earlier blog, represents Christ’s sacrifice washing away the original sin of mankind (set into motion by Adam).  To the left of the upright is a spear, and the right a staff with a sponge.

On the reverse side is the Slavonic verse, Let God arise Tradition teaches that when the Apostle Andrew preached in southern Russia he placed a life-size three-bar cross at his side. While explaining the Last Judgment he tilted the foot plate to signify that those on the right side of Christ will go up into heaven and those on the left will go down into hell.

The Miracles and Generosity of St. Nicholas


Despite living a simple, anonymous life, St. Nicholas was famous for his generosity.  While he preferred to keep these deeds secret, stories of St. Nicholas’ charity spread far and wide.

One such story is remembered today in a celebrated Christmas tradition.  According to legend, there was a poor man with three daughters of marrying age.  The father could not offer a dowry to any prospective husbands and the unmarried daughters would thus be sold into slavery or prostitution.  Upon hearing of their grim fates, St. Nicholas saw to it that the daughters would be married.

It is said that, on three consecutive nights, bags of gold were tossed through an open window of the man’s home, landing in stockings or shoes left to dry by the fireplace.  St. Nicholas used his own grand inheritance to help the girls, who were soon married.  And thus, the tradition of leaving gifts in stockings was born.  The three bags of gold were also adopted as the sign of pawnbrokers (three gold balls), who look to St. Nicholas as their patron saint.

Miracles at sea made St. Nicholas the patron saint of sailors and voyagers.  En route to Jersualem, a storm threatened St. Nicholas’ ship.  As he calmly prayed for safety, the storm died down and the voyagers were able to safely arrive to their destination.  There was also a sailor who was injured during the storm and was restored to health as the storm died.

The patron saint of children, there are many stories of miracles for children attributed to St. Nicholas.  The most famous is about three boys who were kidnapped and murdered by an innkeeper.  The man hid their remains in a pickling tub and (according to some gruesome versions of the story) served their meat during a famine.  St. Nicholas had stopped at the inn and dreamed of the crime against the boys.  As he prayed for them, the boys were restored to life and returned to their families.

Main photo:
Who is St. Nicholas? –
Patron Saint –
St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia –
Nicholas of Myra –
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