Thursday, December 6, 2012

Saint Nicholas

St Nicholas distributing toys
St. Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. 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. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man, and became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors.
Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. And so in the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus.

Under the ruthless Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the same Council that devised the Nicene Creed we recite during Sunday Mass. He died December 6, 343 in Myra and was buried in his Cathedral church. 
In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari, afraid of the Muslim invasion, succeeded in spiriting away the relics from that Cathedral, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles. To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari's great Basilica di San Nicola. Both the Eastern and Western Churches honor him, and it is claimed that, after the Blessed Virgin, he is the saint most pictured by Christian artists.

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