On Saint Nicholas

It is common and appropriate to decry the commercialization of the Christmas season. There are fewer voices raised to mourn the trivialization of St. Nicholas. Well does he deserve to be the patron of children, and well might they delight in his name. But he might be remembered not only as the jolly source of toys and treats but also as the protector of those whose lives and innocence remain threatened today, as they were in the time of St. Nicholas, by violence, poverty, and exploitation.

From All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time by Robert Ellsberg

From “Life of Saint Nicholas”  by Michael the Archimandrite, (written between 814 and 842)

Nicholas, the famous champion of those languishing in travails and prophetic high priest, by God's choice, of the metropolis Myra, was born in the city of Patara, one of cities then illustrious in the province of Lycia, although now it is said to scarcely preserve the appearance of a village. His parents were thoroughly noble and well-off, and surpassed many in their reverence toward Christ, on account of which they kept themselves free of worldly glory and were always eager to devote themselves to the works of justice. For the ever-pious understand that the person who touches tar is not free of its stain.

After his parents had gone to the Lord and left him much property and an abundance of money and possessions, he reckoned that he had God as his father. Gazing chastely on Him with the eye of his soul, he firmly begged the good God that he surrender his life and all his possessions, if that seemed good to Him. He said: "Teach me, Lord, to do Your will, because You are my God" (Psalm 143.10) as well as "Make known to me, Lord, the path upon which I am to journey, because to You I have lifted my soul from all triviality and worldly lowliness." (Psalm 143.8). He seemed to hear God, as it were, speaking clearly through the holy prophet David: "Even if wealth abounds, do not surrender your heart" (Psalm 62.11). And similarly the author of Proverbs plainly teaches: "Let almsgiving and acts of faith not abandon you, but fasten them around your neck and you will find grace" (Proverbs 3.3) as well as "That person benefits his soul, who has pity on the destitute and those who happen to be poor in their livelihood." (Proverbs 11.17). Nicholas did not cease to continually hand over his abundance — to store it up in the secure treasure-houses of heaven. So he was repaid in full by the impoverished.

There was a certain man among those who were recently famous and well-born, and he was a neighbor, his home being next to Nicholas'... He had three daughters who were both shapely and very attractive to the eye, and he was willing to station them in a brothel so that he might thereby acquire the necessities of life for himself and his household. For no man among the lordly or powerful deigned to marry them lawfully, and even among the lower-classes and those who owned the least bit of something there was no one well-minded enough to do this. And so the man looked away from his salvation and, as it were, fainted at the thought of prevailing upon God with persistence and prayer. By this logic he came to assent to situating his daughters in the abyss of such dishonor.

But the Lord who loves humankind, who never wishes his own creation to become hostage to sin, sent him a holy angel — I mean the godlike Nicholas — both to rescue him, along with his whole household, from poverty and destruction, and to restore readily his previous prosperity. …By the expenditure and very generous donation of his own money, Nicholas became a most ready resource for their defense, and he saved them, though they were already being led away to a death of profligacy...

The true model of purity and author of sympathy, Nicholas, wishing to use his own money to help the man, and to lead him with his daughters away from the shameful and dishonorable deed which had, in truth, already been decided for them — what does he do? He does not appear to him in person or speak about a gift or any other type of relief, thereby freeing him from shame while at the same time very carefully1 taking the trouble not to trumpet his own charity. After hurling a bag containing a large amount of gold into the house through the window at night, he quickly hastened home...

As Bishop of Myra, Nicholas lived the qualities that caused his fame and popularity to spread throughout the Christian world. His vigorous actions on behalf of his people and in defense of the Christian faith reveal a man who lived his convictions. Nicholas was not timid—he did what was necessary and was not easily intimidated by others' power and position. His concern for the welfare of his flock and his stand for orthodox belief earned him respect as a model for bishops and a defender of the faith.  His active pursuit of justice for his people was demonstrated when he secured grain in time of famine, saved the lives of three men wrongly condemned, and secured lower taxes for Myra. He taught the Gospel simply, so ordinary people understood, and he lived out his faith and devotion to God in helping the poor and all in need.