The stream Myros flows through Lycia, a landscape which is in modern-day Turkey. Not far from the place where the Myros empties into the Mediterranean Sea, there is the town of Patara. Long ago it was home to a wealthy family. They lived in a spacious house with precious furniture and carpets. The cupboards were filled with jewellery and golden adornments. Their only child was a boy, and the parents had baptised him Nicholas. The name Nicholas means ‘the people’s victorious hero’ or, as some say, ‘victory of God’s people’. Nicholas’ parents died when he was 16.
Since then he lived in this large house in Patara, having inherited all the gold and all the money that his parents had left behind. One evening, Nicholas went across the market place of Patara and ended up in a secluded street. A man lived there with his three daughters. When Nicholas passed their window, he heard the father saying with a sad voice: ‘I’m at my wit’s end, my dear children. I have no more money, I cannot buy anything to eat for you. Tomorrow morning I will take you into town, and there, alas, you must get by on your own.’
When Nicholas heard this, he was deeply moved. He rushed home to get from a treasure chest three golden apples. He waited until it was dark and sneaked to the three girls’ house. He smartly threw the three apples through the window into the girls’ sleeping room. When the father came into his daughters’ room the next morning, he was both surprised and overjoyed to find the golden apples on the floor. He praised God that he had spared him from sending his children away.
Nicholas thought that nobody had noticed him that night, but in fact a neighbour had seen everything. From then many poor people from Patara came to Nicholas and asked him for help. This continued for years until Nicholas planned to leave Patara. He wandered for many days and nights until he reached Myra, a vibrant town where merchants noisily offered their goods for sale.
In these days, Lycia was reigned by an emperor who had forbidden to believe in Jesus Christ. Many of those who professed their faith in public were jailed, so many Christians would not dare professing Christianity. Nicholas, however, was one of those who refused to deny his belief. He frequently met with other Christians in huts or in the vineyards to read the Bible or the Epistles. They were often fleeing from the emperor’s bloodhounds.
It went on for many years until finally a different emperor ascended the throne. He sent messengers to every town and every village of his empire and had them proclaim that everybody was free to believe in whatever they wanted and to profess their faith. From then Sunday was to be a weekly holiday. The Christians were very happy when they heard the news. They began to build churches and chapels. They named spokesmen for every parish and called them priests. In Myra, Nicholas was elected priest, for in the times of the persecution of Christians he had always been an example to his fellow citizens.
He encouraged all Christians to attend church services as often as possible and to celebrate the Holy Communion with him, much as Jesus had done it with his disciples. From then Nicholas did not have a minute’s rest. All day long the citizens came to ask him for advice. One day he was so exhausted that he wanted to take a break and be off for a few days.
At that time the bishop of Patara died, so a successor had to be found. The citizens agreed that the first person to enter the church should be appointed the new bishop. Before leaving the town, Nicholas wanted to ask for God’s blessing. As luck would have it, he happened to be the first to go into the church. The citizens rushed into the church straightaway and told him what they had agreed on the day before, and so Nicholas had to put off his trip.
As a bishop he had much more work to do than before. He used some of his savings to have a house built where the poor could earn some money for their living. Some parents wanted to yet could not feed their children so were forced to turn them out. So Nicholas built two orphanages next to the church. And these were not Nicholas’ only good deeds.
Many years later, a wise Egyptian called Arius said: ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth. There is no God but him.’ Asked about Jesus, he anwered: ‘You can call Him God’s Son, but all others who are baptised are called sons and daughters, too.’ Some Christians agreed with this, others did not. There was much arguing about this matter, and so emperor Constantine spoke: ‘I don’t want any quarrels in my empire because of Arius’ ideas.’
He summoned all bishops and Arius to his summer palace. This assembly was called the Council of Nicea. For 88 days, they discussed Arius’ teachings and matters the emperor had submit to the Council. On the last day, Nicholas took the floor and violently opposed Arius. They quarrelled bitterly and even began to throw books at each other. When the emperor cut in, the situation quickly quietened down. Eventually the Council resolved to reject Arius’ teachings. They should not longer be preached.
Nicholas lived on for 25 years. On his deathbed he said his last prayer: ‘O God, my Father, send your angels and let them conduct my soul to you in Heaven.’ Then he passed away. It was 6 December around the year AD 351. Numbers of bishops from Asia Minor, Greece and Egypt came to attend his burial. The emperor’s messengers came, too, and laid wreaths of flowers at his grave.
50 years after St Nicholas had died, merchants from the Italian city of Bari came to visit his grave. When they called at Myra, they saw no more than the ruins of the town. Everything was devastated and burnt down by foreign peoples. When the merchants returned to Bari, they related the disaster to their duke. He ordered to bring Nicholas’ relics to Italy to avoid them to be stolen or damaged in a new attack. He even had a church built exclusively for the relics . St Nicholas was buried next to the altar.