Ilja Jefimovič Repin. Saint Nicholas of Myra saves three innocents from death. 1888. Saint Petersburg.
Now, Saint Nicholas is well known and beloved, even though his presentation to the secular public is befogged. Nicholas is not a fictive holiday character of folklore and commerce. He lived in that age, when, the Church was at first persecuted, and then permitted. He suffered under Diocletian and prospered under Constantine. He saw the last, commanding, violent gasp of the pagan empire against christianity.
He lived a charism of charity. Charity is love. The stories and legends that survive, about him, abound with this christian consideration. He saved the poor, the abandoned, the condemned, the floundering, the lost, the imprisoned and perhaps beyond.
In, what is roughly called, the west, he is the great guardian, and benefactor of children. One of his iconic symbols, is a group of three gold balls or bags, alludes to the instance, where, he provided dowries for three sisters, to avoid lives of prostitution.
There is more than one instance where he saved the unjustly condemned from imprisonment and, or, execution. Supra, is a portrait of psychological and dramatic intensity, that illustrates. Top center is Nicholas, clearly robed in his office, intervening to halt unjust, judicial murder. He was man who felt deeply for justice, and acted.
He was also known as a miracle and wonder worker, perhaps this is the guise, in which, he is most revered in the russian lands. Amongst the greeks, he is the special benefactor of sailors. “May St. Nicholas hold the tiller.” Really, amongst all the catholics, latin and orthodox he is loved.
He was from Patara, in Lycia, of Asia Minor (Anatolia). He became a monk, and eventually, the archbishop of Myra. In 1087 his remains were transferred (after being stolen) from Myra to Bari, in Italy. Turks had taken the area, and Myra had been a place of pilgrimage, which would not be hospitable under the mohammedans.
For the Feast of the Translation, May 9, in 2003, the russians gave the city of Bari, a bronze statue of Saint Nicholas Wonder-Worker. They, also, gave a statue to Demre, Turkey in 2000. Demre is the town, where, Myra had been. The mayor took that statue down, and replaced it with a plastic Santa Claus. The turks are not friendly to christianity, but are to commerce.
Catholic european folkways have had Saint Nicholas Day or Eve as the day of gifts, and child celebration. The sainted bishop arrives, sometimes with cart, wagon or sleigh and a companion. This companion is variable. Sometimes he is more of a page or servant; sometimes he is a converted sinner; sometimes he is a pagan demon or the devil, himself. This casted rogue may be: Knecht Ruprecht, Black Peter, Krampus, Parkel, Le Père Fouettard, Čert.
KONTAKION of Saint Nicholas
You were truly a priestly worker in Myra, for zealously living the Gospel of Christ, you dedicated your life to your people; you saved the innocent from death. Therefore you have been sanctified as one who has entered the mystery of God's grace.