There are many things we know about Saint Nicholas’ life. We know he was born to a well to do Christian family in about 270 AD. Saint Nicholas is known through the centuries as a model of Christian love and caring especially of children. But that is not the entire story. Let’s do the kid stuff first and then I will tell you about his imprisonment for fighting.*
He grew up in and later was Bishop of a city called Myra, near Patara in the province of Lycia, which in this present day is in Turkey. St. Paul had visited Patara during his missionary journeys firmly planting faith in Christ in the hearts of the people.
Saint Nicholas was and is renowned for his charitable deeds. He set up orphanages, hospitals, hostels for the mentally ill, fed the starving in famine, and set up a drainage system so that his people would not die from the diseases incurred by poor hygiene, he freed captives unjustly imprisoned and saved sailors in stormy seas. The most famous St. Nicholas story is still told even to this day.
St. Nicholas was told of a very serious problem that the father of three daughters had. Living in Nicholas’ hometown, and following the customs of the society at that time, the father was unable to provide the money necessary for a dowry for his beautiful daughters so that they could marry. In this era, having no dowry meant that they would most certainly be sold into prostitution. The father was beside himself. What would he do?
In secret, and in the middle of the night, St. Nicholas took three gold coins put them in a small bag and tossed it through the window. Now, at least the first daughter would be able to be married and not fall into a life of misery. But what was to become of the other daughters? St. Nicholas repeated his act of charity the next two nights. But on the last night, the curious father wanted to catch the patron in the act to thank him for his gracious gifts. Waiting up, he did just that! Watching from the window, he saw it was Nicholas that was the wonderworker and giver of love. He thanked Nicholas profusely for his great kindness and unmerited love for his daughters could now all live upright lives in their community.
St. Nicholas became known, even though his desire was to work in secret, as the Wonderworker, for his great deeds.
The Emperor Constantine called together 318 bishops from all over the world to come together in the city of Nicea in 325. This was no easy task in the 4th century! Constantine organized the event to discuss and dispel a controversy that had arisen in many of the churches. This division was lead by a priest called Arius. Arius was teaching that Christ was not fully God, and Christ was not fully Man but was a third thing.
St. Nicholas debated with Arius regarding his beliefs. So angry with the heretical teaching of Arius and his followers that Bishop Nicholas slapped Arius in the face, attempting to stop him from his blasphemy. St. Nicholas was defrocked and put into prison. That very night the other bishops had a dream in which Christ and Mary, the Theotokos, came to them. They had St. Nicholas’ mantia (mantle) and episcopal staff and told them that St. Nicholas’s action was pleasing to God. Nicholas was restored to his position as the bishop of Myra. Arius was defeated, not because of Nicholas’ famous outburst, but because he was wrong. To this day most icons of St. Nicholas show Christ and the Mother of God holding St. Nicholas’s mantia and staff to remind us of this event.
Today, we continue to tell of his great love, and likeness of Christ our Savior. Through the prayers of our Holy Father Nicholas intercede with Christ God that He may save our souls.