December 7, 2016 By Pastor Dave Ryan
December 6th has been set aside to venerate the memory and ministry of Nicholas, a pastor and bishop of the Church. Stories have evolved this man into the famous Santa Claus of today, but who was the real Nicholas?
Nicholas the Faithful Pastor
Getting to Know the “Real St. Nick”
December 6th has been declared the special day to venerate St. Nicholas, and of course legend, cultural additions and poor pronunciation of Dutch have left us with the phenomenon of Santa Claus today. But who was the real Nicholas?
Historical writings and dates are few on Nicholas and there many stories and folklore to sort through. We do know that Nicholas lived into the early 300’s AD and was a dedicated follower and servant of Christ and the Church (in modern day Turkey). He was born into a wealthy family in Lycia and inherited a lot of riches when his parents died, but he was bent on giving his riches to those in need during a very harsh time in history.
Not much is known of his early life, other than it is believed that his parents died when he was young due to an epidemic and he was mentored by his uncle. He became a church leader as a younger man and then was selected to be the bishop of Myra. This was an honor for a young man but also put him into a dangerous position before the Roman leaders depending on who was in power. Under the Emperors Diocletian and those following, he and many Christ followers suffered great persecution and Nicholas was imprisoned for standing for his faith and his people. When Constantine became emperor, he eventually embraced Christianity and Nicholas found a new political freedom along with the Church.
With freedom, another attack arose from within the church in form of the Arian heresy. This taught that Jesus was a created being before Creation and became God and our Savior through His faithfulness and holiness and ultimately His sacrificial death. This heretical teaching became very popular across the empire and was helped by the writing of popular poetry and songs. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, famously dedicated his life to fighting off this teaching in the churches. Nicholas also battled hard to preach the deity of Christ and uphold the agreement of Nicea, and it is reported that the churches of Myra never really embraced Arianism. Nicholas was known as a man faithful to God’s Word, but also a pastor who was compassionate with his people and those in need. Many stories have sprung up of his acts of generosity.
Nicholas became very popular in the centuries following his death even having a church dedicated to his name in Constantinople by the emperor nearly 200 years after his death! He was a model for generosity and faithfulness to Christ.
Centuries later the Germanic people began making his day, December 6th, a day of gift giving and other stories grew up especially among the Dutch and German people and churches.
Who and What will we celebrate? The advent of the birth and life of Christ is certainly an occasion to celebrate with joy. But what will we celebrate… faithfulness to Christ and generous love to others or something much more man centered? For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…