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December 6, 2011

Life of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia

By St. Dimitri of Rostov

The great wonder-worker, swift helper of those in need, and fervent intercessor before God, Christ’s holy hierarch Nicholas, was born in Patara, a city in the province of Lycia. His parents were honorable, well-born, wealthy folk and were Orthodox. Nicholas’ father was named Theophanes and his mother Nonna. Dwelling together in lawful wedlock, they were adorned with every virtue. Because of their God-pleasing way of life, numerous good deeds, and especially their unstinting almsgiving, they, as holy roots, were deemed worthy to put forth a holy shoot, their blessed child. Like a tree which is planted by the streams of waters, this couple was vouchsafed to bring forth fruit in its season. When their son was born, they gave him the name Nicholas, which means "victor of the nations," and truly, with God’s help he proved victorious over evil and became a benefactor of the whole world. After bearing Nicholas, Nonna never again experienced the pangs of birth: this blessed child was her first and last, nature itself confirming that it was impossible she should bear another son like Nicholas. He was sanctified by divine grace while still in his mother’s womb, and his piety was made manifest as soon as he appeared in the world. Prodigies and his love of fasting were in evidence even while his mother was still suckling him. From the moment he was put to the breast, it was clear that he would become the mightiest of miracle-workers. He took milk only from his mother’s right side because he would one day stand on the Lord’s right hand with the blessed. Showing that he would become a great faster, on Wednesdays and Fridays he suckled just once, in the evening after his parents had completed their usual rule of prayer. Theophanes and Nonna understood that he would one day be a strict ascetic, and they marveled exceedingly. Having grown accustomed to abstinence while still in swaddling clothes, Nicholas fasted every Wednesday and Friday until his blessed repose. Similarly, when placed in the font of Holy Baptism shortly after his birth, he stood for three hours without assistance, thereby glorifying the Holy Trinity, Whose eminent servant he would become and before Whom he would be a mediator for all.

As the child grew, his understanding increased, and he was instructed in the rules of good conduct by his parents. The seed of Christian teaching sprang up in his heart as though in a fertile field, every day bearing the fruit of excellent conduct. The time soon came for him to begin the study of the divine Scriptures, and due to his natural intelligence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he quickly achieved a profound understanding of their contents, such as befits a skillful helmsman of the ship of Christ’s Church and an experienced shepherd of rational sheep. He also proved himself perfect in the life of virtue, distancing himself from vain acquaintances and conversations. He carefully guarded himself from familiar speech with women and from looking women in the face. Attentive to preserving true chastity, he gazed upon God with a pure mind and was always to be found in the Lord’s holy church, fulfilling the word of the Scriptures: I have chosen rather to be an outcast in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of sinners. He frequently spent the whole day and night in church, reading sacred books and engaging in mental prayer to God, exercising himself in reflection upon edifying themes, and profiting from the descent of the grace of the Holy Spirit, for Whom he had made of himself a worthy dwelling-place, in accordance with the saying: Ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. Since the Spirit of God dwelt in Nicholas, he was entirely purified and became altogether virtuous and spiritual, his heart ever burning with love as he labored for the Lord. No childish traits whatsoever could be seen in him, but only those characteristic of old age. Because of this everyone was astonished at him and regarded him with deep respect. Truly, if an old man’s behavior is like a youth’s, he becomes a laughingstock, because frivolity is unseemly in a person of advanced years. However, if a youth’s demeanor is like that of a respected elder, he is held in honor since gravity is pleasing and worthy of esteem, especially in the young.

The blessed one had an uncle who was also named Nicholas and was Bishop of Patara. It was for him that the younger Nicholas was named. Seeing his nephew advancing in the life of virtue and distancing himself from everything worldly, the uncle advised Nicholas’ parents to dedicate the young man to God’s service. They obeyed him, presenting their son to the Lord Who entrusted him to them. In ancient books it is written concerning Nicholas’ father and mother that prior to the saint’s conception they despaired of having a child, so they had continually besought God with tears to grant them a son, and distributed abundant alms in the hope of winning His favor. Therefore, they did not hesitate to return Nicholas to the Lord. The Bishop took the young elder, who was adorned with the gray hairs of wisdom and the unspotted life of old age, and elevated him to the sacred rank of presbyter. During the ordination the Bishop was filled with the Holy Spirit, and turning to the people in the church, prophesied, "Lo, brethren, I see a new sun rising over the earth, which shall become the consolation of those who sorrow! Blessed is the flock deemed worthy to have Nicholas as its shepherd! He shall tend well souls that have gone astray, pasturing them on the fields of piety, and be the ready helper of those in affliction." This prophecy was later fulfilled, as will be seen from this narrative.

As a priest Saint Nicholas added to his labors, always fasting and keeping vigil, praying without ceasing and striving to emulate the life of the bodiless powers although he was clothed in flesh. His soul shone brighter with virtue every day. At that time his uncle, Bishop Nicholas, wished to visit Palestine and venerate the Holy Places there, and he entrusted the entire administration of the Church of Patara to his nephew. God’s priest Nicholas gave to the Church’s affairs the same close attention as did his uncle. While Saint Nicholas was administering the diocese, his parents departed this fleeting existence for life eternal. They left their possessions to their son, who distributed them among those who begged alms of him. Nicholas himself had no concern for transient wealth and gave no thought to its increase, having renounced all earthly desires in order to surrender himself wholly to God, to Whom he cried, Unto Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God. On Thee was I cast from the womb; from my mother’s womb Thou art my God. Like a mighty river from which flow many streams, his hand was always stretched out to give to those who asked. And now the time has come to tell of one of his numerous deeds of compassion, as a testimony to his generosity.

There was a man living in Patara who was once wealthy and renowned, but his fortune waned. He fell into poverty and was scorned by those who before had regarded him highly. This man had three beautiful daughters, and when the necessities of life began to fail him, he decided to make his house a brothel and sell their bodies. Oh, what wicked schemes are born of destitution! The man had already devised his unseemly plan and was making preparations to fulfill it when God, Who loves us and does not wish to see us perish, sent down grace into the heart of His favorite, the holy priest Nicholas, mystically inspiring him to assist the wretch and turn him away from sin. Hearing of the father’s poverty and learning by divine revelation of his foul scheme, Nicholas felt deep pity for him and resolved to snatch him and his daughters from penury and sin as if from fire, by giving them generous alms. However, the saint did not want to help the man openly, for two reasons. Firstly, obedient to the words of the Gospel, "Take heed that you do not your alms before men," he sought to avoid the empty praise of men. Secondly, since the man was once rich and had only recently fallen on bad times, Nicholas did not wish to humiliate him. Knowing how mortifying it is for someone who once enjoyed wealth and renown to accept alms (since he is reminded of his former prosperity), the saint thought it best to obey Christ’s words: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. So great was Nicholas’ desire to avoid praise that he attempted to hide himself even from those whom he assisted! He went at midnight to the man’s home, threw a large bag of gold into the house through a window, and fled. The next morning, when he rose, the man found the bag and untied it. Seeing the gold, he became frightened, thinking it was an illusion, since he knew of no one likely to aid him so generously. Only when he touched it did he become convinced that what he saw was real and permit himself to weep with happiness. Although he wondered for a long time who might be his benefactor, he could think of no one. Ascribing his good fortune to providence, he thanked God unceasingly, glorifying the Lord Who cares for all men. Without delay he married off his eldest daughter, using the gold to provide her dowry. Learning what the man had done, the wondrous Nicholas was very pleased and prepared to assist the second daughter. He made ready another bag of gold, of the same value, and unknown to all, went by night and threw it into the man’s house through the same window. When the father rose the next morning and found the second bag, he was even more amazed than before, and falling to the floor, wept and cried, "O merciful God, Who didst purchase my salvation with Thy precious blood, Thou hast ransomed my home and children from the snares of the enemy! I beseech Thee to reveal to me who it was that accomplished Thy will and served as minister of Thy kindness and love for man. Show me the earthly angel that hath prevented us from perishing in sin, delivering us from destitution and my base plots. Behold, Lord, because Thy favourite hath assisted me so generously, I am now able to find a husband for my second daughter and escape the nets of the devil, who hoped to multiply mine evil deeds, which even before this merited eternal punishment."

Thanking the Lord for his kindness, the man celebrated the wedding of his second daughter. He trusted that God would provide a lawful husband for his third child and again send him the money he needed. Because he wished to know who was bringing the gold, he did not sleep at night, but watched in the hope of catching sight of his secret patron. It was not long before Christ’s favorite came a third time, walking very quietly, and again cast a bag of money through the window. The father heard it striking the floor and ran as fast as he could in pursuit of the saint. When he caught up with him, he recognized Nicholas, who was known to all because of his virtuous life and noble ancestry. He fell at the holy priest’s feet and kissed them, calling the saint his helper and deliverer and the rescuer of souls. "If the merciful Lord had not inspired you to come to my aid," he exclaimed, "my daughters and I, the wretch, would have perished in the fires of Sodom. But glory to God, you have saved us from a grievous fall!" Only with the greatest difficulty did Nicholas succeed in raising him to his feet and compelling him to swear that he would tell no one what had occurred as long as his benefactor remained alive. After speaking to the man at length about things profitable to the soul, the saint permitted him to return home.

From this story it is evident what deep sympathy Saint Nicholas had for the poor. It would be impossible to tell every example of his generosity to beggars or to enumerate the hungry people he fed, the naked he clothed, or the debtors he delivered from usurers.

Some time later, our venerable father decided to visit Palestine and venerate the Holy Places in the land where our Lord and God Jesus Christ once walked. While his ship was sailing off the coast of Egypt, Saint Nicholas foresaw that a violent tempest was about to arise although no one else suspected this. The godly one told the others what would occur, explaining that he had seen the devil himself enter the ship, intending to sink it and drown the passengers. At once black clouds appeared in the sky and a violent storm arose, churning up the sea. All were seized with fear and entreated Nicholas to rescue them. In despair they cried, "Unless you pray God to save us, O favorite of the Lord, we shall certainly be swallowed by the deep!"

Advising passengers and crew to take courage and put their hope in God, the saint sent up fervent supplication to the Lord. A great calm at once settled upon the waters, and the passengers’ terror turned to joy. They thanked God and His favorite, our holy father Nicholas, marveling at how he had both foretold the storm and accomplished their deliverance. Then, however, one of the sailors, who had climbed to the top of the ship’s mast to attend to a sail, fell to the deck as he was descending and was killed. But Saint Nicholas, ever ready to help even before called upon, restored the man to life as though he had merely been asleep. A fair wind filled the sails, and the boat quickly made for the port of Alexandria where it docked. There God’s favorite healed many sick people and cast out demons, bringing consolation to the afflicted. Eventually he resumed his journey to Palestine.

When he arrived in the holy city of Jerusalem, Saint Nicholas went to Golgotha, where Christ God stretched out His most pure hands upon the Cross to save the race of man. Oh, what fervent prayers did he pour out there from a heart burning with love, sending up thanks to our Saviour! He then went to all the other Holy Places, worshipping unhurriedly at each of them. One night, when he wished to enter the church on Mount Zion to pray, its locked doors swung open to him for whom the gates of heaven were also open. Having remained for some time in Jerusalem, Nicholas was preparing to travel into the desert, but a voice from heaven commanded him to return to his homeland. God, Who orders all things for our benefit, did not wish that the lamp He had prepared to illumine Lycia be hidden beneath a basket. The saint found a boat supposedly bound for his homeland and arranged with its crew for his passage. The sailors, however, had devised a wicked scheme and intended to sail not to Lycia but to another country. Shortly after the boat cast off, Saint Nicholas realized that it was not headed in the right direction, and he fell at the feet of the sailors, beseeching them to change their course. Paying him no heed, they continued on, not understanding that God would never forsake His favorite. Suddenly a storm arose, driving the ship swiftly toward Lycia. Thus borne across the sea by the might of God, Nicholas reached his destination. Since the saint was a stranger to malice, he did not seek revenge on the treacherous sailors, nor was he angry with them. He did not utter a single word of accusation; instead, after giving them his blessing, he let them depart.

Upon his return to Lycia, the saint went to the Monastery of Holy Zion founded by his uncle, the Bishop of Patara. The brethren were overjoyed to see him and greeted him with the reverence due one of God’s angels. Taking delight in his divinely inspired words and greatly edified by his way of life, which indeed rivaled that of the heavenly powers, they sought to emulate the virtuous conduct that was the adornment of the Lord’s faithful servant. Saint Nicholas found the monastery to be a haven of silence conducive to reflection on the Divinity, and hoped to remain there in seclusion for the rest of his life. But God was not pleased that the great treasure-chest of every excellence, which He intended to use to enrich the world, should remain hidden in a little cell in a monastery, buried, as it were, in the ground. It was His will that it be revealed to all creation and employed to make spiritual purchases and gain numerous souls. Thus it was that one day while the saint was standing at prayer, he heard a voice say, "Nicholas, if you wish to receive a crown from Me, labor for the good of others." The saint had still not regained his composure when he heard the voice again, saying, "Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you will bear fruit for Me. Return to the world and glorify My name there." Saint Nicholas realized that it was God’s will that he abandon his solitude, and strive for the salvation of men. He was still uncertain, however, whether he ought to return to Patara or go elsewhere.

After pondering the matter, the saint decided it best to go to a city where he was unknown, since he knew that in Patara he was held in esteem by everyone. Now in the land of Lycia there is a renowned city named Myra, the provincial capital, to which the Lord guided Saint Nicholas. No one knew him there, so he made it his home and lived among the poor without a place to rest his head. His sole haven was the house of the Lord God.

At this time John, the Archbishop of the city, died, and the bishops of the land assembled in Myra to elect a worthy successor. Several noble, respected men were nominated, but the bishops could not reach agreement on any of them. Then some of the hierarchs, moved by divine zeal, declared that the Archbishop of the country ought not be selected by men, but by Providence. If they turned to prayer, they maintained, the Lord Himself would reveal who was worthy to assume the rank of archbishop and become chief shepherd of Lycia. This good counsel met with general approval, and the bishops devoted themselves to fervent prayer and fasting.

The Lord, Who hearkens to the entreaty of those who fear Him, deigned to reveal His will in the following manner to one of the eldest bishops. While the Bishop was praying, a radiant man appeared, commanding him to stand that night by the doors of the church and observe who entered the building first. "That man," said He, "is filled with My Spirit. Receive him with honor and make him archbishop; his name is Nicholas."

The Bishop informed the other hierarchs of the divine vision and told them what he had been commanded. Hearing this, they redoubled their prayers. Then the Bishop went to the church and stood by the doorway, awaiting Nicholas’ coming. When the time for Matins drew near, Saint Nicholas, who always rose at midnight to pray, went to the church, arriving as usual before the other worshippers. The Bishop stopped him as he entered the narthex and asked, "What is your name, child?"

At first the saint did not reply, but since the Bishop repeated the question, he answered, "My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am Your Holiness’ servant."

Both from his name and the meek, humble, and calm manner in which the reply was made, the holy Bishop knew that the man who stood before him was the one chosen by God to be Archbishop of Lycia. Recalling the Scripture which says that the Lord will look upon the man who is meek and quiet and humble of heart, the Bishop rejoiced exceedingly, as though he had found a great treasure. He took Nicholas by the hand and said, "Follow me, child."

Nicholas was presented to the bishops, who, filled with spiritual delight because God had revealed His choice, escorted the saint back to the church. Word of what had happened spread rapidly, and a multitude assembled in God’s temple so quickly it seemed borne there on wings. The Bishop who saw the vision addressed the congregation with these words: "Receive, brethren, your shepherd, whom the Holy Spirit has anointed and to whom He has entrusted the care of your souls. He was chosen not by an assembly of men but by God Himself. We have found him whom we sought, and under his good guidance and instruction, we shall never lose hope of standing before the Lord on the day of His return."

The great assembly gave thanks to God, and the people’s joy knew no measure. Saint Nicholas, however, who hated the praise of men, at first refused the hierarchal rank. Nevertheless, he had seen a vision before the death of the last Archbishop in which he was commanded to accept consecration, so in the end he submitted unwillingly to the persistent entreaties of clergy and laity. Concerning this vision Saint Methodius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, writes, "One night, Saint Nicholas saw our Saviour standing before him, radiant with glory. The Lord gave him a gospel adorned with gold and pearls. Beside him the saint beheld the most holy Theotokos, who placed upon his shoulders an omophorion, the symbol of episcopal dignity. A few days later John, the Archbishop of Myra, breathed his last, and Nicholas became his successor."

Remembering the vision and bowing to God’s will, the saint accepted the faithful of Myra as his flock. The bishops, assisted by other clergy, performed the usual rite of consecration, and all the people celebrated the appointment of their divinely chosen shepherd. Thus a brilliant luminary was given to God’s Church, not to be hidden beneath a basket, but to be set in a fitting place whence it could shine brightly. And indeed, at all times this holy hierarch of Christ rightly divided the word of truth, instructing his flock in the teachings of Orthodoxy.

At the very beginning of his episcopal service God’s favorite said to himself, "Nicholas, the rank you hold demands that you conduct yourself differently from other men. Now you must live for others." Wishing to instill the virtues in his flock, he did not conceal his good deeds as before. His way of life became known to everyone, not because he wished to enjoy adulation, but so that the Christians might be edified and glorify God. In him the words of the Gospel were fulfilled: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. The saint served as an example to all, and was, in the words of the Apostle, an example to the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. He was meek and forgiving, humble in spirit, and fled everything vainglorious. His clothing was simple, his food lenten, and he ate only once daily, in the evening. The whole day long he occupied himself with the responsibilities of his office, and was always willing to give an audience to those who came to him with requests. The doors of his house were never shut, for he strove to be accessible to all: a father to orphans, a charitable patron of the needy, the helper of the wronged, and the benefactor of every Christian soul entrusted to his care. To assist him in his pastoral labors and the administration of the Church, Nicholas appointed two prudent counselors, men known and respected even by the unbelievers of Myra: Paul of Rhodes and Theodore of Ascalon, both priests.

Seeing Saint Nicholas tend well the rational sheep of Christ’s flock, the devil, that evil serpent which never ceases to bring temptations upon God’s servants, grew ever more envious. Unable to endure the sight of piety flourishing, he incited the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian to initiate a persecution of Christ’s Church. The rulers issued throughout their domains an edict commanding the faithful to renounce Christ and worship the idols. Whoever refused to obey was to be fettered and imprisoned, tortured and executed. The evil storm soon reached Myra, but the blessed Nicholas, who was ready to suffer for the Lord, continued to preach the faith of Christ openly. It was not long before he was seized by the persecutors and imprisoned with many other Christians. Nicholas remained in confinement for a long time, suffering greatly from hunger and thirst and the overcrowded condition of the dungeon. His fellow prisoners, however, he nurtured constantly with the word of God, giving them the sweet waters of piety to drink and confirming them in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. He set their feet upon the unshakable foundation of trust in the Lord, and exhorted them to remain firm in their confession of Christ and to suffer eagerly for the truth. In time the storm of persecution ended, and the tranquility of freedom returned for the Christians. The truth of the Gospel shone again like the sun breaking through dark clouds, and Christ, Who loves mankind, looked upon His inheritance and put an end to heathen rule. The Lord raised up a horn of salvation for His people, the holy Cross, which appeared to the new Emperor Constantine, who assumed authority over the Roman Empire. Acknowledging the one God and placing his trust in Him, Constantine prevailed over his enemies by the power of the Cross. He commanded that pagan temples be leveled and Christian churches be built, thus destroying the vain hopes of his predecessors. Those imprisoned for Christ’s sake were honored as courageous soldiers of the Lord. The released Christians returned to their homes, and the city of Myra received back its pastor, the great hierarch Nicholas, who, as a confessor, wore the crown of martyrdom though his blood was not shed. By the grace of Christ he continued as before to heal the passions and infirmities of believers and unbelievers alike. Because God’s grace was abundantly present in him, he was greatly esteemed and loved, and everyone marveled at him. He labored for the Lord in holiness and righteousness, and shone with purity of heart and every divine gift.

At that time numerous pagan temples remained in use, and the demons continued to entice the unbelievers to worship in them, so bringing about the perdition of many citizens of Myra. Moved by divine zeal, the godly hierarch began travelling through the district, demolishing the heathen temples and cleansing the land of demonic defilement. As Saint Nicholas was battling in this way, he came to the enormous, beautifully adorned sanctuary of Artemis, the especially beloved abode of his invisible enemies. When he destroyed this vile temple, the saint did not hesitate to pull up the very foundations. Quaking with fear every time they saw Christ’s invincible servant approach, the devils would cry out and moan; and unable to resist the prayers of the holy hierarch, would take to their heels.

Some time later, the right-believing Emperor Constantine, wishing to strengthen the Christian faith, commanded that an ecumenical council be held in the city of Nicaea. The holy fathers who assembled there clearly defined the doctrines of Orthodoxy, anathematizing both the Arian heresy and Arius, that corrupter of the faith and sower of the tares of impiety. They proclaimed the Son to be equal in honor and of one essence with the Father and reestablished peace in the apostolic Church. The wondrous Nicholas was one of the 318 fathers attending this Council, at which he valiantly struggled against Arius. With the other holy fathers, he upheld the dogmas of the faith, delivering them intact to his flock.

John, a monk of Studium, writes that Saint Nicholas was filled with divine zeal at the Council like a second Elijah, and boldly assailed Arius not only with words but also with blows, striking him upon the face. Indignant with the saint for his audacity, the holy fathers stripped him of the emblems of the hierarchal rank. Our Lord Jesus Christ and His most blessed Mother, however, were looking down from on high on Saint Nicholas’ labors for the holy faith and were very pleased with his daring. Several of the most eminent fathers of the Council beheld a vision similar to that which Nicholas had seen before his consecration. On one side of the saint they saw Christ returning the gospel that had been taken from him; on the other, the most pure Virgin giving him back his omophorion. The bishops understood that Nicholas’ boldness was pleasing to God: they stopped reproving him and began to revere him deeply. Upon his return from the Council, Saint Nicholas publicly instructed the people, bestowing the Lord’s blessing on them. From his sweet lips he imparted to his flock sound teaching, cutting off at the root the strange, diseased doctrines of the heretics, men hardened in wickedness, whom he expelled from the fold. Just as an experienced farmer skillfully separates wheat from darnel on his threshing-floor and millstone, so Christ’s wise thresher, Saint Nicholas, filled the Lord’s spiritual granary with good wheat and cast far away the tares of the heretics. Because of this the Holy Church refers to him as the fan that scatters the tares of Arius’ teaching. Truly, he was a light unto the world and the salt of the earth; his life was radiant with light and his speech salted with wisdom. Furthermore, this good shepherd not only took care to provide spiritual pasture for the members of his flock, but food for their bodies as well, since he had great concern for all their needs. Once, when a horrible famine was raging in the land of Lycia and no food remained in Myra, God’s hierarch, out of compassion for the starving, appeared in a dream to a merchant in Italy who owned a ship filled with wheat. Giving him three gold coins as a deposit, Saint Nicholas directed him to sail for Myra and sell his wheat there. When the merchant awoke, he was astonished to find the three gold pieces in his hand. He dared not disobey, but left directly for Myra where he sold the grain. He did not remain silent about the miracle, so the citizens learned how their deliverance had come to pass. They sent up glory and thanksgiving to God and blessed their benefactor, the great and wondrous hierarch Nicholas.

It was about this time that a revolt took place in Great Phrygia. Hearing of it, the Emperor Constantine sent three generals with troops to restore order. The generals, Nepotian, Ursus, and Herpylion, sailed from Constantinople, stopping at the place on the coast of the diocese of Myra called "The Adriatic Shore." Here there was a port, and since rough seas did not permit them to proceed further, they remained in the safety of the harbor. When troops were sent into the town to buy provisions, they took many things by force, as is the custom with soldiers. Since they did this repeatedly, they enraged the townsfolk. Finally there was a violent confrontation at the place called Plakomata. When Saint Nicholas learned of this, he quickly set off to quell the strife. The townspeople and the generals went out to meet him, falling prostrate as soon as they caught sight of him. The saint advised the generals to exercise greater control over their troops, so that they could not tyrannize the people, after which he entered the city and invited them to share his supper. The generals disciplined their soldiers and put an end to the disturbances; and thus they were deemed worthy to receive the saint’s blessing.

In the meantime several citizens of Myra arrived, weeping and lamenting. They fell at the saint’s feet, begging him to help three innocent men sentenced to death by the Governor, Eustathius, who was bribed by jealous evildoers. "Because of this injustice," they said, "the whole city is in turmoil and awaits your return. If you had been there, Master, the Governor would never have dared pass such a verdict."

When he heard this, God’s hierarch was deeply troubled and set off for Myra at once, accompanied by the three generals and their troops. On the way, at the place called Leon, they came upon travelers whom they asked, "Do you know anything about the three men who were condemned to death at Myra?"

"We left them at the field of Castor and Pollux. They were being led to execution," the travelers replied. At this, Saint Nicholas continued in haste, hoping to find the men still alive. Reaching the place of execution, he saw a large crowd assembled and the three condemned men kneeling on the ground. They awaited beheading with their hands bound, their heads covered, and their necks bared. The executioner, wearing a grim, violent expression, was about to let the sword fall. Truly, it was a dreadful spectacle that would have brought tears to anyone’s eyes! Quickly making his way through the crowd, his face revealing both anger and humility, Christ’s holy hierarch fearlessly and without hesitation tore the sword from the executioner’s hand and threw it to the ground. He boldly ordered that the prisoners be loosed, and no one dared interfere, for his commands were issued with great authority; divine power plainly assisted him in everything he did, and he was beloved of God and held in awe by all men. The three prisoners, delivered from the sword and unexpectedly returned from the gates of death, shed tears of joy and cried out in heartfelt gratitude, and everyone assembled there thanked the saint. Then the Governor arrived, but when he fell at Nicholas’ feet, God’s favorite disdainfully pushed him away, calling down the Lord’s vengeance upon him. The saint also threatened to tell the Emperor what had taken place, and warned Eustathius that he would be subjected to horrible torments for failing to administer justice. Reproached by his conscience and terrified by the saint’s threats, Eustathius tearfully begged mercy and began to pray fervently to God, repenting of the evil he had done and seeking reconciliation with our holy father. He laid the blame for what had happened on Simonides and Eudoxius, elders of the city, but the truth could not be hidden, since the saint knew well that the decision to put the blameless men to death was bought with a bribe. Meanwhile, the people continued to exclaim their gratitude. They persuaded Christ’s favorite to forgive the Governor, but with the greatest difficulty. Indeed, they succeeded in this only because Eustathius himself finally confessed tearfully and humbly that it was he and no one else who was responsible for the injustice.

Seeing this, the three generals marveled at the righteousness of God’s great hierarch. After the saint had prayed for them and given his blessing, they continued on to Phrygia with their men, to fulfill the Emperor’s command. There they put down the rebellion, restored peace, and having accomplished everything they had been ordered to do, returned to Byzantium where they were greeted with praise and honor by the Emperor Constantine and all the nobility. They were given positions at court and appointed to serve on the imperial council. Some time later, however, jealous men began plotting against them. They went to Eulavius, the Eparch of the city, and slandered them, saying, "The three generals do not give the Emperor good advice and are said to be scheming against him; moreover, they have introduced senseless innovations in the affairs of the realm."

With this, they gave the Prefect a large quantity of gold. He denounced the generals to the Emperor, who had all three imprisoned without questioning them, saying that he was afraid they would slip away and succeed in accomplishing their wicked plans. The generals, who were clapped in fetters, had no idea why they had been imprisoned and knew only that they had done nothing wrong. Soon the slanderers began to worry that they might themselves be punished for making untrue accusations. They returned to the Prefect, therefore, and implored him to put the men to death at once. Ensnared in the net of avarice, the Eparch agreed. He appeared before Constantine with eyes downcast and a sorrowful look upon his face, as though he were bringing evil tidings, and filled the ruler’s ears with tales intended to incite his wrath against the innocent, hoping also to prove how great was his fidelity and concern for the Emperor’s life. "None of the imprisoned men wish to repent," he said, his tongue dripping with deceit. "All three continue to intrigue as before, plotting evil against you. Command that they be tortured without delay, so that their wicked schemes may be brought to an end."

The Emperor, alarmed by the Eparch’s words, condemned the men to death. Since it was evening, however, the execution was delayed until the next morning. The prison guard learned of this, and lamenting the misfortune threatening the blameless generals, went to them and said, "It would have been better if we had never met and I had never enjoyed your company or shared my food with you! Then I could easily have endured our separation, without sorrow over the coming disaster. Tomorrow we shall be parted, and I shall never again see your dear faces, nor ever hear you speak, for the command has been issued to put you to death. Tell me, therefore, before bitter doom overtakes you, what you wish done with your possessions."

The three innocent men ripped their clothes and tore their hair, crying, "What enemy has done this? What crime have we committed to deserve execution?" They called upon God and all their friends and relatives as witnesses that they had done no evil, and they wept bitterly. Then one of them, Nepotian, remembered how Saint Nicholas had proved a swift helper and glorious defender for the condemned in Myra. All three began to pray, "O God of Nicholas, Who didst deliver those unjustly sentenced to death in Myra, look down upon us, for we have no helper on earth. Lo, a great misfortune is about to befall us, and there is none to deliver us. Our voices have grown feeble and our tongues are parched, burnt up by the fire of our hearts’ distress; we have not the strength to pray as we should. But let Thy compassions quickly go before us, O Lord; rescue us out of the hands of those who seek our souls. They intend to put us to death tomorrow, but do Thou hasten to our aid and deliver us."

The Lord heard the entreaties of the condemned, and like a father moved by compassion for his sons, sent the great hierarch Nicholas to the assistance of those God-fearing men. That night while the Emperor was sleeping, Christ’s hierarch appeared to him and said, "Arise quickly, and free the generals who are being held in prison. They are the victims of slander and suffer unjustly." The saint explained the affair to him in detail and warned, "If you do not obey me, an uprising worse than the one in Phrygia will erupt, and you will perish miserably."

Marveling how someone could be so bold as to enter the inner chambers of the palace by night, Constantine demanded, "Who are you? How dare you threaten us and our imperial authority!"

"My name is Nicholas," the saint replied, "and I am Archbishop of Myra."

The Emperor awoke amazed and troubled by the dream. Meanwhile, on that same night, the saint also appeared in a dream to Eulavius, reproaching him for his evil deeds, warning of impending revolt, and threatening him with death. Eulavius was terrified and, like Constantine, was left pondering the significance of the vision. Soon a messenger arrived and told him what the Emperor had seen. The Eparch then hurried to his master and confessed everything. Each was amazed at the other’s story, and the Emperor commanded that the generals be brought to him. He confronted them, saying, "The Prefect and I both dreamed we saw the same man warning us that an uprising would break out if you were not freed. What sorcery did you employ to bring this about?"

The generals could only look at one another in perplexity, since they knew nothing about an insurrection on their behalf. Seeing their confused expressions, Constantine’s anger cooled and he told them, "Do not be afraid; speak the truth."

The generals pleaded, "We know nothing of sorcery and have never plotted evil or considered doing you harm. God, Who sees everything, is our witness to this. If you can discover anything to prove our words false, show us no mercy, nor any of our relatives. Our parents taught us to revere the sovereign and show him the utmost fidelity. We have always defended your person and resolutely fulfilled your commands, doing our duty as men of high rank. We put down the revolt in Phrygia, subduing your foes, and our deeds there offer abundant testimony to our courage. Previously Your Majesty heaped awards and glory upon us, but now you have turned against us, pitilessly condemning us to a wretched death. How could it be that our zeal to serve you has brought us to these straits?"

His heart softened, the Emperor repented for having mistreated the generals. He trembled at the thought of God’s judgment and felt ashamed to wear the purple robes that signify the imperial rank, since he, the lawgiver, had proved quick to pass a lawless sentence. While he conversed with the men, speaking to them now in a meek and compassionate voice, Saint Nicholas appeared, sitting beside the Emperor and signalling to the generals that they would be forgiven. Only they could see the saint. They exclaimed in astonishment, "O God of Nicholas, Who didst deliver the three men in Myra from an undeserved death, rescue Thy servants from misfortune!"

The Emperor demanded, "Who is this Nicholas, and who are the men he saved?"

Nepotian explained, and the Emperor, acknowledging Nicholas as a great favorite of God, freed the generals. Marveling at the saint’s zeal in defending the wronged, he said, "It is not I who grant you your lives, but Nicholas, the Lord’s servant, upon whom you called for help. Leave now and go thank him. I beg you to convey this message to him from me: I have obeyed your command; do not be angry with me, O hierarch of Christ!"

With this Constantine entrusted to the men a gold-covered gospel, a censer made of gold and adorned with brilliant jewels, and two lamps, instructing them to give these as a gift to the Church of Myra. The generals rejoiced when, arriving in Myra, they again saw the saint, whom they warmly thanked for his help. They did not forget to express their gratitude to God, but sang with David, Lord, O Lord, who is like unto Thee, delivering the beggar from the hand of them that are stronger than he? After distributing considerable alms to the poor, the generals returned without further difficulties to their homes. Such are the works of the omnipotent God, Who ever magnifies His favorite! Their fame has spread everywhere, as if borne on wings throughout the world, so that there is no place where the Lord’s miracles, worked through the great hierarch Nicholas, remain unknown.

A ship was once sailing from Egypt to Myra when a violent storm arose, churning up the sea. The sails were torn, and it seemed that the vessel itself would be crushed by the mighty waves. The passengers were in despair of their lives when they remembered the great hierarch Nicholas. Although none of them had ever seen him, they had heard that he was the quick helper of those who call on him in misfortune, so they turned to him in prayer, begging his assistance. The saint immediately appeared, announcing, "You called for me, and I have come to help you!" He took the helm and began piloting the ship, calming the storm, as once did the Lord, Who said, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also. Because he was a faithful servant of God, Nicholas gave commands to the wind and sea and they obeyed him. Sped by a fair wind, the boat reached Myra, and the passengers disembarked, hoping to see the holy Bishop. They met the saint on his way to church, and recognizing their benefactor, fell at his feet, thanking him. The wondrous Nicholas did not merely deliver them from danger of physical death, but took thought for the salvation of their souls as well. Because he was clairvoyant, he perceived that some of the passengers were defiled by fornication, which estranges a man from God and causes him to neglect the Lord’s commandments. "Children," he said to them, "I beseech you to correct your hearts and thoughts, so that you may be pleasing to God. Consider that although we may reckon ourselves to be righteous and frequently succeed in deceiving men, we can conceal nothing from God. Let us therefore strive to preserve the holiness of our souls and to guard the purity of our bodies with all fervor. Ye are the temple of God, says the divine Apostle Paul; If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy." So saying, the blessed one, like a loving father, let them depart in peace.

Saint Nicholas’ countenance resembled that of an angel, splendid with divine grace. A brilliant ray shone from his face, as from Moses’, so that those who looked at him were astonished. Whoever was oppressed by some affliction or passion of soul had only to lay eyes on the saint, and his sorrow was eased at once. As for those who conversed with him, they soon found themselves advancing on the path of virtue. Not only the faithful but unbelievers as well were moved to compunction and directed their steps toward salvation when they heard his sweet lips speak; the evil of unbelief implanted in their hearts since childhood was uprooted, and in its place the word of truth was sown.

God’s great favorite lived in the city of Myra for many years, emanating divine goodness, as the sacred Scriptures say: He was as the morning star amid clouds, and as the moon when full; as the sun shining upon the temple of the most high God, and as lilies by the wellspring of waters, and as precious myrrh that maketh everything fragrant. When he reached old age, the saint paid the common debt due human nature, and after falling ill for a short time, ended this temporal life in a God-pleasing manner. He joyfully departed unto eternal blessedness to the sound of chanted psalms; his soul was escorted by holy angels and met by the choirs of saints. Bishops and clerics, monastics and laity from throughout the country of Lycia assembled on the sixth day of December to lay his body to rest in the cathedral of Myra. Numerous miracles were worked by Saint Nicholas’ holy relics, which gushed streams of fragrant, healing myrrh for the ailing. People began coming to his grave from every corner of the earth, hoping to be healed. They were not disappointed, for there was no disease the holy myrrh could not cure. The saint continued to war against the demons even after his repose, and many times evil spirits were expelled from possessed folk brought to his sepulcher.

It chanced that God-fearing men living near the mouth of the river Tanais heard of the myrrh-streaming and healing relics of Christ’s holy hierarch Nicholas. They decided to venerate them, and loaded their ship with wheat. However, a demon learned that the ship was being prepared to sail to our father’s relics. This was the same unclean spirit that Nicholas had driven out of its home when he destroyed the temple of Artemis. Still chafing at the saint, the devil devised a plan to prevent the men from completing the journey. Transforming itself into a woman, the demon appeared to the men, carrying a jar of oil and saying, "I would like to offer this oil at the saint’s grave, but am afraid to travel by sea. I am unwell and have a weak stomach. Be so kind as to take this for me to Nicholas’ grave and pour it into the lamp over his relics."

No one knows what demonic spells were put on the oil, but it was clearly given power to harm the travelers. The men unwittingly agreed to do as requested and sailed swiftly the first day. On the morning of the second day, however, a northerly wind arose and the boat began to founder. For many days they were in distress because they could not continue on course; the churning of the sea brought them to despair, and they finally decided to turn back. But after they had turned the ship around, Saint Nicholas appeared in a little skiff, saying, "Where are you headed, men? Why have you reversed your course? A wicked spirit is preventing you from completing your voyage. A demon, not a woman, gave you the jar of oil. Cast it into the water and the sea will become calm. Then you will be able to continue on your way."

As the men threw the jar overboard, they saw black smoke and flame belching out of it. A terrible stench filled the air, the waters parted and began to boil and bubble from their depths, and hot spray covered the deck. Everyone in the ship was terrified and cried out in fear, but Saint Nicholas enjoined the men to take courage. He calmed the sea and a cool, fragrant wind began to blow, allowing the travelers to sail joyfully to their destination. There they venerated the myrrh-streaming relics of their speedy helper and intercessor, giving thanks to the almighty God. They had a service of supplication chanted to our great father Nicholas, after which they returned to their own country, where they told everyone what had happened.

God’s favorite has truly worked numerous mighty and glorious miracles upon land and sea, assisting those in affliction, saving the drowning, freeing captives and returning them to their homes, delivering the imprisoned, and rescuing the condemned. To the blind he has given sight; to the lame, the ability to walk; to the deaf, hearing; and to the dumb, speech. He has bestowed alms on the poor; given food to the hungry; and proven himself the helper of all in distress of any sort, a fervent intercessor ever ready to defend the oppressed. Even now he assists in the same way those who call upon him, saving them from misfortunes. It is impossible to enumerate the miracles he has worked or to describe them all in detail. This great wonder-worker is known to East and West alike: the ends of the earth have heard tell of his marvels. May God, Who is one in Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be glorified in him, and may his holy name be extolled by the lips of all men forever. Amen.

Whoever wishes to learn more about the great wonders worked by Christ’s holy hierarch Nicholas should read the entries in The Prologue for this day and for the ninth of May, when the translation of the saint’s honorable relics is celebrated. He should also read the separate booklet that contains accounts of his miracles. From these he will learn how Basil, the son of Agricovus, was rescued from the Saracens and returned to his home by the saint in a single hour; how the priest Christopher was saved from beheading; how King Stephen of Serbia was granted sight; and he will become acquainted with many other wonders worked by the saint.


Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
Saintly One, in Myra you proved yourself a priest; for in fulfilling the Gospel of Christ, venerable One, you laid down your life for your people and saved the innocent from death. For this you were sanctified as One learned in divine grace.