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Saint Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, which is in modern day Turkey. He was born into a wealthy family, but his parents both died of disease when he was young, thereby giving him his large inheritance when he was still a youth. Heeding the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, Nickolas devoted his life to giving away what he had to support the poor and needy in the towns and villages nearby. He was made overseer, or bishop, of the city Myra (now Lysian, the amphitheater is pictured above), while he was still only young, loved by all, he still focussed on the poor and on children.
Diocletian was Emperor from 284-305 (he abdicated to Constantine), he was famous for dividing the Empire into four parts and having junior Emperors rule the outer parts, this was called the “Tetrarchy” or rule of four. Under Diocletian, the years 304-311 saw some of the worst organized persecution of Christians the Empire had seen for a long time. Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned for his faith, like so many others at this time. It was not until after Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, for religious tolerance permitting Christians to meet, in 313, that Nickolas was released and he returned to his duties.
There is little else to ascertain the rest of his life, beside a record of his death on December 6th, 343, and he was buried in the cathedral at Myra. There are, of course, many posthumous legends about his life but most were only recorded several hundred years later and cannot be confirmed. Most famous of these likely stories is that he was an attendant at the council of Nicaea in 325, the story goes even further, saying that he slapped Arius in the face in the middle of his testimony. While this sounds like fun it is far fetched. Emperor Constantine invited all the Bishops of the empire to attend a council to decide on some key issues of the Christian faith, most important was to settle disputes arising out of Alexandria, in Egypt. Not only was the date for Easter to be agreed but also the disputes between Alexander and Arius about the person of Christ which was causing division in the church. Now Nicholas would have received an invitation but he was in the far West of the empire making it hard for him to travel, there are pretty good records of attendees and his name is not included. Constantine invited over 1800 to attend but only about 250 showed up so it is not surprising old man Nick did not make it.
Now of course we remember Saint Nicholas when we think of Santa Claus, the one who gives gifts to children. If you are a parent with little kiddies, don’t shy away from telling them the story of Saint Nick, we remember him as Santa Claus and he was generous to children. At this time of year as we celebrate the wonderful story of Advent it is a time for family and a time of celebration, it is a time of gift giving. The incredible beauty of Advent is a baby in a manger, the Christ child born into the muck to get you and I out of it. Three wise and wealthy kings came to him and brought him presents worthy of a king. They celebrated his worth with gifts of great price. As we give gifts this season let us remember the greatest gift of all, the gift of saving grace through the gospel of Jesus Christ.