OLPH Church
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite

St Nicholas  (back to Traditions) 

According to tradition, St. Nicholas of Myra was born about 270 A.D. in Patara, a small town in the province of Lycia presently in Turkey.  He was the only son of wealthy parents.  Attracted to the religious life at an early age, he spurned his inherited wealth and used it for charitable work for which he became famous from his youth.

St. Nicholas lived in a time or religious persecution by the Emperor Diocletian, and he suffered imprisonment because of his Christian faith. Consequently, he was revered as a confessor the faith by the people.  At the time of Emperor Constantine, he was elected Archbishop of Myra, the capital city of Lycia (now called Dembre) which is in southern Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea.

As a spiritual shepherd, St. Nicholas distinguished himself for his pastoral zeal and concern for the poor. He assisted the poor, protected the innocent, and comforted the suffering and sick. He also worked a number of miracles which made people consider him a saint even before his death. Several times, St. Nicholas saved his people from imminent starvation. He died on December 6, 352 and is still commemorated on that day.

Because there are numerous miracles attributed St. Nicholas, it is sometimes difficult to draw line between history and the embellishment of people that became folklore. However, there are several principal miracles attributed to St. Nicholas.

  • On a pilgrimage to the holy land, a violent storm erupted.   St. Nicholas by his prayers calmed the seas and prevented a certain shipwreck.  This miracle led to him eventually being known as the Patron Saint of Travelers.
  • St. Nicholas appearing in a dream to the Emperor Constantine warned him of an impending injustice and thereby saved three innocent officers from execution.
  • St. Nicholas blessed with the charisma feeling restored to health many people suffering from incurable diseases.
  • St. Nicholas was warned by God that a certain father was about to sell his three daughters to a public house where they would be enslaved as prostitutes with the father getting a continuous income from their on-going enslavement.  Not wanting to expose the father’s sinful design St. Nicholas secretly visited the home during the night and tossed a bag of gold for each of the girls through their bedroom window as a dowry.  With this dowry, the girls were able to leave their father and lead an honest life. It is this story that gave birth to the legend of Santa Claus leaving precious gifts for children in their homes while they slept.

The veneration of St. Nicholas started early after his death.  The holy relics of St. Nicholas were entombed the sanctuary near Myra in Lycia.  Soon after his death the relics began to secrete an oily substance called myron (from the Greek: myron which means myrrh or ointment). The myron was collected and used for anointing the sick, of which many were healed.  Because St. Nicholas continued to work miracles even after his death, his tomb attracted many people and became a celebrated place of pilgrims. St. Nicholas became one of most venerated saints in the early church.  Many pilgrims on the journey to the holy land stopped at Myra to venerate his relics and to implore his protection for a long voyage.  Thus St. Nicholas became the patron of travelers especially those journeying by sea.

  In 1036 the province of Lycia was occupied by the Saracens who prohibited the veneration of St. Nicholas. Merchants from Bari, Italy who followed the Christian traditions, decided to steal his relics and transfer them to their home city.  On May 9 1087 Pope UrbanII solemnly deposited the Saint’s holy relics in a marble tomb under the main altar in magnificent basilica built in Bari.  The myron continued to flow but was now was called “manna”. During the restoration of the St. Nicholas basilica between 1953 1957 the relics were once again examined and studied and then put in a new crypt.  They continue to secrete the prodigious myron.

The solemn transfer of St. Nicholas’ relics was witness by Theodore, an envoy of Metropolitan John of Kiev.  The description and witness of this event led to the establishment of a feast day commemoration on May 9.  As the stories and commemoration spread to Subcarpathia,   a monastery dedicated to St. Nicholas was established near Mukachevo where devotion to St. Nicholas became deeply rooted in our ancestor’s culture and devotion.  Always a poor and oppressed people, they admired St. Nicholas -especially for his works of charity and healing.  His inspiring assistance for the three girls was idolized by them in popular tales and richly embellished by folklore.  Throughout the centuries his legend sustained the popular devotions to St. Nicholas.  Eventually, he became an inseparable part of our spiritual heritage which continues to this very day.