Very little is known about the life of Nicholas, except that he was the bishop of Myra, on the southwestern coast of Asia Minor in what is now Turkey, and that he suffered torture and imprisonment during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. It is possible that he was one of the bishops attending the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 (though he is not in any of the early lists of bishops present at the Council). Tradition holds that he was a defender of orthodoxy against Arianism. According to one legend, he was censured by the emperor Constantine after he dealt Arius a blow to the head during a session of the Council of Nicaea, his patience having been sorely tried by Arius’ behavior during the Council.
He was honored as a saint in Constantinople by the late sixth century by the Emperor Justinian, who in 580 dedicated a church to Nicholas in that city. His veneration became immensely popular in the West after the supposed removal of his body to Bari, Italy, in the late eleventh century (the three ships in which his relics were brought from Myra to to the seaport of Bari play a role in the Christmas carol, “I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day in the morning”). In England almost 400 churches were dedicated to Nicholas, and there have perhaps been more churches and chapels dedicated to him throughout the world than to any other saint.
Nicholas is famed as the patron of Russia and Greece, the guardian of virgins and poor maidens, the protector of travelers, sailors, and merchants. He is also the patron of many towns and cities, including Bari, Venice, Freiburg, and Galway. In modern times he is perhaps best known as the protector and benefactor of children. One of the best known of the legendary narratives which demonstrate Nicholas’ love for God and for his neighbor is the story of his provision of dowries for three unmarried young women. The story is told that the father did not have money sufficient for their dowries, so on three successive nights Nicholas threw a bag of money through an open window, thus providing dowries for the man’s three daughters and probably saving them from lives of shame and prostitution.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints,
and the New Book of Festivals & Commemorations (Philip H. Pfatteicher, Fortress Press 2008)
Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 John 4:7-14
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
He gave his decrees to Jacob
and established a law for Israel, *
which he commanded them to teach their children;
That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn; *
that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
So that they might put their trust in God, *
and not forget the deeds of God,
but keep his commandments.
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Pray today especially for
- the Church in Greece and Turkey
- the grace of generosity
- children, particularly those who have no one to care for them
- mariners and travelers
O God, the King of saints, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear; for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all other of your righteous servants, known to us and unknown; remembering especially this day Nicholas, bishop of your Church in Myra; and we beseech you that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The scripture texts for the Epistle and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).
The icon image is from the website of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
The intentions for intercessions and petitions are adapted from the New Book of Festivals & Commemorations (Philip H. Pfatteicher, Fortress Press 2008).