This may come as a surprise, but I have a special affinity for Saint Nicholas.
It might have to do with the Santa Clause collection that my mother amassed throughout my youth, or the various legends that add to the mythos and lore, or perhaps there’s something in a shared name…
Whatever it may be, Saint Nicholas has a special place in my heart. Which is why I’m beyond excited that St. Stephen’s has a tradition of celebrating the life and ministry of the Bishop of Myra each year around his feast day (technically his feast day is December 6). Celebrating Saint Nicholas enables us to learn more about a wonderful man who made a lasting impact on the traditions of our church and inspired traditions of gift giving and self-giving through his radical acts. It also enables us an opportunity to teach our children more about the lives of the Saints, and how these holy people continue to influence our understanding of our relationship with God and how we are called to live our lives as people of faith.
One story that is among my favorites, probably didn’t actually happen, but it speaks to the passion and fervor that Saint Nicholas had for the gospel. The legend goes that during the Council of Nicea, Nicholas become more and more enraged by Arius and the heresy of a nontrinitarian relationship between Christ and God, that Nicholas stood up from his seat, walked over to Arius, and slapped him in the face. This shocked everyone in attendance and Nicholas was immediately stripped of his position, being divested of his bishop’s garments, and thrown into a cell to be held. That evening in his cell, Nicholas had a vision of Mary and Jesus coming to him, presenting to him a copy of the gospels (which only bishops had at that time) and his garments. When he awoke those items were with him in the cell. The following morning when it was discovered that Nicholas had miraculously received his items, he was instantly restored to his position.
This isn’t the most kind or service-oriented story about Nicholas, who also calmed stormy seas and saved three sisters from a life of prostitution by giving them bags of gold in their stockings, among other acts, but this story does speak to the deep commitment that Nicholas had to his understanding of the faith, and the willingness to sacrifice his position and privilege in order to stand up for what he believed in. I don’t think the takeaway is we should slap people we disagree with, but it certainly makes for a good hook to the story.
If you’d like to learn more about Saint Nicholas, you can explore more about his life at The St. Nicholas Center.