l’ St. It is that time of the year again. We gather together with friends and family, we sing Christmas songs, we make Starbucks employees write Merry Christmas on our cups, we max out our credit card, and we slap heretics in the face! Yes, today is the day we celebrate good ol face slapping St Nick. I know what you’re thinking, “Santa is such a jolly man with a bowl full of jelly. He wouldn’t slap anyone!”
Well, before we got the lovable, fat man that breaks into your home and leaves you gifts in exchange for cookies, we had the real man St Nicolas of Myra. Nicolas grew up in Lycia. Unfortunately, early on in his life his parents died and left him quit the inheritance. His uncle who was the Bishop of Parata took him in and raised him. He mentored Nick in reading and later ordained his as a priest.
Here is the legend of Santa, this is why we give presents at Christmas. Nick devoted his life and inheritance to helping the poor and needy. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man’s house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals, Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. Because of Nick’s generosity and compassion to make sure these girls weren’t sold into prostitution, we have the legend of St Nicholas that has evolved of the years into Santa Claus.
Nick became Bishop at a time when the Christians in Myra (which is in modern-day turkey)were under persecution. Nick and many other Christians were seized, chained and thrown into jail. Soon after Constintine was appointed by God, took over and released the Christians. Nicholas returned to Myra and continued to fight against persecution and heresy.
In AD 325 Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the very first ecumenical council. More than 300 bishops came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church’s most intense theological questions. Arius, from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. Arius forcefully argued his position at length. The bishops listened respectfully.
As Arius vigorously continued, Nicholas became more and more agitated. Finally, he could no longer bear what he believed was essential being attacked. The outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face! The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.
The bishops stripped Nicholas of his bishop’s garments, chained him, and threw him into jail. That would keep Nicholas away from the meeting. When the Council ended a final decision would be made about his future.
Nicholas was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness, though he did not waver in his belief. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared, asking, “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you,” Nicholas replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him an omophorion, so Nicholas would again be dressed as a bishop. Now at peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.
When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor asked that Nicholas be freed. Nicholas was then fully reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.
Today is traditionally St Nicholas day. Celebrate the miracles and examples this Saint has given us. You might think twice about being naughty or nice. St Nick is making a list. He’s checking it twice and if you’re like Arius you might not like the gift coming your way!
Zach is the Co-Creator of Bearded Theologians. On this journey I call life, my wife Mikel and our 3 kids, join me. We enjoy traveling, eating, baseball, and adventures. Currently, I serve as the Co- Pastor at Grace/Tularosa United Methodist Church Merger.
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