Does St. Nicholas deserve his place among the most kind, gentle, generous and loving people who ever lived on this earth? Maybe, probably, yes, why not! It is amazing to think that from humble beginnings he was a man who put everyone above himself, especially the poor and needy, the innocent and those who were dying of hunger. He also had a reputation as a giver. In stories told about him, he apparently gave dowries of gold to poor girls and/or left coins in the shoes of those who left them for him. Today, he has inspired billions of Christians around the world as a popular figure known as Santa Claus or Ded Moroz. It is important to note that over time, his legend combined with elements of the Scandinavian god Odin and Scandinavian fairy tales about wizards who rewarded good children with gifts, and naughty children were not punished.
The historical Saint Nicholas was a fourth-century priest, Bishop of Mir Lycia (Anatolia or modern Turkey). He was born (AD 270) in a turbulent historical time, when persecution of Christians was common. After his parents died, he was taken in by an uncle who was himself a bishop. He raised and trained Nicholas as a reader, and later ordained a priest. Legend has it that when he eventually reached Myra, the clergy and locals, who were in the process of electing a new bishop, unconditionally chose Nicholas as their new spiritual leader. However, before he could establish himself in his position as bishop, the Roman magistrates in his province arrested and tortured Nicholas, eventually chaining him and throwing him in prison. It wasn’t until Constantine the Great proclaimed the Edict of Milan in AD 312, which granted Christians religious freedom, that Nicholas and all other Christian prisoners were released.
Saint Nicholas would return to his post as Bishop of Myra, and later even respond to Constantine’s request to appear at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. At the council, he apparently rejected the teachings of Arianism. Saint Methodius is allegedly quoted as saying that “thanks to the teaching of Saint Nicholas, one (province) of Myra did not touch the filth of the Arian heresy, which she resolutely rejected as a deadly poison.” Saint Nicholas also, as one of the many bishops at the council, signed the Nicene Creed as a defender of the Orthodox faith.
Much of his life and work as a generous and kind man, as well as subsequent miracles, are shrouded in legends. There are many stories about his good deeds, and they have been immortalized in icons for centuries. He is revered by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches as a saint. Although it seems that he is most popular in Russia. He is also known as the patron saint of children, which is no doubt the reason for his popularity as “the real Santa Claus”. It is important to note that he is also the patron of Greece, sailors, merchants, falsely accused, usurers and the Varangian guard of the Byzantine emperors.