On Thursday December 19th, Orthodox Christians honour the memory of St. Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra and a wonder-worker, who happens to be one of the best-loved saints in Russia and the whole Orthodox world.
St. Nicholas lived in the 3rd-4th centuries and was famous as a person anxious to please God, that is why he is also known in Russia as Nicholai Ugodnik, or Nicholas the Pleaser. Christians believe that he still works miracles for people who pray to him. Nicholas is also the protector of all travellers.
St. Nicholas was born in Patara, Asia Minor /now the territory of Turkey/, the only son of devout parents Theophanus and Nonna. As a child, he was good at studying the Holy Writ and prayers. He grew up to become a priest and then the Bishop of Myra.
There are many legends about St. Nicholas's miracles, but even more about his uncommon mercifulness.
One of his best-known miracles was the saving of three men whom a mercenary-minded governor had sentenced to death. The saint boldly walked up to the executioner and held back the sword he had raised to chop off the heads of the condemned. The governor, whose deed was thus disclosed, repented.
St. Nicholas died circa 345-351 as a very old man. A legend says that the relics of the saint were imperishable and oozed with fragrant chrism, which was used to heal many sufferers. In 1087, a threat of a Moslem invasion prompted the Church to move the relics to Bari, Italy, where they have remained ever since.
Interestingly, it was in the name of St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker that the first Russian Christian, the Kievan prince Ascold, was baptized in 866. St. Princess Olga ordered to build the Russian Church's first temple of St. Nicholas on Ascold's grave in Kiev.
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