ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 7 of 7
by Eric and Lana Elder
It’s Christmas Eve! So as promised, here’s the conclusion of “St. Nicholas: The Believer,” our new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Even if you haven’t been able to read the rest of the story with us, I’d encourage you to read the 3rd section of the message below marked “Conclusion.” In it I share a brief summary of what historians tell us about the real St. Nicholas, upon whom our present-day Santa Claus is based. If you’ve never read it before, I believe you’ll find it a fascinating history of one of the strongest believers in Christ. If you’d like to read our whole story, which based on this history, you can still read it online in its entirety at these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.
Ready for heaven? Read more in Part 7!
Nicholas stood at his favorite spot in the world one last time: by the sea. Eighteen years had passed since he had retuned to Myra from the council in Nicaea. In the days since he had returned home, he continued to serve the Lord as he had always done: with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.
Nicholas had come to the shore with Dimitri and Anna Maria, who had brought with them one of their grandchildren, a young girl of seven years, named Ruthie.
Ruthie had been running back and forth into the waves, as Dimitri and Anna Maria tried to keep up with her. Nicholas had plenty of time to look out over the sea and, as he often did, to look out over eternity as well.
Looking back on his life, Nicholas never really knew if he accomplished what he wanted in his life, to make a difference in the world. He had seen glimpses along the way, of course, in the lives of people like Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie, and Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria.
He was able to visit with the ship’s captain once more, and discovered that when he had arrived in Rome, his ship had somehow miraculously weighed exactly the same as before he set sail from Alexandria, even after giving the people of Myra several years’ worth of grain from it. Reminders like these encouraged Nicholas that God really had been guiding them in their decisions.
He still had questions though. He never quite knew if he had done the right thing at the council in Nicaea. He never quite knew how his private conversations with Constantine might have impacted the emperor’s personal faith in Christ.
He was encouraged, however, to learn that Constantine’s mother had also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land just as Nicholas had done. After her visit, she persuaded Constantine to build churches over the holy sites she had seen. She had recently completed building a church in Bethlehem over the spot where Jesus was born, as well as a church in Jerusalem over the spot where Jesus had died and risen from the dead.
He had made some mistakes and he had had some successes. But looking back on his life, he couldn’t quite tell which was which! Those times that he thought had been his lowest turned out to be the mountaintops, and those times that he thought had been his mountaintops turned out to be the valleys. But the important thing, he reminded himself, was that he trusted God in all things, knowing that God could work anything for good for those who loved Him, and were called according to His purpose.
What the future held for the world, Nicholas had no idea. But he knew that he had done what he could with the time he had. He had tried to love God and love others as Jesus had called him to do. And where he had made mistakes along the way, he trusted Jesus to cover over them, too, just as Jesus had covered over his sins by His death on the cross.
As Nicholas’ father had done before him, Nicholas looked out again over the sea. Then, closing his eyes, he asked God for strength for the next journey he was about to take.
He let the sun warm his face, then he opened the palms of his hands and let the breeze lift them into the air. He praised God as the warm breeze floated gently through his fingers.
Ruthie returned, followed closely by Dimitri and Anna Maria. She looked up at Nicholas, with his eyes closed and his hands raised towards heaven. Reaching out, she tugged at his clothes and asked, “Nicholas, have you ever seen God?”
Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down at Ruthie, then smiled at Dimitri and Anna Maria. He looked out at the sun and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline that stretched out in both directions before him. Turning his face back towards Ruthie, he said, “Yes, Ruthie, I have. And the older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”
Ruthie smiled, and Nicholas gave her a warm hug. Then just as quickly as she had come up to him, she ran off again to play.
Nicholas, Dimitri and Anna Maria exchanged smiles one more time, then Dimitri and Anna Maria were on their way again, trying to keep up with Ruthie.
Nicholas took one last look at the beautiful sea, then turned and headed towards home.
So now you know a little bit more about me—Dimitri Alexander—and my good friend, Nicholas. That was the last time I saw him, until this morning. He had asked if he could spend a few days alone, just him and the Lord that he loved. He said he had one more journey to prepare for. Anna Maria and I guessed, of course, just what he meant.
We knew he was probably getting ready to go home, to his real home, the one that Jesus had said He was going to prepare for all of us who believe in Him.
Nicholas had been looking forward to this trip his whole life. Not that he wanted to shortchange a single moment of the life God had given him here on earth, for he knew that this life had a supremely important purpose as well, or God never would have created it with such precision and beauty and marvelous mystery.
But as his days wound down, he said he was ready. He was ready to go, and he looked forward to whatever God had in store for him next.
So when he sent word this morning for Anna Maria and me and a few other friends to come see him, we knew he was ready to go.
As we came into the room, we found him lying in his bed, just where he is now. He was breathing quietly and he motioned for us to come close. We couldn’t hold back our tears, and he didn’t try to stop us. He knew how hard it could be to say goodbye to those we love. But he made it easier for us when he smiled one more time and spoke softly the same words that Ruthie had spoken, “Either way we win. Either way we win.”
“Yes, Nicholas,” we said. “Either way we win.” Then the room became quiet again. Nicholas closed his eyes and fell asleep for the last time. No one moved. No one said a word.
This man who lay before us slept as if it was just another night in his life. But we knew we had just witnessed a holy moment. Nicholas had entered into the presence of his Lord and Savior and was now speaking with him face to face.
We could only imagine what Nicholas might be saying to Jesus. But we knew what Jesus was most likely saying to him: “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Well done. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”
I have no idea how history will remember Nicholas, if it will remember him at all. He was no emperor like Constantine. He was no conqueror like Diocletian. He was no orator like Arius. He was simply a Christian trying to live out his faith, touching one life at a time as best as he knew how.
Did his life make any difference? I know my answer, but I’ll let you decide for yourself. In the end, I suppose only God really knows just how many lives were touched by his life.
What I do know is that each of us has just one life to live. But if you live it right, as Nicholas did, one life is all you need.
Conclusion, by Eric Elder
What Nicholas didn’t know, and what no one else who knew him could have ever imagined, was just how far and wide this one life would reach—not only throughout the world, but also throughout the ages.
While Nicholas was known to his parents as their beloved son, and to those in his city as their beloved bishop, he has become known to us by another name: Saint Nicholas.
His good name and his good deeds have been an inspiration to so many, that people in countries throughout the world still pay homage to his life every year on the anniversary of the day he passed from this life to the next, December 6th, 343 A.D. He is known to some as Sinterklaas, to others as Santa Claus, and to others as simply Saint Nick.
The biblical word for saint really does mean “believer,” and the Bible talks about the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Rome, the saints in Philippi, or the saints in Jerusalem.
So Nicholas rightly became known as “Saint Nicholas,” or, to say it another way, “Nicholas, The Believer.” In Latin it’s translated Santa Nicholas, and in Dutch Sinterklaas, from which we get the word Santa Claus.
Many legends have been told about Nicholas over the years, some giving him qualities that make him seem larger than life. But the reason that many legends grow, including those told about St. Nicholas, is often because the person about whom they’re told were people who were larger than life itself, people who were so good or so well-respected or so greatly revered that even good deeds that they may have never done themselves were often attributed to them, making them even more legendary.
In the case of St. Nicholas, the reality is that this legend is real. And while not all the stories attributed to Nicholas can be traced to the earliest records of his life, histories that were recorded closest to the time period in which he lived do record many of the stories found in this book. To help you sort through them, here’s what we do know:
- Nicholas was born sometime between 260-280 A.D. in the city of Patara, a city you can still visit today in modern-day Turkey, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
- Nicholas’ parents were devout Christians who died in a plague when Nicholas was young, leaving him with a sizable inheritance.
- Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and lived there for a number of years before returning to his home province of Lycia.
- Nicholas traveled across the Mediterranean Sea in a ship that was caught in a storm, and after praying his ship reached its destination as if someone else was miraculously holding the rudder steady. The rudder of a ship is also called a tiller, and sailors on the Mediterranean today still wish each other luck by saying, “May Nicholas hold the tiller!”
- When Nicholas returned from the Holy Land, he took up residence in the city of Myra, about 30 miles from Patara where he was born. He became the bishop of Myra and lived the rest of his life there.
- Nicholas secretly gave three gifts of gold on three separate occasions to a man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery or prostitution because he had no money to offer potential husbands as a dowry. The family discovered Nicholas was the mysterious donor on his third attempt, which is why we know of the story today. In this version of the story, I added the twist of having Nicholas deliver the first two gifts, and Dimitri deliver the third, to capture the idea that many gifts were given back then, and are still given today, in the name of Saint Nicholas, who was known for such deeds. The theme of redemption is so closely associated with this story from Saint Nicholas’ life, that if you pass by a pawn shop today, you will often see three golden balls in their logos, representing the three bags of gold that Nicholas gave to help spare these girls from their otherwise unfortunate fate.
- Nicholas pled for the lives of three innocent men who were unjustly condemned to death by a magistrate in Myra, taking the sword directly from the executioner’s hand.
- “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” is listed on some, but not all, of the historical documents which record those who attended the Council of Nicaea, which was indeed convened in 325 A.D. by Emperor Constantine. One of the council’s main decisions addressed the divinity of Christ, and resulted in the writing of the Nicene Creed—a creed which is still recited in many churches today. Some historians say that Nicholas’ name does not appear on all the record books of this council because of his banishment from the proceedings after striking Arius for denying that Christ was divine. Nicholas is, however, listed on at least 5 of these ancient record books, including the earliest known Greek manuscript of the event.
- The Nicene Creed that was adopted at the Council of Nicaea has become one of the most widely used, brief statements of the Christian Faith. The original version reads, in part, as translated from the Greek: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead…” Subsequent versions, beginning as early as 381 A.D., have altered and clarified some of the original statements, resulting in the few similar, but not quite identical statements that are now in use.
- Nicholas is recorded as having done much for the people of Myra, including securing grain from a ship traveling from Alexandria to Rome, which saved the people in that region from a famine.
- Constantine’s mother, Helen, did visit the Holy Land and encouraged Constantine to have churches built over the sites that she felt were most important to the Christian faith. The churches were built on the locations she had been shown by local believers where Jesus was born, died and rose again. Those churches (The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem) have since been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years, but still in the same locations that Constantine’s mother, and likely Nicholas himself, had seen.
- The date of Nicholas’ death has been established as December 6th, 343 A.D., and his tomb can still be visited today in the modern city of Demre, Turkey, which was formerly known as Myra, in the province of Lycia. Nicholas’ bones were removed from the tomb in 1087 A.D. by men from Italy who feared that they might be destroyed or stolen during a time when a group that was hostile to Christianity gained power in the city. Nicholas’ bones were taken to the city of Bari, Italy, where they are still entombed today.
Of the many other stories told about or attributed to Nicholas, it is hard to know with certainty which actually took place and which were simply attributed to him because of his already good and popular name. For instance, in the 12th century, stories began to surface about how Nicholas had brought three children back to life who had been brutally murdered. Even though the first recorded accounts of this story didn’t appear until more than 800 years after Nicholas’ death, this story is one of the most often associated with St. Nicholas in religious artwork, featuring three young children raised to life and standing next to Nicholas. I have included the essence of this story in this novel in the form of the three orphans who Nicholas met in the Holy Land and helped bring them back to life—at least spiritually.
But while some of these additional stories can’t be attributed to Nicholas with certainty, what we we can say with certainty is that his life and his memory had such an effect throughout history that more churches in the world now bear the name of “Saint Nicholas” than any other figure in history, including the names of the original disciples themselves.
Some people wonder if they can believe in Saint Nicholas or not. As for Nicholas himself, he probably wouldn’t care so much if you believed in him or not, but that you believed in the One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ.
A popular image today shows Nicholas bowing down, his hat at his side, and kneeling before baby Jesus in the manger. Although that scene could never have taken place in real life, for Saint Nicholas was born almost 300 years after the birth of Christ, the heart of that scene couldn’t be more accurate. Nicholas was a true believer in Jesus and worshipped, adored and lived his life in service to the Christ.
Saint Nicholas would have never wanted his story to replace the story of Jesus in the manger, but he would have been glad to have his story point to Jesus in the manger. And that’s why this book was written.
While the stories told here were selected from the many that have been told about Saint Nicholas over the years, these were told so that you might believe—not just in Nicholas, but, in Jesus Christ, his Savior. These stories were written down for the same reason the Apostle John wrote down the stories he recorded about Jesus in the Bible:
“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Nicholas would want the same for you. He would want you to become what he was: a Believer.
If you’ve never done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today, asking Him to forgive you of your sins and giving you the assurance that you will live with Him forever.
If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, let this story remind you just how precious your faith really is. Renew your commitment today to serve Christ as Nicholas served Him, with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. God really will work all things together for good. As the Bible says:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Thanks for reading this special book about a special man, and I pray that your Christmas truly is merry and bright. As Clement Moore said in his famous poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas:
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
P.S. This story is dedicated to my sweet wife, Lana, who was born on Christmas Day in 1963, and who passed into heaven on November 15th, 2012, a week after making her final edits on this book. Lana loved Christmas, and I’m sure she’s celebrating the birth of her Savior right now in heaven, along with St. Nicholas and a whole host of other believers who have gone there before us. I look forward to seeing her there again, and if you’ve put your faith in Christ, I look forward to seeing you there, too! Merry Christmas!
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