ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 7 of 7
by Eric & Lana Elder
MERRY CHRISTMAS! Today, I’m posting the conclusion of our story, St. Nicholas: The Believer.
I’m also preaching a special Christmas message, live and online this morning from Central Church in Streator, Illinois! You can watch live at this link at 9:30 a.m. CST (or watch the replay at the same link starting later in the day on Monday). I’d love to help bring the Christmas story to life for you this year–to YOUR LIFE!
ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas
by Eric & Lana Elder
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 coming 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 seven years old, named Ruthie.
Ruthie had been running back and forth in 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, look out over eternity as well.
Looking back on his life, Nicholas never knew if he really accomplished what he wanted to in 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, Ruthie, Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria.
He had also learned from people like the ship’s captain that when the captain arrived in Rome, his ship miraculously weighed exactly the same as before he had 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 him in his 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 if his later 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. And 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.
Nicholas knew he had had both successes and mistakes in his life. But looking back over it, he couldn’t always tell which was which! Those times that he thought were the valleys turned out to be the mountaintops, and the mountaintops turned out to be valleys. But the most 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, who 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 that he had. He tried to love God and love others as Jesus had called him to do. And where he had failed along the way, he trusted that Jesus could cover those failures, too, just as Jesus had covered his sins by dying on the cross.
As Nicholas’ father had done before him, Nicholas looked out over the sea again, too. 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 fingertips.
Little Ruthie returned from splashing in the water, followed closely by Dimitri and Anna Maria. Ruthie looked up at Nicholas, with his eyes closed and his hands raised towards heaven. Reaching out to him, she tugged at his clothes and asked, “Nicholas, have you ever seen God?”
Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down at Ruthie, then smiled up at Dimitri and Anna Maria. He looked out at the sunshine and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline that stretched out in both directions before him. Turning his face back towards Ruthie, Nicholas said, “Yes, Ruthie, I have seen God. 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 run up to him, she ran off again to play.
Nicholas exchanged smiles with Dimitri and Anna Maria, then they, too, were off again, chasing Ruthie down the beach.
Nicholas looked one last time 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 each 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 that God that had given him here on earth, for he knew that this life had a uniquely important purpose as well, or else God would never have created it with such beauty and precision and marvelous mystery.
But as Nicholas’ life here on earth wound down, he said he was ready. He was ready to go, and he looked forward to everything that God had in store for him next.
So when Nicholas sent word this morning for Anna Maria and me and a few other friends to come and see him, we knew that the time had come.
As we came into this room, we found him lying on his bed, just as he is right 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 was to say goodbye to those we love. But he also made it easier for us. He smiled one more time and spoke softly, saying the same words that he had spoken when Ruthie had died many years before: “Either way we win,” he said. “Either way we win.”
“Yes, Nicholas,” I 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 were just another night in his life. But we knew this was a holy moment. Nicholas had just entered into the presence of the Lord. As Nicholas had done throughout his life, we were sure he was doing right now in heaven, walking and talking and laughing with Jesus, but now they were face to face.
We could only imagine what Nicholas might be saying to Jesus. But we knew for certain what Jesus was 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 might remember Nicholas, if it will remember him at all. He was no emperor like Constantine. He was no tyrant 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 he knew how.
Nicholas may have wondered if his life made any difference. I know my answer, and now that you know his story, I’ll let you decide for yourself. In the end, I suppose only God really knows just how many lives were touched by this remarkable man.
But what I do know this: each of us has just one life to live. But if we live it right, as Nicholas did, one life is all we need.
by Eric Elder
What Nicholas didn’t know, and what no one who knew him could have possibly imagined, was just how far and wide this one life would reach–not only throughout the world, but also throughout the ages.
He was known to his parents as their beloved son, and to those in his city as their beloved bishop. But he has become known to us by another name: Saint Nicholas.
The biblical word for “saint” literally means “believer.” The Bible talks about the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Rome, the saints in Philippi and the saints in Jerusalem. Each time the word saints refers to the believers who were in those cities. So Nicholas rightly became known as “Saint Nicholas,” or to say it another way, “Nicholas, The Believer.” The Latin translation is “Santa Nicholas,” and in Dutch “Sinterklaas,” from which we get the name “Santa Claus.”
His good name and his good deeds have been an inspiration to so many, that the day he passed from this life to the next, on December 6th, 343 A.D., is still celebrated by people throughout the world.
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 so many legends of any kind grow, including those told about Saint Nicholas, is often because the people about whom they’re told were larger than life themselves. They were people who were so good or so well-respected that every good deed becomes attributed to them, as if they had done them themselves.
While not all the stories attributed to Nicholas can be traced to the earliest records of his life, the 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 northern 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. After praying, his ship reached its destination as if someone was miraculously holding the rudder steady. The rudder of a ship is also called a tiller, and sailors on the Mediterranean Sea 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 his hometown of Patara. Nicholas became the bishop of Myra and lived there the rest of his life.
- Nicholas secretly gave three gifts of gold on three separate occasions to a man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery because he had no money to offer to potential husbands as a dowry. The family discovered Nicholas was the mysterious donor on one of his attempts, which is why we know the story today. In this version of the story, we’ve 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 also 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 logo, representing the three bags of gold that Nicholas gave to spare these girls from their 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 real Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. One of the council’s main decisions addressed the divinity of Christ, resulting 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 five of these ancient record books, including the earliest known Greek manuscript of the event.
- The Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council of Nicaea and 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 a 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 build churches 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, and where Jesus died and rose again. Those churches, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, have 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 you can still visit his tomb in the modern city of Demre, Turkey, 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, as the country was being invaded by others. The bones of Saint Nicholas 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’s hard to know with certainty which ones 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 of 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 frequently associated with Saint Nicholas in religious artwork, featuring three young children being raised to life and standing next to Nicholas. We 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 whom he helped to bring back to life–at least spiritually.
While all of these additional stories can’t be attributed to Nicholas with certainty, we can say that his life and his memory had such a profound effect throughout history that more churches throughout the world now bear the name of “Saint Nicholas” than any other figure, outside of the original disciples themselves.
Some people wonder if they can believe in Saint Nicholas or not. Nicholas 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 Saint Nicholas bowing down, his hat at his side, kneeling in front of 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 he did worship, adore and live 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 loved 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. John said he wrote his stories:
“…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 this special man, and I pray that your Christmas may be truly merry and bright. As Clement Moore said in his now famous poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas:
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Special thanks to Joe Wheeler and Jim Rosenthal whose book, St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, provided much of the background material for this novella. Their research and documentation of the life of St. Nicholas, and the historical context in which he lived, was the most informative, authoritative and inspirational we found on the subject. Thank you, Joe and Jim, for helping to keep the spirit of St. Nicholas alive!
Eric & Lana Elder have written numerous Christmas stories that have captivated and inspired thousands as part of an annual Christmas production known as The Bethlehem Walk.
St. Nicholas: The Believer marks the debut of their first full-length Christmas story. Eric & Lana have also collaborated on several other inspirational books including:
- Two Weeks With God
- What God Says About Sex
- Exodus: Lessons In Freedom
- Jesus: Lessons In Love
- Acts: Lessons In Faith
- Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding
- Ephesians: Lessons In Grace
- Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land
- Israel For Kids: Lessons From The Holy Land
- The Top 20 Passages In The Bible
- Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
- and Making The Most Of The Darkness
To order or learn more, please visit: www.InspiringBooks.com
Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!
(If you missed some of this story, here’s a link to read the whole of the story online OR you can get the paperback or eBook as a keepsake for yourself or others to reread again in the future in our online bookstore.)
Here are a few pictures of St. Nicholas statues you can still see today in Demre, Turkey: on the left is my favorite because of the strength, humanity and love for children portrayed; on the top right is an earlier version by another sculptor on display in front of the church of St. Nicholas; and on the bottom right is a portrayal of Nicholas in his role as the Bishop of Myra (present-day Demre), which stands in a courtyard of the church.
And here’s a short video of my favorite statue of St. Nicholas, sculpted by Necdet Can and placed in the town square of Demre, Turkey, where Nicholas lived and ministered in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.