St. Nicholas

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Pilgrimage to the Holy Land*

While yet a young man, Nicholas followed the example of his uncle, the abbot, by making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Christianity—the Holy Land. Desiring a serene time of preparation, Nicholas set sail on an Egyptian ship where the other pilgrims did not know who he was. The first night he dreamed a storm would put them all at peril. When he awoke in the morning he warned the sailors that a severe storm was coming, but they need not fear, for "God will protect us."

Almost immediately the sky darkened and strong winds roared round the ship. The wind and waves made it impossible to keep the ship under control. Even with lowered sails, the sailors feared for their very lives and begged Nicholas to pray for safety. One sailor climbed the main mast, tightening the ropes so the mast would not crash onto the deck. As he was coming back down, the sailor slipped, fell to the deck, and was killed.

Church doors open before Nicholas
Detail: The Life & Miracles of Saint Nicholas
Artist: Alexander Boguslawski
St. Nicholas Center Collection

While Nicholas prayed, the storm did quiet, relieving the sailors. Their comfort, however, was dampened by grief over their comrade's death. As Nicholas prayed over the dead sailor, he was revived, "as if he had only been asleep." The man awakened without pain and the ship finished the journey to the Holy Land.

Nicholas then embarked on his pilgrimage to the holy places, walking where Jesus had walked. One night while staying with a family in Jerusalem,* he wanted to pray at the only church remaining in Jerusalem at that time. It was the Church of the Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion.** As he approached the heavy, locked doors, they swung open of their own accord, allowing him to enter the church. Nicholas fell to the ground in thanksgiving.

Before returning to Lycia, he visited the Holy Sepulchre, Golgotha, Bethlehem, and many other holy sites.

* Fr. Aristovoulos, Superior of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Monastery in Jerusalem, quoted in "When Santa Lived Next Door in Jerusalem," Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2013

** Service, Akathist, Life and Miracles of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York. A complete translation of the Life and the Miracles of St. Nicholas as it appears in The Lives of the Saints in the Russian Language as set forth according to the guidance of the Menologiion of St. Dimitry of Rostov, Moscow, Synodal Press, 1903.

Some say monks from Anatolia came to the village of Beit Jala in AD 305 and established a small monastery. The monks had a few caves and several houses. When Nicholas, who had probably become a monk in his uncle's monastery, came on pilgrimage to visit Holy Land shrines, he lived in one of the Beit Jala caves from AD 312–315. It was in Beit Jala that Nicholas received the call to return to Asia Minor. However, these dates don't match up with other more certain events.

*This episode of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, though it has been regarded as part of the St. Nicholas of Myra tradition, is actually from the life of St. Nicholas of Sion. The two Nicholases lived two centuries apart: Nicholas of Myra in the 4th century and Nicholas of Sion in the 6th. Around AD 900 noted Byzantine hagiographer Simon Metaphrastes added a few episodes to his account of the life of Nicholas of Myra that were actually from the life of Nicholas of Sion, Archimandrite of Sion, Bishop of Pinara. He identified the Church of Myra with the Church of Sion (Nicholas of Sion's monastery) and the two lives were eventually merged. This intermingling of the two saints has led some scholars to doubt that Nicholas of Myra existed at all as they found it impossible to reconcile the conflicts and impossibilities found in the mixed up accounts purported to be the same person. This accretion of the two lives continued until the "Life of St Nicholas of Sion" was discovered in the 18th century. Even though scholars have sorted it out, the stories live on in the traditions and iconography that has grown up around the historical Nicholas of Myra.

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