St. Nicholas

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Show God's Love: St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia
Level: Senior (age 13–17)

by the Department of Christian Education, Orthodox Church in America

The Nativity Season: Session 2

Bishops with Creed
The Council of Nicaea
Image from
Public domain

The life of St. Nicholas illustrates how we can help others thereby showing God’s love for all. We also can associate the acts of charity with the real St. Nicholas and help students not to confuse him with the more familiar "Santa Claus." Understanding the true nature of St. Nicholas in Myra in Lycia helps us to prepare for to meet the Lord, setting the birth of Christ within the context of God’s family.


By the end of this session students should be able to:

  • Retell the life and works of St. Nicholas
  • Distinguish the differences and/or similarities between St. Nicholas and popular ideas about Santa Claus
  • Recommend several ways in which you and other members of your parish can serve the needs of others, following the example of St. Nicholas
  • Select and commit yourselves, as a class, to a service project to aid children who are in special schools, half-way houses, hospitals, or institutions. Investigate possibilities; speak with the staff in charge about what is reasonable in terms of time, numbers of helpers, age, training or skills. Continue the project for 1 – 2 months or longer if needed.


  • Icon of the Nativity of Christ (use throughout Nativity unit)
  • Icon of St. Nicholas
  • Life of St. Nicholas Suggested source: Prologue from Ohrid
  • Copies of the Troparion of St. Nicholas
  • Film on Santa Claus


  • Icons from The Icon Book by John Matusiak, Basil Essey and James McLuckie, Department of Christian Education, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, 1981 out-of-print
  • Liturgical hymns
  • Biography: Santa Claus DVD A&E,, 2005 This may be available in your public library
This episode of Biography presents the story of Santa Claus. Transfixed in American and international culture and folklore as the symbol of Christmas and gift giving, Santa Claus is recognizable to children and adults worldwide. Santa Claus traces the history of this icon and his evolution from the Christian Saint Nicholas to the modern Kris Kringle. Santa Claus would be useful for classes on European History, religion, culture and literature. It is appropriate for middle school and high school. —from the A&E website description


  • Opening Prayer
    Sung/Recited together(1 minute)
    In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    Thy nativity, O Christ our God,
    Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.
    For by it, those who worshipped the stars
    Were taught by a star to adore Thee,
    The Sun of Righteousness,
    And to know Thee, the Orient from on high.
    O Lord, glory to Thee!
  • Discussion Starter (10 minutes)
    Begin by asking the following:
    What is everything that you know about Santa Claus?
    List these brainstormed comments on a chalkboard or butcher paper.
  • Activity: Santa Claus film/DVD


  • Show the A & E Biography film (or Biography Channel) Santa Claus about the life of St. Nicholas and the development of Santa Claus. After the video/DVD, ask the students what words or phrases from the original list they would like to change now that they have more information. Make changes, allow time for discussion, if necessary.
  • Read the life of St. Nicholas, using the Prologue from Ohrid, or the material below. Discuss also the information on the translation of the relics, below, and the significance of that commemoration.
    Pause often to emphasize his good deeds, kindness and generosity. Discuss how St. Nicholas, who was very kind and generous, often gave gifts to others and no one knew who gave them. Ask students to "say something" in response to key points in the story, marked ahead of time. Pause often to ask students to make "text-to-self" connections for times in their life when they helped someone or did acts of kindness and generosity.

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great saint pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God. Since Nicholas was a small child, he always studied Scripture; during the day, he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself truly a friend of God.

St. Nicholas was known for the many good things he did. One time, there was a man with three daughters who needed money so he could buy food. The saint, learning of the man’s poverty secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. Since there was so much money, the man was able to buy food and give his daughters the money they would need when they grew up. However, St. Nicholas always strove to keep his good acts a secret.

Another time, St. Nicholas was going to go on a long trip on a huge boat. Shortly after he left, he had a feeling that a storm would come and sink the ship, and sure enough, the sky grew dark and cloudy and the ocean waters began to crash against the sides of the boat. Everybody was very scared, but St. Nicholas prayed to God, and the waves stopped beating the boat, and the sun came out from behind the clouds. His prayer was so strong that even one of the sailors who had fallen during the storm and was badly hurt, was made better.

St. Nicholas was a very gentle priest who was very caring to those who needed him. Soon, he was made a bishop of his area, Lycia, and did everything he could to correct those who held wrong beliefs about the church. And while he was a bishop, he continued to help those he could. He worked many other miracles and struggled many long years at his work. Through the prayers of the saint, soldiers were helped, and the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible food shortage.

Having reached old age, St. Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. When he died, his body had a very sweet smell, and the myrrh which flowed from his body helped heal sick people. The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a quick helper for all who call on him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands, and among many peoples. All over the world, there are many churches named after him. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church named after him.

St. Nicholas, the bishop of Lycia, is the patron of travelers, and we pray to him for help from floods, poverty, or any misfortunes. He has promised to help those who remember his parents, Theophanes and Nonna.

• Discuss the role played by St. Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 paying particular attention to his defense of the Orthodox position against Arius. Also see the Life of Saint Nicholas of Myra Bishop, Confessor from Lives of the Saints, published by John J. Crawley, Inc.

• The Translation of the Relics of St. Nicholas this icon has many of the scenes from Niciholas life that students can "read."

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia
The Transfer of the Relics from Myra of Lycia to Bari, Italy
His Life is found under December 6.

In the eleventh century the Byzantine Empire was going through some terrible times. The Turks put an end to its influence in Asia Minor, they destroyed cities and villages, they murdered the inhabitants, and they accompanied their cruel outrage with the desecration of churches, holy relics, icons and books. The Mussulmen also attempted to destroy the relics of St. Nicholas, deeply venerated by the whole Christian world.

In the year AD 792 the caliph Aaron Al'-Rashid sent Khumeid at the head of a fleet to pillage the island of Rhodes. Having lain waste this island, Khumeid set off to Myra in Lycia with the intent to rob the tomb of St. Nicholas. But instead he robbed another tomb standing alongside the crypt of the saint. Just as they succeeded in committing this sacrilege, a terrible storm lifted upon the sea and almost all the ships were shattered into pieces.

The desecration of holy things shocked not only Eastern, but also Western Christians. Christians in Italy were particularly apprehensive for the relics of St. Nicholas, and among them were many Greeks. The inhabitants of the city of Bari, located on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, decided to save the relics of St. Nicholas.

In the year 1087 merchants from Bari and Venice went to Antioch to trade. Both these and others also proposed to take up the relics of St. Nicholas and transport them to Italy on the return trip. In this plan the men of Bari commissioned the Venetians to land them at Myra. At first two men were sent in, who in returning reported that in the city all was quiet. In the church where the glorified relics rested, they encountered only four monks. Immediately forty-seven men, having armed themselves, set out for the church of St. Nicholas. The guards, suspecting nothing, showed them the raised platform, beneath which the tomb of the saint was concealed, and where they anointed foreigners with myrrh from the relics of the saint.

At this time the monks told them about an appearance of St. Nicholas that evening to a certain Elder. In this vision St. Nicholas ordered the careful preservation of his relics. This account encouraged the barons, they saw an avowal for them in this vision and, as it were, a decree from the saint. In order to facilitate their activity, they revealed their intent to the monks and offered them money, 300 gold coins. The guards refused the money and wanted to warn the inhabitants about the misfortune threatening them. But the newcomers bound them and put their own guards at the doorway.

They took apart the church platform above the tomb with the relics. In this effort the youth Matthew was excessive in his zeal, wanting to find the relics of St. Nicholas as quickly as possible. In his impatience he broke the cover and the barons saw that the sarcophagus was filled with fragrant holy myrrh. The compatriots of the barons, the priests Luppus and Drogus, offered a litany, after which the break made by Matthew began to flow with myrrh from the saint's sarcophagus. This occurred on April 20, 1087.

Seeing the absence of a container chest, the priest Drogus wrapped the relics in the cloth, and in the company of the barons he carried them to the ship. The monks, having been set free, alerted the city with the sad news about the abduction of the relics of the Wonderworker Nicholas by foreigners. A crowd of people gathered at the shore, but it was too late.

On May 8 the ships arrived in Bari, and soon the joyous news made the rounds of all the city. On the following day, May 9, 1087, they solemnly transported the relics of St. Nicholas into the church of St. Stephen, not far from the sea. The solemn bearing of the relics was accompanied by numerous healings of the sick, which inspired still greater reverence for God's saint. A year afterwards, a church was built in the name of St. Nicholas and consecrated by Pope Urban II.

This event, connected with the transfer of the relics of St. Nicholas, evoked a particular veneration for the Wonderworker Nicholas and was marked by the establishment of a special Feast day on May 9. At first the Feast day of the Transfer of the Relics of St. Nicholas was observed only by the people of the city of Bari. It was not adopted in the other lands of the Christian East and West, despite the fact that the transfer of the relics was widely known. This circumstance is explained by the custom in the Middle Ages of venerating primarily the relics of local saints. Moreover, the Greek Church did not establish the celebration of this remembrance, since they regarded the loss of the relics of St. Nicholas as a sad event.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebration of the memory of the Transfer of the Relics of St. Nicholas from Myra in Lycia to Bari in Italy on May 9 was established soon after the year 1087, on the basis of an already established veneration by the Russian people of the great saint of God, brought from Greece simultaneously with the acceptance of Christianity. The glorious accounts of the miracles performed by the saint on both land and sea, were widely known to the Russian people. Their inexhaustible strength and abundance testify to the help of the great saint of God for suffering mankind. The image of St. Nicholas, a mighty wonderworker and benefactor, became especially dear to the heart of the Russian people, since it inspired deep faith and hope for his intercession. The faith of the Russian people in the abundant aid of God's saint was marked by numerous miracles.

A significant body of literature was compiled about him very early in Russian writings. Accounts of the miracles of St. Nicholas done in the Russian land were recorded at an early date. Soon after the Transfer of the Relics of St. Nicholas from Myra to Bari, a Russian version of his Life and an account of the Transfer of his holy relics were written by a contemporary to this event. Earlier still, an encomium to the Wonderworker was written. Each week on Thursday, the Russian Orthodox Church honors his memory in particular.

Numerous churches and monasteries were built in honor of St. Nicholas, and Russian people are wont to name their children after him at Baptism. In Russia are preserved numerous wonderworking icons of the saint. Most renowned among them are the icons of Mozhaisk, Zaraisk, Volokolamsk, Ugreshsk and Ratny. There was no house or temple in the Russian land in which there was not an icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.

The significance of the intercession of the great saint of God is expressed by the ancient compiler of the Life, in the words of whom St. Nicholas "did work many glorious miracles both on land and on sea, aiding those downtrodden in misfortune and rescuing the drowning, carried to dry land from the depths of the sea, raising up others from corruption and bringing them home, liberating from chains and imprisonment, averting felling by the sword and freeing from death, and granting healing to many; sight to the blind, walking to the lame, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. He brought riches to many suffering in abject poverty and want, he provided the hungry food, and for each in their need he appeared a ready helper, an avid defender and speedy intercessor and protector, and such as appeal to him he doth help and deliver from adversity. Both the East and the West know of this great Wonderworker, and all the ends of the earth know his miracle-working."

Feast Day Celebration – Commemorated on May 9th

From Feasts and Saints, Orthodox Church in America

• Sing the Troparian for St. Nicholas. Have copies of the Troparian for children to take home.

Troparian - Tone 4

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

• Extra Activity: Long-term Service Project

Identify needs in the community around church. What service project might serve these needs? Design and implement a major service project that is on-going and achievable with your particular group.

• Wrap-Up (1-2 minutes)

As students are cleaning up and preparing for closing prayer, ask the following:
  • If someone said to you, "I’m shocked to hear that a bishop would hit someone!" How would you respond?
  • How is the real St. Nicholas even more important than the concept of Santa Claus?

Closing Prayer Sung/Recited together (1 minute)

Kontakion of the Nativity (Tone 3)
Today the virgin gives birth to the transcendent one,
And the earth offers a cave to the unapproachable one.
Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him.
The wise men journey with the star,
Since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Teacher Notes

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archbishop of Myra in Lycia

Troparian - Tone 4

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
your humility exalted you;
your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
entreat Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion - Tone 3

You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest,
For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ
By giving up your soul for your people,
And saving the innocent from death.
Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.

Printable Resources

Introduction to Nativity Season Unit
Materials on St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia from Orthodox Church in America (OCA) web site
Icon of St. Nicholas from OCA web site
Good background web site
Wikipedia Entry


The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas
by Marianna Mayer, Phyllis Fogelman Books
List: $16.95 Ages: 9-12 (and adults)
Long before "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was written, stories of the beloved saint's extraordinary generosity and countless acts of kindness were legendary . . . .
Purchase from,, or

Wonderworker: The True Story of How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus
by Msgr. Vincent A. Yzermans, ACTA Publications, 2004 (1994)
List: $12.95 Ages: 12 and up
Many good stories begin with "Once upon a time . . . .
Purchase from,, or

The Icon Book
by John Matusiak, Basil Essey and James McLuckie, Department of Christian Education, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, 1981

Lesson plans for Pre-K–Kindergarten, Junior, Intermediate, Senior High, and Adult

From the Department of Christian Education, Orthodox Church in America. Copyright © 1999–2006. Used by permission.

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