The Life and Miracles of Our Holy Father, Saint Nicholas Bishop of Myra
by Methodius, the Presbyter and Abbot
The Life and Miracles of Our Holy Father Saint Nicholas was written about AD 845 by Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople. It recounts some of the earliest tales associated with our patron saint of Christmas, and witnesses to the long-standing popularity of this holy man who lived in the fourth century along the coast of Asia Minor.
Actually, this Life of Saint Nicholas is but part of a larger hagiography, or inspirational book telling the lives of the saints. It was compiled to celebrate the end of the iconoclastic controversy during which Oriental influences within the early Christian Church tried to ban all devotion to the saints. The dispute had lasted over one hundred years until Michael III became Byzantine Emperor in 842 and appointed Methodius to be Patriarch. Theodora in the text is believed to be the mother of Michael, in her own right an enthusiastic promoter of the power of the saints to aid mankind.
The style of writing in this recent translation is cumbersome and involved, in keeping with the rhetorical style of the period.
Since the interweaving of our words is recognized to be as a riddle to you, you ask for simplicity, oh most notable Theodora, and for a formal record with easily-understood meanings, I, in order that I do not seem ignorant and as I would not seem to be unwilling to do as you ask, having been graced by your faith and supplication, do write the greatest miracles of Saint Nicholas and not merely to praise him, as history so often does. This work is more like a story for all listeners, to describe his race, his city, his youth and his mode of life so that all may confess and marvel at the increase from virtue to virtue, and may apply these lessons in whatever their mode of life or profession. Therefore, may god give us the correct words which are to be set forth in these verses.
Saint Nicholas, the servant of God, the myrrh-bearing temple of the holy and Life-giving spirit, the flower of Myra, the most white of the lilies, the rose which matures only by truth, he who trained himself to the apex of pain, he who destroyed the body to emphasize the soul, he who walked in heaven as well as on earth and he who preaches the beauty of the soul, he who uncovered the light of the soul, the coal which continually burns by divine grace—may all those who are called Nicholas always receive an abundance of blessedness from him—he who is always present when called upon, he who frees all mankind from sin, he who has an overabundance of names, he who was born according to the laws of nature, has but one country and one city. Christ, the creator of time, born in time, teach us the continuity of things in time, we shall now speak of this great servant of Christ.
He was born in Patras, one of the provinces of Lycia, which was then a small town, but now is a great city. The people of this city suffered various diseases and tortures at the hands of Satan. All, that is, except for Saint Nicholas, for all suffered for their wicked way of life and their sins. The cities were torn asunder and were damned as an old piece of cloth, by day, earthquakes and other such things appeared; at night flames of smoke would appear which, when touched, would burn one’s hand, but would not devour the flesh, as is natural, like the eternal fires of Hell. This narration has been passed on by word of mouth from those who saw and yet wondered, from father to son, such was the divine justice which judged the earth deserving of such a fearful calamity. This, naturally, caused a great fear of God, and those who witnessed this event repeated the tale so that we would remember it and, being afraid, we would withdraw from sin. “My spirit shall not remain with these men for they are but mere flesh.” And, after a very short period of time, he said again, “The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah arose toward me. Descending, therefore, I beheld the sight as if the end of the world had taken place. If not, it seemed so.” From the beginning of time we witness a mania for the flesh, and the world-wide flood, and the destruction of pentapolis, but we shall not delve farther into these, for each man may make of himself a temple. We are not perfect by ourselves, as are God the Father and Christ Jesus. Paul descried that we were bought back from the Devil for a price, and because of this we ought to worship God in our body. For the body is the temple of the spirit within us, which from we have received from God. But Let us return to our narration.
He, therefore, came from Patras. He was also a citizen of heaven where he was born, and I come as a narrator. For he was so righteous that it would seem he had his genealogy straight from heaven and not from earth. But since his age is according to time, let us talk of his race and his type of birth, and yet this narration will be unable to relate all. He was most loved by all in the city. He was born of a pious and rich family. It is written that a male child being the first-born who opened the womb was Christ Jesus, our Lord, who became our high priest. He showed the road to his issue who was born in a similar manner. So, likewise, Nicholas was born of a sterile mother.
Thus, having been born and raised by God, he showed his heavenly blessings almost immediately. And he grew day by day in the words of God, his Father, as is written in the psalms of David, “He shall grow righteously as the phoenix.” And even as a child he seemed to reign over the world and more so in his youth he displayed his perfection.
By the custom and manner of the fathers, a variety of knowledge was not useful, but the necessary fundamental was the natural way of life according to the laws of God, in the garden of God, that is, the church. And so Nicholas was inseparable from both, but even more, a friend to the aged and the women in pain, and also, to all mankind. He was the bravest of all. Thus, Nicholas was born of temporal parents only to be adopted by God. He did not rejoice in earthly goods, but rather he sighed and moaned, for all these mocked God. He was given to know the use of the tongue so that he might become favoured by his Creator.
Saving of the Three Maidens
All these things having been said, he came as a saviour to the needy who had not fame nor fortune. As another Job, who was trampled by Satan to the most base poverty, there was a man in the town who had three daughters, who were born most noble, but the impoverished father, when he became destitute, was about to give them over to a house of prostitution. This brave and good angel, Nicholas, born of God and gifted by Him, was advised what to do. The daughters were reduced to the most base poverty and were about to be used and sold by the lecherous forceably against their will for the most vile acts of life.
When the most blessed Nicholas heard of this and learned of their father, fearing the pride of the man, he made a plan to provide for the maidens. He prayed to God to aid him in his endeavor to grant them mercy. Taking a sack he filled it full of gold and he gave it to these needy people—Oh, how miraculous—performing the will of God. The excerpts, “Love your brother as yourself,” and the Lord’s new commandment “When you work mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right doeth,” he kept both of these in mind and heart. He took the gold and, in the darkness of night, he bestowed it upon the father. His way was lit as from the light of God. Thus, by this greater light he aided his neighbor. When the poor man awoke the following morning, he wept tears of joy when he found the gold. He fell on his knees and gave great thanksgiving to God, the greatest of all benefactors. All the town heard of this merciful servant of God who remained secret and most loving. For the greatest knowledge of God is his mercy. God, Who brought about all things from His mercy, God, who gave His mercy to be taught by the fathers and prophets and finally Himself to become as us, yet remaining God, who is sinless. Thus, all we do must be for his glory as our Creator, so that His name may be sanctified in us, who works mercy to the highest degree.
When the father discovered the money, he was filled with great joy and he gave great thanksgiving unto God. Since he now had the gold, he married his first daughter to an upstanding Christian man. Yet, he still wished to learn who his benefactor was who gave him this sack of gold, for he was truly an angel of God. Again, in a few days, Nicholas came in the darkness of the night and left another sack of gold outside the door, so that the second daughter would have a proper marriage. When the father of the daughters suddenly awoke and found the gold, he fell on his knees and gave up great sighs to God, saying, “Who is this, Lord, who works these things? Who is this most merciful servant who grants me, your most unworthy servant, mercy? I shall stay awake every night so that I may meet your untraceable servant. When I see him I shall fall at his feet, he who is your zealous worker and imitator among men, and I shall praise him greatly.”
This came about, soon thereafter, while the man was awake and hiding in the dark, the servant of the Holy Trinity, Nicholas, came again to leave his gift for the third daughter of the poor man. When he threw the sack of gold through the door, he saw the face of the man in the light of the night, so he quickly fled. But the man could see the foot-prints in the ground and he swore that he would follow them until he found this servant of God, even if it took until his dying days. Yet, he said nothing to anyone, not even to this third daughter, whom he gave in marriage thanks to the gold he had received from the hands of Nicholas, the servant of God.
These, in a few short words, were the virtues of the bishop of Myra, a man who was dedicated to God and His work. When Nicholas went away, great groups of the clergy and the bishops from far and near suffered on behalf of the church for there was no other such man to be found and they constantly prayed to the Lord for his soul. Such was he, as though he were moved by God. He laid the foundations of our faith and taught all how to pray.
Elevation to Bishop
When all these things had come to pass and he, Nicholas, had found great favor in the eyes of God, there came a voice which said to him, “Go to the church during the night and stand before the outer doors.” And to the clergy of the church the same voice said, “Whosoever shall enter the church first, take him and make him your bishop, for his name is Nicholas.” When all the clergy had gathered together and prayed, they withdrew inside the doors of the Church to await the outcome, as they had been commanded. And surely, during the early morning hours, they saw a man coming to church, the first of many, and they asked him for his name, this simple and humble man answered them, saying, “The sinner Nicholas, the servant of your holinesses.” The priests were much surprised and said to this man, “Nicholas! Come with us, my child, we have something to show you.” And taking him with all the others, with whom they prayed, and with all the people, they related what they had heard, and they immediately ordained this great Nicholas their bishop.
The Lord found a man who acted according to his heart, speaking most wisely. Of old, Samuel annointed David as his successor and placed upon his head a crown to show that God had called this man to this post, to have power over the written words of God, and blessing him with a sign, he prayed while all were present. He annointed him with oil as God had annointed all the prophets of former times with the oil of grace, as a gift of sacrifice. He annointed him with a most fragrant oil of his master which the rich lavishly used. With this ceremony he ordained him to the position of Leader in the church and immediately he made him preach the teachings of faith. Thus, it was with the clergy who ordained Nicholas, according to the customs of old.
With this miracle, which sealed his ascension to the bishopric, I cut short my work. But, behold, three daughters were saved from spiritual death and from bodily infamy. This is the truth, for history has held this act in high esteem. He worked miracles for all: from the righteous to the obscure, from the leaders to the kings, and from the soldiers to the sailors, and to those who suffered insanity
Counsel to Soldiers
After he saved these three daughters, he immediately appeared to the multitude and performed the miracles which they sought, and not only for those who were on the land but also for those who were on the seas. To those who were in danger and who feared harm and called his name, immediately, working and aiding all who needed him, he would say, “Behold, you have called me. I am here to aid you in whatever matters you may ask.” And those who had seen him, who had received aid from him and who were saved by him would immediately push to the church and thank the Lord for sending such a saviour. They would also relate to the church that which took place. When many of the clergy saw this humble man coming toward them, who had prayed beforehand for his aid in order that they be protected from storms during their voyage, they knew him immediately. Thanking and declaring his protection and aid, which came at a time of necessity after their many supplications, the soldiers of the king, according to the tale, gave up great thanksgiving. The soldiers obeyed the teaching of the prophecy, when this holy of men said to them, “Know thyself, my brothers, I beg of you, and guide your life in the right manner. For injustice is your wife and the most greedy, after which follows adultery. These sins require the most necessary healing of God, who loves man and cures him as a physician. Take heed of those benefits and this sanctification, for no one can see God, nor shall ever see him, yet all the benefits of salvation shall come from the seeds of virtue which are within each man.”
These things I have spoken and I put the final touches on this work as one who would close the final chapter of a book. We have brought forth two of the great miracles which this holy of men performed for the salvation of the people involved. We have also pronounced the works of this holy man which have been written on the pages of history. We have related the narration of the father with his daughters and the peril of the soldiers, giving to the first monies to save his daughters from debauchery and saving the others from an evil way of life. He also aided those people who lived sinfully in Myra, who followed the order of Satan, so that their souls had become blackened with sin. He saved them from an unjust death and led them to the life eternal.
Printed for Christmas 1968 by Willis M. Rivinus. Used by permission.