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The flag of Greece, 
with a cross that 
stands for Orthodoxy

It’s true: Santa Claus is Greek! Can you imagine him dancing to bouzouki music, breaking dishes? Or his workshop on Chios or Santorini and not the North Pole? (Forget the elves... how about some luminous local gals? Just kidding.) Traveling by sponge-fishing boat pulled by flying dolphins? Or, if he has moved to the Pole (part of the Diaspora... guess the patriarch of Constantinople can claim the Arctic after all), warming himself with ouzo? Forget ‘ho, ho, ho’. HO-pah!

Aristotle AmadopoulosLegend has it that St Nicholas, a Greek who was bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (once part of Greece, now in Turkey), saved some poor girls (their father was too poor to have dowries for them) from being sold into prostitution by throwing bags of gold either through open windows or down the chimney at night: a big part of today’s Santa myth, a beloved part of Christian folklore that teaches love of neighbour.

Other stories tell of the saint miraculously protecting sailors in a storm from drowning, and of his interceding to save several men condemned to be beheaded. (A timely saint today for those who want to reduce the use of the death penalty.)

Another legend has to do with the saint’s conduct at the Council of Nicæa in 325, at which the arrogant Arius, a priest from Alexandria, denied before the assembled clergy that Jesus was really God, saying instead He was like God but less than Him, a demigod like Hercules in Greek myth. Bishop Nicholas became so angry that during Arius’ presentation he got up and punched the upstart cleric! (More restrained accounts say he ‘boxed Arius’ ears’. And I thought the House of Commons was rowdy! One doesn’t imagine conferences of bishops and theologians breaking out into ‘Jerry Springer Show’–like violence, but people cared passionately about theology back then.)

As a punishment the bishop was deprived of the exercise of his rank, having his bishop’s omophor (a vestment) and book of the Gospels taken away, meaning he could not celebrate the sacraments or preach.

In some icons of the saint such as this one, he is flanked by Jesus and Mary holding the instruments of his rank: the omophor and the Gospel book. In a vision, the council fathers saw them giving these back to Nicholas, because they were grateful for his defending the truth about Jesus. So the bishops restored Nicholas to the exercise of his rank but, as a remaining penance, his name does not appear among those who attended the council (which produced the Church’s first dogmatic profession of faith, what is now the first half of the Symbol of Faith, also called the Nicene Creed: ‘I believe in one God...’).

In the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches he is commemorated every Thursday in the hours (office) and his feast-day is the 6th December (the 19th in the Russian and other churches that use the Julian calendar) just like in the Western Church.

Holy father Nicholas, pray to God for us.

Tropar’, Tone 4: The truth of things has revealed you to your flock as a rule of faith, a model of meekness and a teacher of temperance. Therefore you have won the heights by humility, riches by poverty, O holy father and hierarch Nicholas. Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.

+ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Kondak, Tone 3: You were a true priestly worker in Myra, O holy Nicholas. For, having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ, you dedicated your life to your people and saved the innocent from death. Therefore you have been made holy as one who has entered the mystery of God’s grace.

Carpatho-Russian Hymn to St Nicholas

O kto, kto
Nikolaja l’ubit
O kto, kto
Nikolaja služit
:Tomu sv’atyj Nikolaj
Na vs’akij čas pomahaj
Nikolaj, Nikolaj!
О кто, кто
Николая любит
О кто, кто
Николая служит
:Тому святий Николай
На всякий час помогай
Николай, Николай!
He who loves
Nicholas the saintly
He who serves
Nicholas the saintly
:Him will Nicholas receive
And give help in time of need
Nicholas, Nicholas!