by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, now Turkey, around 275, the same year persecutions of Christians began under Emperor Valerian. Bloody martyrdoms went on for three and a half years in an attempt extort money from wealthy Christians and pagans alike. The loss of gold mines in Dacia in 271 had forced Valerian to seek other forms of revenue. These attempts failed.
Decades of chaos followed during which time Nicholas grew to adulthood in Patara understanding the hazards adhering to a faith viewed with hostility by those who vastly outnumbered them.
In 293, Emperor Diocletian changed how the empire was governed, dividing it East and West. The chaos continued. Persecution of Christians began again in 302.
Nicholas, in his early twenties, had been a priest for seven years. Esteemed for his piety, compassion, and care for others, he was called to serve in Myra, a larger town some distance away.
Soon appointed Bishop, Nicholas confronted a world locked in economic chaos and the devastation of Christian persecutions which included criminalization of Christian assemblies, seizure of all churches, and burning of Christian books.
Refusing to recant the faith by making a pagan sacrifice resulted in loss of legal status, torture, and death. In 303 the newly appointed Bishop Nicholas was incarcerated and tortured again and again. He would remain in prison for ten years, ministering to his fellow prisoners as the titular heads of the divided Empire warred for control.
During these years malnutrition and starvation, resulting from a cessation of rainfall and the results of Imperial policies, forced those living in the country into cities and towns to beg for food. Soon, little was left for anyone.
In 313 Constantine emerged victorious as Augustus. One of his first acts was to issue the Edict of Tolerance. Incarcerated Christians, Bishop Nicholas included, were released to a world reduced to grinding hunger and poverty.
Nicholas began solving the problems his people faced. Feeding them came first. Nicholas persuaded ship captains to give him grain so people could be fed. Miraculously, his actions alleviated hunger with enough grain left so fields could again be planted.
Where there was chaos and conflict Nicholas instilled peace, healing people and the community in which they lived. Showing no resentment of his own sufferings, Nicholas helped others to accept their own sufferings and move into deeper communion with Christ and each other. The people remembered.