Byzantine Catholic Church
One of the most popular and venerated Saints among the Ruthenian people
is St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, Asia
Minor, who died in the middle of the fourth century. His name
is equally honored among the Christians of the East, where he lived and
died, and of the West, where his precious and venerable relics, which
secrete a miraculous ointment, called "Manna of St. Nicholas," are
There were many books and studies written about
Saint Nicholas as early as the ninth century in which oral tradition
concerning his life and his work are meticulously recorded.
The first Life of St. Nicholas was compiled by a certain
monk, Michael, whose identity is unknown to us.
Unfortunately, early biographers confused St. Nicholas of
Myra with Abbot Nicholas of Sion, bishop of Pinara in Lycia (d. 564),
and inserted into his biography many living legends that were
circulated among the people. For this reason it is hard to
reconstruct a true biography of St. Nicholas, which throughout the
centuries has been constantly expanded and embellished by the
According to tradition, St. Nicholas of Myra was born about 270 A.D. in
Patara, a small town in the province of Lycia (presently in Turkey),
the only son of a rich family. Attracted to the religious
life, he spurned his inherited wealth and used it for charitable work,
for which he became famous in his youth.
St. Nicholas lived in the period of religious persecution under
Diocletian (284-305), during which he suffered imprisonment because of
his Christian faith. Consequently, he was venerated as a
Confessor of the Faith by the local people. At the time of
Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337), he, by Divine intervention,
was elected Archbishop of Myra,
the capital city of Lycia, called Dembre by the Turks.
As a Spiritual Shepherd, St. Nicholas distinguished himself
for his pastoral zeal and uncommon goodness of heart. He also
worked miracles which made people consider him a Saint even before his
death. He strongly defended the Faith at the Nicean Council
(325) and protected his flock from paganism and the Arian heresy.
He assisted the poor, protected the innocent, comforted the
suffering and the sick. Several times during his episcopacy
St. Nicholas saved his people from imminent starvation. He
died on December 6, 345 or 352, and is commemorated in the liturgical
calendar on the anniversary of his holy death.
There are many miracles ascribed to St. Nicholas. Today it is
impossible to draw a line between factual history and pious imagination
of hagiographers, who tried to idealize his angelic virtues and
charitable works. The principal miracles ascribed to St.
Nicholas by constant tradition are these:
1) St. Nicholas, by his prayer during a pilgrimage to the
Holy Land, calmed a violent storm on the open sea, and prevented
2) St. Nicholas, appearing in a dream to Emperor Constantine, warned
him of impending injustice and saved three innocent officers from
3) St. Nicholas,
blessed with the charism of healing, restored health of innumerable
people suffering from incurable diseases;
4) St. Nicholas, warned by God, secretly provided a
dowry for three poor girls, destined by their own father to a
public-house of sin to provide him with a steady income. Not
to expose the father's sinful design, the Saint secretly, during the
night, left a bag of gold pieces for each girl as a dowry for them and
to enable each of them to lead and honest life.
tenth century biographer, Metaphrastes, whose true name was Simeon
Logothetas, wrote that this "unique deed" of St. Nicholas was known to
the people as a whole (P.G. 116, 328A). In Europe this
particular deed of St. Nicholas was embellished by local folklore and
made him the "Good Old Bishop," who brings presents to children.
In English speaking countries his episcopal garb underwent
considerable change and his name became corrupted into Santa Claus, the
bestower of gifts at Christmas time.
The public veneration of St. Nicholas started very early after his
death. Fifth century records indicate that his grave became
the site of numerous pilgrimages. People came from far to
venerate his relics and to implore his intercession, and many miracles
were recorded at the site of his tomb. Thus St. Nicholas,
after the Blessed Mother and St. John the Baptist, became the most
venerated Saint in the Byzantine Church.
The solemn celebration of the feast of St. Nicholas was introduced in
Constantinople during the rule of Emperor Justinian I (527-565), who
build a magnificent church in his honor in the Blacharnae quarter of
the city. The liturgical services venerating him were
considerably enriched by St. Theodore Studite (d. 826) and two
Patriarchs, St. Nicephorus (d. 829) and St. Methodius (d. 847).
The oldest encomium -- praise in honor of St. Nicholas -- is
preserved from the beginning of the eighth century. It was
delivered at his grave site by St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740), who called
him a "pillar and support of the Church" (P.G. 97, 1191-1206).
In the Western World, the first church in honor of St. Nicholas was
build in the Lateran quarter of Rome by Pope Nicholas I (858-867).
From that time on, hundreds of churches have been erected in
his honor and the veneration of him continued to extend to various
countries. His veneration in Europe was greatly enhanced by
the translation of his holy relics to Bari, Italy, in 1087.
In 1036, the province of Lycia was occupied by the Saracens
who prohibited the veneration of St. Nicholas at his grave.
Merchants from Bari, Italy, who at that time were still
following the Byzantine Rite, decided to "steal" his venerable relics
and translated them to their own place on May 9, 1087. Pope
Urban II solemnly deposited the Saint's holy relics in a marble
sarcophagus under the main altar of a magnificent basilica build in
Bari where they are still publicly venerated, and where he continues to
bless the devoted pilgrims with new miracles.
The solemn translation of St. Nicholas' relics was witnessed
by Theodore, the envoy of Metropolitan John II of Kiev (1080-1089) to
Pope Clement III. In his "Skazanie", entitled The Narration
of the Translation of the Relics of Our Father Nicholas of Myra, the
Wonderworker, Theodore masterfully described the moving event and
became instrumental in the introduction of the celebration of the feast
of the Translation of the Relics of St. Nicholas to Bari in the
Metropolitan Province of Kiev, which was celebrated on May 9.
The Feast of Translation eventually reached the Carpathian
region when the monks of Kiev founded a monastery on Chernecha Hora
near Mukachevo and dedicated it to the honor of St. Nicholas.
From that time St. Nicholas became the heavenly Patron Saint
of the Ruthenian Church in Subcarpathia, where devotion to him became
deeply rooted in the hearts of our people.
The Greeks never accepted the Feast of Translation into their
liturgical calendar since the translation occurred after the Eastern
Schism of 1054. This fact tends to indicate that the Church
of Kiev and, consequently, the Ruthenian people of Subcarpathia, did
not automatically subscribe to the schism of Constantinople for, at the
end of the eleventh century, they were still in union with Rome.
Thus St. Nicholas becomes for us a witness of the unity of
the Churches and of the friendly relations of the Ruthenian people with
the West. As a matter of fact, it was in the city of
Bari that Pope Urban II wanted to celebrate the first synod to discuss
the reunion of Churches in 1098.
Each ode of the Kanon consists of three or more short hymns -- stanzas -- called Troparia
The first of these is referred to as the Irmos
(Gr. heirmos--connecting link, tie),
since by its leading thought it connects the entire ode to the respective biblical canticle mentioned above.
The Troparia that follow the Irmos comment on its leading thought
and relate it to the celebration of the day.
Thus, the Irmos by its melody and its leading thought, ties together the many Troparia
into one liturgical unit, the Ode
It should be remembered that the second Ode of the Kanon, based on Moses' Song of Warning
(Deut. 32:1-43), has a purely penitential character and is reserved for the lenten season.
The holy relics of St. Nicholas, reposed in the ad hoc
erected sanctuary near Myra in Lycia, remained incorrupt for a long
time and secreted an oily substance called myron (ointment).
This myron was usually collected and used for the anointing
of the sick through which many were healed. Because St.
Nicholas continued to work miracles even after his death, his tomb
attracted many people and became a celebrated place of pilgrimage.
Many pilgrims on their journey to the Hold Land stopped at
Myra to venerate his relics and to implore his protection for their
long voyage. Thus, St. Nicholas became the patron of
travellers, especially those journeying by sea.
The miracle of myron continued even after the translation of the
Saint's relics to Bari, where it was called "Mann of St. Nicholas," and
was distributed to the people. During the restoration of St.
Nicholas Basilica in Bari, between 1953-1957, the precious relics were
once again reexamined and studied, and then deposited into a new tomb
in the crypt, where they continue to secrete copious manna.
The Ruthenian people, who were always poor and oppressed,
admired St. Nicholas especially for his works of charity. His
inspiring assistance of three poor girls was idealized by them in their
popular tales and richly embellished by their folklore.
Throughout the centuries this legend sustained the popular
devotion to St. Nicholas in Subcarpathia and became an integral part of
the Ruthenian spiritual heritage.