Nicholas was born in the celebrated city of Patara, in the province of Lycia. His birth was the fruit of his parents’ prayers. Evidence of his great future holiness was given from his very cradle. For when he was an infant, he would only take his food once on Wednesdays and Fridays — and then not till evening — while on all other days he frequently took the breast: he kept up this custom of fasting during the rest of his life. Having lost his parents when he was a boy, he gave all his goods to the poor. Of his Christian kind-heartedness there is the following noble example. One of his fellow-citizens had three daughters, but being too poor to obtain them an honourable marriage, he was minded to abandon them to a life of prostitution. Nicholas having got to know the case, went to the house during the night and threw in by the window a sum of money sufficient for the dower of one of the daughters. He did the same a second and a third time, and thus the three were married to respectable men.
Having given himself wholly to the service of God, Nicholas set out for Palestine that he might visit and venerate the holy places. During this pilgrimage which he made by sea, he foretold to the mariners, on embarking, though the heavens were then serene and the sea tranquil, that they would be overtaken by a frightful storm. In a very short time the storm arose. All were in the most imminent danger when he quelled it by his prayers. His pilgrimage ended, he returned home, giving to all men example of the greatest sanctity. He went, by an inspiration from God, to Myra, the Metropolis of Lycia,which had just lost its Bishop by death, and the Bishops of the province had come together for the purpose of electing a successor. While they were holding council for the election, they were told by a revelation from Heaven that they should choose him who, on the morrow, should be the first to enter the church, his name being Nicholas. Accordingly, the requisite observations were made, when they found Nicholas to be waiting at the church door: they took him and, to the incredible delight of all, made him the Bishop of Myra.
During his episcopate he never flagged in the virtues looked for in a bishop: chastity, which indeed he had always preserved, gravity, assiduity in prayer, watchings, abstinence, generosity, and hospitality, meekness in exhortation, severity in reproving. He befriended widows and orphans by money, by advice and by every service in his power. So zealous a defender was he of all who suffered oppression that, on one occasion, three Tribunes having been condemned by the Emperor Constantine who had been deceived by calumny, and having heard of the miracles wrought by Nicholas, they recommended themselves to his prayers, though he was living at a very great distance from that place: the saint appeared to Constantine and angrily looking upon him, obtained from the terrified Emperor their deliverance.
Having, contrary to the edict of Diocletian and Maximian, preached in Myra the truth of the Christian faith, he was taken up by the servants of the two Emperors. He was taken off to a great distance and thrown into prison where he remained until Constantine, having become Emperor, ordered his rescue, and the Saint returned to Myra. Shortly afterwards, he repaired to the Council which was being held at Nicaea: there he took part with the 318 Fathers in condemning the Arian heresy. Scarcely had he returned to his See than he was taken with the sickness of which he soon died. Looking up to Heaven and seeing Angels coming to meet him, he began the Psalm, “In thee, Lord, have I hoped” and having come to those words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” his soul took its flight to the heavenly country. His body, having been translated to Bari in Apulia, is the object of universal veneration.
Dom Prosper Guéranger:
Divine Wisdom has willed that on the way which leads to the Messiah, our Great High Priest, there should be many Pontiffs to pay Him the honour due to Him. Two Popes, Saint Melchiades and Saint Damasus. two Holy Doctors, Saint Peter Chrysologus and Saint Ambrose, two Bishops, Saint Nicholas and Saint Eusebius: these are the glorious Pontiffs who have been entrusted with the charge of preparing, by their prayers, the way of the Christian people towards Him who is the Sovereign Priest according to the order of Melchisedech. As each of their feasts comes, we will show their right to have been thus admitted into the court of Jesus. Today the Church celebrates with joy the feast of the great Thaumaturgus Nicholas, who is to the Greek Church what Saint Martin is to us. The Church of Rome has honoured the name of Nicholas for nearly a thousand years. Let us admire the wonderful power which God gave him over creation, but let us offer him our most fervent congratulations in that he was permitted to be one of the 318 Bishops who proclaimed at Nicaea, that the Word is Consubstamtial to the Father. The humiliations of the Son of God did not scandalise him. Neither the lowliness of the flesh, which the Sovereign Lord of all things assumed to Himself in the womb of the Virgin, nor the poverty of the crib, hindered him from confessing to be Son of God, equal to God, Him who is the Son of Mary: and for this reason, God has glorified this his servant, and given him the power to obtain each year, for the children of the Church, the grace of receiving this same Jesus, the Word, with simple faith and fervent love.
Holy Pontiff Nicholas, how great is your glory in God’s Church! You confessed the name of Jesus before the proconsuls of the world’s empire and suffered persecution for His Name’s sake. Afterwards you were witness to the wonderful workings of God when He restored peace to His Church. And a short time after this again, you opened your lips in the assembly of the three hundred and eighteen Fathers to confess with supreme authority the Divinity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, for whose sake so many millions of Martyrs had already shed their blood. Receive the devout felicitations of the Christian people throughout the universe who thrill with joy when they think of your glorious merits. Help us by your prayers during these days when we are preparing for the coming of Him who you proclaimed to be Consubstantial to the Father. Vouchsafe to assist our faith and to obtain fresh fervour to our love. You now behold face to face that Word by whom all things were made and redeemed. Beseech Him to permit our unworthiness to approach Him. Be our intercessor with Him. You have taught us to know Him as the sovereign and eternal God. Teach us also to love Him as the supreme benefactor of the children of Adam. It was from Him, charitable Pontiff, that you learned that tender compassion for the sufferings of your fellow-men which made all your miracles to be so many acts of kindness: cease not, now that you are in the company of the Angels, to have pity on and to succour our miseries.
Stir up and increase the faith of mankind in the Saviour whom the Lord has sent them. May this be one of the fruits of your prayer, that the Divine Word may be no longer unknown and forgotten in this world which He has redeemed with His Blood. Ask for the pastors of the Church that spirit of charity which shone so brilliantly in you, that spirit which makes them like their divine Master and wins them the hearts of their people. Remember, too, holy Pontiff, that Church of the East which still loves thee so fervently. When you were on this Earth, God gave you power to raise the dead to life. Pray now that the true life, which consists in Faith and Unity, may return once more and animate that body which schism has robbed of its soul. By thy supplications, obtain of God that the sacrifice of the Lamb who is so soon to visit us may be again and soon celebrated under the cupolas of Saint Sophia.
Let us resume our considerations on the state of the world at the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah. Everything proves that the prophecies which foretold the great event have now been fulfilled. Not only has the sceptre been taken from Judah, the Weeks of Daniel also are almost expired. The other Scriptural predictions relative to the great revolutions, which were to take place in the world have been successively fulfilled. The Empires of the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks have fallen one after the other. That of the Romans is now at the zenith of its greatness . In its turn, it must yield to the eternal Empire of the Messiah. This succession of Empires, which was to result in a perfect kingdom, was foretold. And all is now ready for its final accomplishment. God has also said by one of his Prophets: “Yet one little while, and I will move Heaven and Earth... and I will move all nations, and the Desired of all nations will come” (Aggeus ii. 7, 8). Descend, therefore, O Eternal Word! All is consummated. The misery of the world is extreme. The crimes of men cry to Heaven for vengeance. The whole human race is threatened with self-destruction and without knowing what it does, it calls for you as its only resource. Then come! All the predictions which were to designate the Redeemer have been spoken and promulgated. There is no longer a Prophet in Israel, and the oracles of the Gentile world have ceased to speak. Come, Lord Jesus, and fulfil all things, for the fullness of time has come.
Also on this day according to the ROMAN MARTYROLOGY:
In Africa, in the persecution of the Vandals and under the Arian king Hunneric, the saintly women Dionysia, Dativa, Leontia, a religious man named Tertius, Æmilian, a physician, and Boniface, with three others, who were subjected to numberless most painful torments for the Catholic faith, and thus merited to rank among the confessors of Christ.
In the same country, St. Majoricus, son of St. Dionysia, who, being quite young and dreading the torments, was strengthened by the looks and words of his mother, and becoming stronger than the rest, expired in torments. His mother took him in her arms, and having buried him in her own house, used to pray assiduously at his sepulchre.
The same day St. Polychronius, priest, who, in the time of the emperor Constantius was attacked by the Arians and put to death while at the altar saying Mass.
At Granada in Spain, the passion of blessed Peter Paschasius, martyr, of the Order of Mercedarians, and bishop of Jaen, whose festival is celebrated on the twenty-third of October by order of Pope Clement X.
At Rome, St. Asella, virgin, who, according to the words of St. Jerome, being blessed from her mother’s womb, lived to old age in fasting and prayer.
And in other places, many other holy martyrs, confessors and virgins.
Thanks be to God.