Saint Nicholas of Bari between East and West

Published: July 09 Mon, 2018

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BARI – On July 7, 2018, the heads of Eastern Churches met in Bari, in southern Italy, at the invitation of Pope Francis, to pray for peace in the Middle East; A place that is not trivial for this ecumenical meeting. Indeed, Saint Nicholas of Bari is revered by all Christians, both in the East and the West. Hailed from a wealthy family, Saint Nicholas was born in Patara in the south of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) around the year 260. When his parents passed away, Nicholas gave all that he owned to the poor and went on pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine. On his return, he was ordained priest and appointed superior of the monastery of Sainte-Sion by the Archbishop of Myra, his uncle. When the latter passed away, Nicolas was designated as his successor. During the persecutions of Diocletian against the Christians, he was imprisoned for a time, then exiled. Witness of the conversion of the Empire, he was released under Constantine.

As an Archbishop, he attended and supported the Council of Nicaea – first ecumenical council – in 325. A determined opponent of paganism and Arian heresy, he imposed himself by his fight for the true faith and was attached to the proclamation of the dogma of the divinity of Christ. His miracles also evoked the Trinity: he saved three young girls from prostitution, three prison soldiers and three princes of the executioner. He died on December 6, 343. His original grave is on Gemile Island, off the Turkish coast. His tomb becomes a place of pilgrimage, first to Myra, where he is transferred in 650 during the Arab invasion, then to Bari – where the saint had stopped after visiting Pope Julius I – in the eleventh century to protect the tomb from Muslims. It is there that is built a basilica where its relics are venerated. Some of them are repatriated to Myra where the Christians of the region continue to go on pilgrimage.

His veneration is developing rapidly, and many miracles are attributed to him in Europe as well as in the East. The churches and abbeys bearing his name are multiplying in Constantinople and throughout the European continent. Saint Nicholas is particularly celebrated in Palestine. He is the patron saint of Beit Jala. In fact, it is a tradition that Saint Nicholas lived there for a year in a cave, which is why the Greek Orthodox church, built on this site, bears his name. Considered the protector of the city, his feast brings together Greek-Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant – an important day for Christian unity. The inhabitants report miracles during all the wars through Palestine, until the last intifada (2000-05). He is one of the most represented saints in religious iconography. He is the patron saint of sailors and travelers.

Vinciane J.