Jesus reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and he went up into the hills. He sat there, and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others; these they put down at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel.
But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this deserted place to feed such a crowd?’ Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said ‘and a few small fish.’ Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks and broke them and handed them to the disciples, who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.
Source: Jerusalem Bible
Catechism of the Catholic Church
The signs of bread and wine
1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: “He took bread. . . .” “He took the cup filled with wine. . . .” The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine, fruit of the “work of human hands,” but above all as “fruit of the earth” and “of the vine” – gifts of the Creator. The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine,” a prefiguring of her own offering.
1334 In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator. But they also received a new significance in the context of the Exodus: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt; the remembrance of the manna in the desert will always recall to Israel that it lives by the bread of the Word of God; their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises. The “cup of blessing” at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup.
1335 The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist. The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the Hour of Jesus’ glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ.
1336 The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.
For the leader; according to “The deer of the dawn.” A psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the glory of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted and you rescued them.
To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, hardly human, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me:
“You relied on the LORD – let him deliver you; if he loves you, let him rescue you.”
Yet you drew me forth from the womb, made me safe at my mother’s breast.
Upon you I was thrust from the womb; since birth you are my God.
Do not stay far from me, for trouble is near, and there is no one to help.
Many bulls surround me; fierce bulls of Bashan encircle me.
They open their mouths against me, lions that rend and roar.
Like water my life drains away; all my bones grow soft. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me.
As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue sticks to my palate; you lay me in the dust of death.
Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. So wasted are my hands and feet
that I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat;
they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, LORD, do not stay far off; my strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword, my forlorn life from the teeth of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth, my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.
Then I will proclaim your name to the assembly; in the community I will praise you:
“You who fear the LORD, give praise! All descendants of Jacob, give honor; show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
For God has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, Did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly; my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
The poor will eat their fill; those who seek the LORD will offer praise. May your hearts enjoy life forever!”
All the ends of the earth will worship and turn to the LORD; All the families of nations will bow low before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD, the ruler over the nations.
All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage.
And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you.
The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.
Source: The New American Bible
Saint Nicholas (Greek: Ἅγιος Νικόλαος, Hágios Nikólaos, Latin: Sanctus Nicolaus); (15 March 270 – 6 December 343), also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker (Νικόλαος ὁ Θαυματουργός, Nikólaos ho Thaumaturgós). Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints, and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus (“Saint Nick”) through Sinterklaas.
The historical Saint Nicholas was born at Patara, Lycia in Asia Minor (now Turkey). In his youth he made a pilgrimage to Egypt and the Palestine area. Shortly after his return he became Bishop of Myra and was later cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian. He was released after the accession of Constantine and was present at the Council of Nicaea. According to Western Christian tradition, Italian merchants took his body to Italy in 1087.
Nicholas was born in Asia Minor (Greek Anatolia in present-day Turkey) in the Roman Empire, to a Greek family during the third century in the city of Patara (Lycia et Pamphylia), a port on the Mediterranean Sea. He lived in Myra, Lycia (part of modern-day Demre), at a time when the region was Greek in its heritage, culture, and outlook and politically part of the Roman diocese of Asia.
In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of Constantine and appear at the First Council of Nicaea; the 151st attendee was listed as “Nicholas of Myra of Lycia”. There, Nicholas was a staunch anti-Arian, defender of the Orthodox Christian position, and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed. Tradition has it that he became so angry with the heretic Arius during the Council that he struck him in the face.
The modern city of Demre, Turkey is built near the ruins of the saint’s home town of ancient Myra, and attracts many Russian tourists as St. Nicholas is a very popular Orthodox saint. Restoration of Saint Nicholas’ original church is currently underway, with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2007 permitting Divine Liturgy to be celebrated at the site, and contributing 40,000 Turkish lira to the project.
A solemn bronze statue of the saint by Russian sculptor Gregory Pototsky was donated by the Russian government in 2000, and was given a prominent place in the square fronting the medieval Church of St. Nicholas. In 2005, mayor Süleyman Topçu had the statue replaced by a red-suited plastic Santa Claus statue, because he wanted an image more recognisable to foreign visitors. Protests from the Russian government against this were successful, and the bronze statue was returned (albeit without its original high pedestal) to a corner nearer the church.
On 26 August 1071 Romanus IV, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire (reigned 1068–1071), faced Sultan Alp Arslan of the Seljuk Turks (reigned 1059–1072) in the Battle of Manzikert. The battle ended in humiliating defeat and capture for Romanus. As a result, the Empire temporarily lost control over most of Asia Minor to the invading Seljuk Turks. The Byzantines would regain its control over Asia Minor during the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (reigned 1081–1118). But early in his reign Myra was overtaken by the Turks. Nicholas’ tomb in Myra had become a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. Taking advantage of the confusion, in the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari in Apulia seized part of the remains of the saint from his burial church in Myra, over the objections of the Greek Orthodox monks. Returning to Bari, they brought the remains with them and cared for them. The remains arrived on 9 May 1087. There are numerous variations of this account. In some versions those taking the relics are characterized as thieves or pirates, in others they are said to have taken them in response to a vision wherein Saint Nicholas himself appeared and commanded that his relics be moved in order to preserve them from the impending Muslim conquest. Currently at Bari, there are two churches at his shrine, one Roman Catholic and one Orthodox.
Sailors from Bari collected just half of Nicholas’ skeleton, leaving all the minor fragments in the grave. These were collected by Venetian sailors during the first crusade and brought to Venice, where a church to Saint Nicholas, the patron of sailors, was built on the Lido. This tradition was confirmed in two scientific investigations of the relics in Bari and Venice, which revealed that the relics in the two cities belong to the same skeleton. Many churches in Europe, Russia and the United States claim to possess small relics, such as a tooth or a finger.
It is said that in Myra the relics of Saint Nicholas each year exuded a clear watery liquid which smells like rose water, called manna (or myrrh), which is believed by the faithful to possess miraculous powers. After the relics were brought to Bari, they continued to do so, much to the joy of the new owners. Vials of myrrh from his relics have been taken all over the world for centuries, and can still be obtained from his church in Bari. Even up to the present day, a flask of manna is extracted from the tomb of Saint Nicholas every year on 6 December (the Saint’s feast day) by the clergy of the basilica. The myrrh is collected from a sarcophagus which is located in the basilica vault and could be obtained in the shop nearby. The liquid gradually seeps out of the tomb, but it is unclear whether it originates from the body within the tomb, or from the marble itself; since the town of Bari is a harbour, and the tomb is below sea level, there have been several natural explanations proposed for the manna fluid, including the transfer of seawater to the tomb by capillary action.
In 1993, a grave was found on the small Turkish island of Gemile, east of Rhodes, which historians believe is the original tomb of Saint Nicholas. On 28 December 2009, the Turkish government announced that it would be formally requesting the return of Saint Nicholas’s skeletal remains to Turkey from the Italian government. Turkish authorities have asserted that Saint Nicholas himself desired to be buried at his episcopal town, and that his remains were illegally removed from his homeland.
An Irish tradition states that the relics of Saint Nicholas are also reputed to have been stolen from Myra by local Norman crusading knights in the 12th century and buried near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, where a stone slab marks the site locally believed to be his grave. This is not widely accepted beyond local tradition.
In 2017, an archaeological survey at St. Nicholas Church, Demre was reported to have found a temple below the modern church, with excavation work to be done that will allow researchers to determine whether it still holds Nicholas’s body.
Miracles and other stories
Numerous stories, some miraculous, are told about Nicholas.
He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanius (Ἐπιφάνιος, Epiphánios) and Johanna (Ἰωάννα, Iōánna) according to some accounts and Theophanes (Θεοφάνης, Theophánēs) and Nonna (Νόννα, Nónna) according to others. He was very religious from an early age and according to legend, Nicholas was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. He tonsured the young Nicholas as a reader and later ordained him a presbyter (priest).
In the year AD 305, several monks from Anatolia in Asia Minor came to the Holy Land to Beit Jala, Judea and established a small monastery with a church named in honor of the Great Martyr George (Saint George). This was before St. Sava’s Monastery was founded in the desert east of Bethlehem on the Kidron Gorge near the Dead Sea. These monks lived on the mountain overlooking Bethlehem in a few caves. In the years 312–315, St. Nicholas lived there and came as a pilgrim to visit the Holy Sepulchre, Golgotha, Bethlehem, and many other sites in the Holy Land. The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is located on the site of his cave in Beit Jala where today there are innumerable stories about Nicholas still handed down from generation to generation. A text written in his own hand is still in the care of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. In 317 he returned to Asia Minor and was soon thereafter consecrated bishop in Myra.
One story tells how during a terrible famine, a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he killed them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher’s horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers. Another version of this story, possibly formed around the 11th century, claims that the butcher’s victims were instead three clerks who wished to stay the night. The man murdered them, and was advised by his wife to dispose of them by turning them into meat pies. The saint saw through this and brought the men back to life.
According to another story, during a great famine that Myra experienced in 311–312, a ship was in the port at anchor, loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Constantinople. Nicholas invited the sailors to unload a part of the wheat to help in the time of need. The sailors at first disliked the request, because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor. Only when Nicholas promised them that they would not suffer any loss for their consideration, the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in the capital, they made a surprising find: the weight of the load had not changed, although the wheat removed in Myra was enough for two full years and could even be used for sowing.
While yet a young man, Nicholas followed the example of his uncle, the abbot, by making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Christianity—the Holy Land. Desiring a serene time of preparation, Nicholas set sail on an Egyptian ship where the other pilgrims did not know who he was. The first night he dreamed a storm would put them all at peril. When he awoke in the morning he warned the sailors that a severe storm was coming, but they need not fear, for “God will protect us.” Almost immediately the sky darkened and strong winds roared round the ship. The wind and waves made it impossible to keep the ship under control. Even with lowered sails, the sailors feared for their very lives and begged Nicholas to pray for safety. One sailor climbed the main mast, tightening the ropes so the mast would not crash onto the deck. As he was coming back down, the sailor slipped, fell to the deck, and was killed. While Nicholas prayed, the storm did quiet, relieving the sailors. Their comfort, however, was dampened by grief over their comrade’s death. As Nicholas prayed over the dead sailor, he was revived, “as if he had only been asleep.” The man awakened without pain and the ship finished the journey to the Holy Land. Nicholas then embarked on his pilgrimage to the holy places, walking where Jesus had walked.
One night while staying with a family in Jerusalem, he wanted to pray at the only church remaining in Jerusalem at that time. It was the Church of the Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion. As he approached the heavy, locked doors, they swung open of their own accord, allowing him to enter the church. Nicholas fell to the ground in thanksgiving.
In his most famous exploit, Nicholas aided a poor man who had three daughters, but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Even if they did not, unmarried maidens in those days would have been assumed as being a prostitute. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.
One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.
The stories with the most likely historical basis are the stories of Nicholas helping three girls and stories of Nicholas coming to the aid of sailors. Others, especially that of the three murdered children, are much later additions to Nicholas lore, historian Dr. Adam English concludes in a new biography of Nicholas for Baylor University Press based on a four-year study of current historical research into Nicholas of Myra.
Whereas the devotional importance of relics and the economics associated with pilgrimages caused the remains of most saints to be divided up and spread over numerous churches in several countries, Saint Nicholas is unusual in that most of his bones have been preserved in one spot: his grave crypt in Bari. Even with the allegedly continuing miracle of the manna, the archdiocese of Bari has allowed for one scientific survey of the bones. In the late 1950s, during a restoration of the chapel, it allowed a team of hand-picked scientists to photograph and measure the contents of the crypt grave.
In the summer of 2005, the report of these measurements was sent to a forensic laboratory in England. The review of the data revealed that the historical Saint Nicholas was 5’6″ in height and had a broken nose. The facial reconstruction was produced by Dr. Caroline Wilkinson at the University of Manchester and was shown on a BBC2 TV program The Real Face of Santa.
Veneration and celebrations
Among the Greeks and Italians he is a favorite of sailors, fishermen, ships and sailing. As such he has become over time the patron saint of several cities maintaining harbours. In centuries of Greek folklore, Nicholas was seen as “The Lord of the Sea”, often described by modern Greek scholars as a kind of Christianized version of Poseidon. In modern Greece, he is still easily among the most recognizable saints and 6 December finds many cities celebrating their patron saint. He is also the patron saint of all of Greece and particularly of the Hellenic Navy.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Nicholas’ memory is celebrated on almost every Thursday of the year (together with the Apostles) with special hymns to him which are found in the liturgical book known as the Octoechos. Soon after the transfer of Saint Nicholas’ relics from Myra to Bari, a Russian version of his Life and an account of the transfer of his relics were written by a contemporary to this event. Devotional akathists and canons have been composed in his honour, and are frequently chanted by the faithful as they ask for his intercession. He is mentioned in the Liturgy of Preparation during the Divine Liturgy (Eastern Orthodox Eucharist) and during the All-Night Vigil. Many Orthodox churches will have his icon, even if they are not named after him. In Oriental Orthodoxy, the Coptic Church observes the Departure of St. Nicholas on 10 Kiahk, or 10 Taḫśaś in Ethiopia, which corresponds to the Julian Calendar’s 6 December and Gregorian Calendar’s 19 December.
Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, a practice celebrated on his feast day, 6 December. For those who still observe the Julian calendar the celebration will currently take place thirteen days later than it happens in the Gregorian calendar and Revised Julian calendar.
Saint Nicholas became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern American name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”. When the Dutch originally came to America and established the colony of New Amsterdam, they brought the legend and traditions of Sinterklaas with them. The New Amsterdam Dutch later shortened “Sinterklaas” to “Santa Claus”.
In late medieval England, on Saint Nicholas’ Day parishes held Yuletide “boy bishop” celebrations. As part of this celebration, youths performed the functions of priests and bishops, and exercised rule over their elders. Today, Saint Nicholas is still celebrated as a great gift-giver in several Western European and Central European countries. According to one source, in medieval times nuns used the night of 6 December to deposit baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doorsteps of the needy. According to another source, on 6 December every sailor or ex-sailor of the Low Countries (which at that time was virtually all of the male population) would descend to the harbour towns to participate in a church celebration for their patron saint. On the way back they would stop at one of the various Nicholas fairs to buy some hard-to-come-by goods, gifts for their loved ones and invariably some little presents for their children. While the real gifts would only be presented at Christmas, the little presents for the children were given right away, courtesy of Saint Nicholas. This and his miracle of him resurrecting the three butchered children made Saint Nicholas a patron saint of children and later students as well.