The Orthodox faithful from Turkey and other countries remembered St. Nicholas, the saint who is less known than the commercialized figure of Santa Claus he inspired, in his hometown in southern Turkey.
A bishop from Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, an Istanbul-based church with followers both in Turkey and the world, led the prayers for the fourth-century saint in Demre of the Antalya province, a popular vacation resort. Priests from Istanbul, Greece and other countries, Greece's Consul General in İzmir Argyro Papoulia and Demre Mayor Süleyman Topçu were among the hundreds who attended the religious service for the saint on the anniversary of his death.
Speaking after the religious service, Metropolit Bishop Hristomos Kalaycı said they prayed for the prevalence of peace and friendship between peoples.
The religious service was held at St. Nicholas Church which was built in 520 A.D. on the foundations of an older church where the saint served as bishop. The church is nowadays served as a museum dedicated to him. It contains an empty tomb of St. Nicholas including fine mosaics and murals. The remnants of the tomb stolen centuries ago by Italian sailors are exhibited in another museum in Antalya.
The saint, praised for his generosity, especially toward children, is venerated by all denominations in Christianity and it was this generosity that led to an evolution of his image into modern-day Santa Claus. Originally the scion of a wealthy family in Patara, a city in the southwest coasts of what was then the Byzantine Empire, Nicholas joined the church at a young age and became the bishop of Myra or modern-day Demre. Legend has it that Nicholas used to climb on the roof of people's houses and drop coins down their chimney secretly before his identity was revealed by the public. Following his death on Dec. 6, the date became associated with the feast for him and when Dec. 25 was declared as Jesus's birthday, the two occasions were merged.
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