Orthodox faithful remember saint who inspired Santa Claus

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published

St. Nicholas, a bishop recognized as a saint in the Orthodox world, was remembered on the anniversary of his death in A.D. 373 in his hometown in present-day Turkey's Antalya. An inspiration for Santa Claus, the saint lived in Demre, Antalya where a church bearing his name is located. A bishop from Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, an Istanbul-based church with a large following in Turkey and around the world, led a vigil for the fourth-century saint. Bishop Hrisostomos Kalaycı was joined by the faithful from other cities of Turkey and clerics from Russia and Greece.

In a speech in Turkish at the end of the religious service, Kalaycı thanked the Turkish government for allowing them to hold the religious service. "We are with St. Nicholas spiritually today and thankful to Turkish officials for their love and respect of our faith," he said in the church which was built in the year 520 on the foundations of an older church where the saint served as bishop. The church today functions as a museum but is occasionally open for religious services, such as the remembrance of St. Nicholas. It contains the empty tomb of St. Nicholas, including fine mosaics and murals. The remnants of the tomb, stolen centuries ago by Italian sailors, are on exhibit in another museum.

The saint, praised for his generosity, especially toward children, is venerated by all denominations in Christianity, and it was this generosity that led to the evolution of his image into modern-day Santa Claus. Originally the scion of a wealthy family in Patara, a city on the southwest coast 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 his feast day and when Dec. 25 was declared Jesus's birthday, the two occasions were merged.

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