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A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, December 6, 2013

Feast of St. Nicholas

The Mut, surrounded by those she nurtured, minus one.
IN THE CHILDHOOD OF TOF there was celebrated today the Feast of St. Nicholas. TOF's maternal unit, the Mut, was of German extraction and followed many German customs even though she was several generations removed from the Rhineland. Among such customs as the putz, the tree, and the Christkindl, there was the day when, to Martin Luther's quondam distress, we put our shoes outside our bedroom door (or, later, hung our socks under the mantlepiece).

Into these unlikely vessels were placed overnight various treats and treasures, none of very large dimension.  St. Nicholas, we were told, put them there, though kids even then were canny enough to suspect the old bishop had assistants. There was never any confusion that I can remember that "Santa Claus" was not simply an updated version of a real person. (Yes, Virginia.) 

There was always the threat that inside the sock would be a lump of coal. We must have been good kids because I don't remember receiving an anthracite endowment. 



St. Nicholas of Myra was a bishop in the third and early fourth century. He was imprisoned and beaten during the Diocletian Persecution, but freed after the Edict of Milan and welcomed back to Myra (in what is now Turkey) by cheering crowds. He was known to have saved girls from prostitution, and gave away his own money to help the poor.  Once, he prevented the execution of three innocent men by standing between them and the executioner and catching the sword in his own hands. In a dream, he is supposed to have saved three Roman generals who had witnessed this and who called upon him when they, too, were unjustly condemned.

Later, during the council of Nicaea, Nicholas become so wroth listening to Arius argue his case that he crossed over and punched him in the face. 


Herewith this ditty:

Um diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle um diddle ay
      [chorus]
      Superchristological and Homoousiosis
      Even though the sound of them is something quite atrocious
      You can always count on them to anathemize your Gnosis
      Superchristological and Homoousiosis

Um diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle um diddle ay

Now Origen and Arius were quite a clever pair.
Immutable divinity make Logos out of air.
But then one day Saint Nicholas gave Arius a slap—
and told them if they can't recant, they ought to shut their trap!
      [chorus] Oh, Superchristological and Homoousiosis . . . .
Of course, bitch-slapping Arius wasn't a very bishopy thing to do, especially in the middle of an ecumenical council, so Constantine clapped Nick into hoosegow and ordered him stripped of his bishop-hood. This meant taking his pallium and his copy of the scriptures. But the next morning, guards discovered that these had been mysteriously restored to him, so Constantine ordered the pugilistic patriarch reinstated.
Note: anyone looking for a Marvel Comics Christian superhero may pause here in thought. "By day a mild-mannered [sic] bishop, at night he slips from the basilica to roam the streets of Myra delivering treats to children... and fighting crime!"
Nearly a millennium later, when the jihad had overrun the old Greco-Cappadocian homeland and there was fear that the church and its relics would be destroyed by the rather intolerant Turks (the region had never been conquered by the more tolerant Arabs), three Italian ships arrived at Myra to remove St. Nicholas' body from the crypt and take it to Bari for safekeeping. The local monks resisted, but the Italians succeeded, and now the relics lie in the Church of St. Nicholas in Bari -- and the land of Basil and Macrina and Nicholas has been stripped of Christians. 

In 2005, when the bones were re-interred, forensic anthropologists recreated the face from the skull, so we have a fair notion of what Jolly Old St. Nick looked like in life:

St. Nicholas, reconstructed from his skull
(The broken nose is believed to have been won in Diocletian's prison. There is no record that Arius struck back.)

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